I have been wrangling with words for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved writing and tried to pay attention to the best way to say something. I write in my journal almost every day, blog, I write notes and letters, and, on occasion, have best conveyed my thoughts through a poem or lyrics to a song. It must have been that habit of noticing specifics of language when the word “Bethany” caught my attention. That “t-h” sound seemed to slow me down as I read the name of the last place on earth that Jesus is reported by Luke to have been seen.
Bethany means “house of the poor.” Any story about Jesus’ last moments on earth should make us remember the poor. Interestingly, the very first public teaching Jesus does is found in Luke 4, where he is handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and there he reads aloud, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” Luke 4:18 NRSV. One might say the entire earthly ministry of Jesus is bookended by his speaking out on behalf of the poor.
If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, I believe our hearts should be turned to the same purposes that Jesus is turned toward. Throughout the New Testament, we read of Jesus’ love and care for those who cannot care for themselves, or who cannot be loved because of the cultural norms of their times. As the story of Jesus’ Ascension continues in Luke’s telling of the story of the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples gathered at Bethany were watching as Jesus is taken up in a cloud. One can only imagine the wonder and awe of witnessing such an event. Luke tells us, “...two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,’” Acts 1:10-11 NRSV.
Do you think the two men in white robes might have been offering a nudge to those disciples to change their gaze from skyward, where it appears Jesus was just taken, to looking around them at the great need in close proximity? “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? You are standing in the house of the poor. Don’t you see plenty around you to be looking at and working on?” There is a long list of “dos” and “don’ts” that many Christians observe. Really looking for and taking care of the poor is one of the most important “dos.”
The Rev. Matt Steinhauer is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Lebanon. Preacher’s Corner features a new local preacher each month writing a column.