I was standing in the line up at one of our local grocery stores, waiting to pay for the few things I had picked up. Normally, the lines are short but this particular day, there were actually a couple of people in front of me. I immediately recognized the person in front of me–I had done some extensive pastoral counselling with her a few months ago, helping her work through a serious depression. When she turned around, I said hi to her, only to be greeted by a blank stare. The expression on her face clearly showed that she had no idea who I was.
She nodded a hello, politely asked how I was doing and then it dawned on her who I was. She apologized for not recognizing me, thanked me for the help I had given her a few months ago and then, since it was her turn at the counter, began putting her groceries on the counter. After she paid and was leaving, she turned and said thanks again.
Over the years of my ministry, I have had similar encounters with many people. I meet them in the course of my ministry, work with them intensively, help them deal with whatever issue they need help with. Generally, I invest a lot in the encounter. I give them time–and since many are either on the edge of the church I am serving or not even involved in the church at all, it can be time that I could be using for something else in my paid ministry. I give them my skill and ability as a pastoral counsellor. I give them my energy–I enjoy counselling but it does take physical, emotional and spiritual energy. Since I do the pastoral counselling as part of my calling a pastor, I give them a financial gift–they don’t have to pay for the counselling.
So, in view of all that I have given them and the help that they seem to have received, it is too much to ask that they actually remember me and recognize me in the grocery store check-out line? I don’t want them to fall all over me with thanks and praise and all that–and there are a few whom I don’t care if they remember me or not–but a simply “hi” of recognition would be nice in view of all that I did for them.
This is one of those places where my personal stuff needs to be challenged by the real person of Jesus. There is a story in Luke 17.11-19 that I need to spend a lot of time with. Ten people with leprosy come to Jesus seeking healing. He graciously heals them and sends them to the priests to receive an official declaration that they are healed. When the reality of the healing hits them, one of them turns back and thanks Jesus. The story indicates to me that Jesus is happy the one returned and perhaps disappointed that the other nine didn’t.
I take two things from the story that help me in my desire to be more like Jesus. First, my disappointment in the check-out line is normal. I could, I suppose, over-spiritualize it and say that if I was really Christ-like, I wouldn’t feel the disappointment or something like that. But it is what I am feeling and maybe this story from Luke allows me the freedom in faith to accept and have my feelings.
And the second thing comes from something that didn’t happen in the story. Jesus didn’t revoke the healing of the other nine. He may have been disappointed by the lack of thanks but the nine were still healed. For me, that is probably the biggest lesson here.
If I want to be Christ-like in this area of my life, I need to see the importance of the ministry that I am called to do. I can feel disappointed at times, I can feel used at times, I might be upset when people forget what I do and all these things will be normal and acceptable and understandable. But if I want to be Christ-like, I need to be careful that these feelings don’t keep me from doing ministry.
I do ministry with people because that is what I am called to do, not because of the response I get. I can appreciate the good and positive responses and be disappointed with the negative responses–but I don’t do the ministry because of the response. I need to be able to do the ministry because that is what I am called to do and that is what Jesus models.
May the peace of God be with you.