by The Rev. Rich Heinz
“Ignorant.” “Pathetic.” “Self-absorbed.” A New Albany, Indiana Kindergarten teacher has made national news with such nasty names for one of her students. After telling his parents for some time that his teacher was mean to him, Gabriel Ross’ family recorded the hateful remarks that he was receiving. The teacher has been suspended, however the teachers’ union is challenging that decision. In the end, there is no justification for such berating of a 5-year-old, and turning classmates against him, as has been recorded.
Setting aside that these names were hurtful and sinful in their context, and simply inappropriate, let’s take a moment to ponder these three statements.
“Ignorant” means that one does not know something. Ignorant is different from (other hurtful adjectives, such as) “dumb” or “stupid.” Ignorance is not an inability to know, it is simply a lack of knowledge. Ironically, at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Eve and Adam thought they were expanding their knowledge. When it was said and done (and eaten), they knew good and evil, alright! But now they no longer desired the good. They craved what was against God.
Now, they had become ignorant. And we follow in their footsteps. We are born not knowing God. We are without saving knowledge of Him—not just a head knowledge, but the knowledge of a relationship. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and the preaching of the Gospel does that saving “knowledge” come.
“Pathetic.” We are filled with such sadness and sorrow in our fallen nature. This horrible predicament can lead others to have pity (either out of compassion or disgust.) Such a condition is what we call “pathetic.”
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him…” The shattered image of God from the Garden makes us pathetic. We cannot do anything to change it. We are helpless. The last words that Luther penned come to mind: “In truth, we are all beggars.” That’s pathetic.
“Self-absorbed.” There is no beating around the bush. Every human being has moments when it is quite clear he or she is self-absorbed. Sin, death, and the devil all prompt each of us to make choices in our thoughts, words, and actions that are “best for me.” No longer do we think in terms of community or serving others. We have been fully immersed in a “self-serve” society.
“You gotta do what’s best for you.” “You deserve it.” “Help yourself.” We are surrounded with messages to pamper ourselves, and let everyone else do the same. We end up in a world that does not lack necessary self-esteem, but actually is plagued by an overactive self-esteem!
The Rest of the Story
“Man, Pastor Heinz is being pretty heavy with the Law!” Well, yes, as I am proclaiming to you the shortcomings we all have before the throne of God. Yet, dear friends in Christ, you know that this is not the end of the story.
Precisely because you and I are ignorant, pathetic, and self-absorbed, our dear Lord Jesus has come to suffer all for us. He received the harsh punishment of a world that knew Him not – ignorant of the Son of God!
He gave up all, as He became pathetic for us. The Man of Sorrows endured suffering beyond belief. Why? To make us feel guilty? (You know, I am talking about the “Jesus did all that horrible suffering for you, now don’t you just feel terrible?!” feeling.) Absolutely not! Our Savior did all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.
Our Lord became the One who could truly absorb all of our guilt to remove it once and for all. As He stepped into the Jordan to be baptized, our amazing self-less Savior soaked up all our sin and death, that He might make that lasting payment on our behalf.
Should the New Albany teacher have told such things to a Kindergartener? Absolutely not. Are those things true of us? Yes, and every other man, woman, and child on this earth.
However, our Redeemer has purchased and won our righteousness and innocence. The Master Teacher has the divine gift of the knowledge of forgiveness and life – a gift given through His precious Gospel and Sacraments. On account of Jesus Christ, you are no longer ignorant, pathetic, and self-absorbed; you have our Triune God who removes these qualities and makes you His own through His Divine knowledge, empathy, and selflessness.
The Rev. Rich Heinz is senior pastor of St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church & School in Lanesville, IN, and the Front Page editor for Higher Things Internet Services.