Christian Living Stories: 21st-Century Bystander

For the last several years, I’ve written about bystanders whose lives were touched by Jesus as he walked the face of this earth. These women lived in an oppressive culture that defined them as inferior. I wanted them to come alive, to tell their stories.

I wonder if I qualify as a “Bystander,” too. As a woman, I found myself identifying with their reactions, their feelings and emotions. I stood beside them as they encountered Jesus. Observing how he treated these women brought about a turning point in my life. It showed me what Jesus, the healer of hearts, is like. His unconditional love, tenderness, compassion all became more real to me.

So, yes, I think we too can call ourselves “bystanders.” The Son of Man willingly opened himself up and disclosed himself to us through the pages of the Gospels so that our lives here and now can be touched personally. And mine certainly has been.

After years of serving God out of fear and self-interest, my heart broke the first time I truly found myself at the foot of the cross and realized the depth and cost of God’s love for me. I wept deep-cleansing tears that softened my hardened and dried-out soul. I couldn’t help but respond to such overwhelming love.

And in the same way I stand transformed at the cross of Jesus and the unthinkable rejection and agony he suffered for me, I am also transformed by the Incarnation — God of all creation born as a helpless baby. The very thing we as humans long for, the splendor and glory of the heavenly realm, our Savior readily gave up to become an infinitesimal speck of life in Mary’s dark womb. Just as Jesus’ death convicts me of his unconditional love, so does his birth.

Who, but Jesus, would abandon greater power and authority than we can imagine for still, quiet moments as a fragile infant nestled in the arms of a teen-aged girl, unable to even lift his head? Who, but Jesus, would trade the praises and adulation of thousands of angels to become a three-month-old baby, whose only claim to fame was a silly, toothless grin?

Some time ago, I came across a book with illustrations depicting Jesus from when he was first born through toddler age. I stared at the images, and again, I wept. On one page, a young Mary is protectively embracing her newborn Jesus. He has wispy hair, wrinkles on his forehead, and dark, searching eyes. This was God, with tiny fingers and toes, who would soon begin to rediscover the world he himself had created through the eyes, heart and mind of a small child. The incarnation is a thing of beauty, of wonder and mystery, of unconditional love beyond our comprehension. Something truly to be celebrated!

As we join the ranks of the first-century bystanders in the greatest story ever told, we enter the divine reality, we encounter Jesus and our hearts are eternally changed.

Author: Joyce Catherwood


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