“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
I don’t know about you, but I cannot grasp that grace of the incarnation.
Several years ago, I came across a story in National Geographic (June 2003) that has stayed with me. In it, I begin to feel the incarnation in a minuscule way. Perhaps it will affect you too. The following is my summary of the article.
It is a story about people like Dinesh Parmar. One of 10,000 Bhangis in Ahmadabad, Parmar earns money by manually cleaning latrines, sewers, and gutters, and by removing dead animals from the streets. He is a Bhangi, a member of the Untouchable caste.
In India there are 5 castes- levels of grouping. The ranks in Hindu society come from a legend in which the main groups, or varnas, emerge from a primordial being. From the mouth came the Brahmans – the priests and teachers. From the arms came the Ksahtriyas – the rulers and soldiers. From the thighs come the Vaisyas – the merchants and traders. From the feet come the Sudras – laborers. Each varna in turn contains hundreds of hereditary castes and subcastes with their own pecking order. A fifth group describes the people who are achuta. The primordial being does not claim them.
The lowest caste is called the untouchables. They do all the dirty work that no else wants to do. They deal with dead bodies and much of the manual labor. Within each caste there are subcastes. Within the untouchable caste the lowest subcaste is called a Bhangi.
Let me describe a day’s work for Parmar. He removes the manhole cover. Cockroaches scurried from the darkness as the stench below filled the street. Parmar hesitated for only an instant, then dropped into the hole – with no gloves, no gas mask. His body hidden inside, he methodically lifted bucket after bucket of excrement over his head.
Off to the next job – He led the way to a nearby lane. He climbed into several more manholes to scoop out clots of filth and sludge.
Do you recoil at that story and that picture? I do. Do you love this man enough to leave your country, your wealth, your rights as a US Citizen, your future opportunities, to enter his world? To become a Bhangi, to earn money in this way, to so humble yourself and humiliate yourself? To save a few?
Oh, by the way, the majority aren’t going to appreciate the sacrifice you have made. They are going to reject you and kill you.
Would you go?
I can’t. The gap is too wide. The sacrifice is too much.
But Jesus did this and more. Jesus loved us so much that he humbled himself, came, and entered our world of filth and stench. He became the lowest of the low – to save you and me.
That is the grace of Jesus. That helps me think about the sacrifice of the Incarnation.
And I am speechless and humbled.