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Mud Puddles

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“As I read about how the last will be first, I started wondering why I was working so hard to be first.”
-Shane Claiborne

By Mark Vermilion

Back in the Old West, when people traveled long distances by stagecoach, travelers could choose to buy a first-class, second-class, or third-class ticket for their stagecoach ride. The three classes of tickets determined what a person was expected to do if the stagecoach got stuck in the mud.

And they didn’t have paved roads back then, so stagecoaches got stuck in the mud a lot.

If you had a first-class ticket, you could stay seated when the stagecoach got stuck. If you had a second-class ticket, you were expected to get out and walk alongside the stagecoach until it was past the muddy area. But if you were a third-class passenger, you were expected to get out of the stagecoach and push it through the mud!

Getting Muddy

We Americans love first class. We love the comfort of first class, the look of first class, the taste of first class, and the prestige of first class. We love the very idea of first class! And we spend a lot of time pursuing it.

But Jesus is calling his followers to fight the appeal of first class and become third-class passengers. He’s calling us to be humble servants who are willing to give up our comfort and “get muddy” for the sake of others.

Just like Jesus did.

When Jesus walked the earth, he spent a lot of time involved in the lives of “the least of these,” and he didn’t shy away from their ugly messes and desperate needs.

He waded into their mud puddles.

The religious leaders didn’t. They were the first-class passengers of their day. They were content to stay inside their synagogues and debate the Law, while Jesus went outside the synagogues and lived it.

The religious leaders avoided the messiness of people’s lives. They avoided mud puddles. Just like many Christians do today.

The religious leaders stayed away from the poor, the unclean, the diseased, and the sinful.

Not Jesus. He hung out with them. He loved them. He got dirty with them.

Jesus looked into the faces of children who were not highly valued in First-Century Jewish culture, and He stopped and put them on His lap.

He walked among poor beggars, and He gave them what they were begging for…and more.

He stumbled across men lying by the roadside with contagious illnesses (like leprosy), and He stopped and put His healing hands on their diseased bodies.

He encountered hopeless prostitutes and adulterers, and offered them true love, rather than the poor substitute they were pursuing.

He regularly came face-to-face with those who were oppressed and tormented by evil spirits, and He stopped and delivered them.

Jesus engaged people where He found them. He waded into their mud puddles and pushed them out. 
He really was a third-class passenger.

Choosing third class
During the days of stagecoach travel, people in first class got served (much like today). In second class, they sat and watched others serve. But in third class, people served others.

We know Jesus chose to be a third-class passenger because he came to serve. He didn’t have to travel third class. He was God! He chose to travel third class out of his incredible love for people. And he calls his followers to make the same choice.

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45).

The world associates first class with greatness. God associates third class with greatness.

Jesus called (and still calls) his disciples to “follow Him.” If you call yourself an all-in follower of Jesus, then you must be willing to follow him wherever he goes and do the things that he did.
The Gospels make it clear that Jesus lived to serve. They make it clear that Jesus did mud puddles. Do you?

If you don’t, then you’re not really his all-in follower, are you?

Finding God

Jesus associates himself with the poor and needy. In fact, He said that His association with them is so strong that when we do things for them, we’re actually doing things for Him.

“…the King will say to…(his sheep), ‘Come,…take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I need clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did of the least of these my brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

I’ve heard people say that they connect with God the most when they’re serving the poor. They say God speaks to them there like he’s right there with them whenever they’re in the mud puddles of human need.
Maybe he is.

In America, we believe that choosing third class means giving up the best of everything. And yet my experience is that I find the best when I’m traveling third class. I find community there. I find meaning there. I find purpose there. I find love there.

I find Jesus there.

One of the greatest modern examples of third-class ministry is Mother Teresa and the sisters she worked with over her decades of service to the poor. Their example has shown us that God really does go with us when we wade into mud puddles. (You can find many of Mother Teresa’s stories in her books, My Life for the Poor and Heart of the World.)

In one story, she tells about the sisters in Rome who worked with poor shut-ins. The sisters found one man who had been badly neglected and was in very poor health. For days, they cleaned his body, his clothes, and his room.

But he didn’t say a word.

When he finally broke his silence, he told them, “You have brought God into my life.”
He then asked them to bring a priest to his home. When the priest arrived, he made his confession, and then he died the next day.

The man didn’t say much to the sisters who had waded into his mud puddle. But he recognized that when they stepped into his mud puddle, God had stepped into the mud with them. He was there with them. And when they ministered to his dirty, sick body, they were ministering to Jesus.

So, whenever you choose a third-class ticket and step into the mud with others, God will be there with you.

Will you choose third class?

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