The Value of a Person

Laurie Buffo, Volunteer Writer, South Barrington | June 27, 2023

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:9-12

At Willow, we talk a lot about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Doing so requires us to internalize that we all want and need similar things. Loving neighbors like ourselves fosters empathy and builds a shared sense of humanity. Conversely, we stop seeing people as humans when we reduce them to a problem to be solved, an inconvenience, or a means to an end.

For example, one day, my mom and I came across a woman asking for money in Chicago. Stopping in front of her, we both dug in our purses. Knowing there would be others, I told my mom I would “get this one,” and she could do the next one. Immediately, I recognized my mistake. I had diminished the woman by making her a checkmark on my good deed list. Filled with remorse, I looked her in the eye and apologized for talking about her as if she were not a person.

We dehumanize people because our emotions scare us. We are afraid empathy will be painful. Plus, we feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem and our inability to solve it. Therefore, we make ourselves “better than” by refusing to tap into our experiences of suffering and brokenness in a way that would enable connection.

The Pharisees relished being righteousness enforcers. They saw Jesus as a roadblock to their self-serving agenda and sought a reason to arrest Him. There happened to be a man with a shriveled hand in the synagogue. Knowing that Jesus had healed such people in the past, the Pharisees dehumanized the man, seeing him as a means to trap Jesus. However, as usual, Jesus outfoxed them. He exposed their double-mindedness. He contrasted their willingness to help an animal on the Sabbath with their unwillingness to value a fellow human being similarly. Jesus indicated it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath because loving people is the higher principle.

Single-minded rule-following does not produce righteousness. When we hold the rules in higher esteem than people, we miss the purpose behind the law. The law only has the power to teach us right from wrong, but Jesus came to teach us how to love.

Next Steps 

The truth is we all have a little bit of Pharisee in us, but we can override it. Think of someone whose issues you would like to fix. Then, connect with your suffering and brokenness by recalling an experience when you needed support and felt alone because no one understood you. Holding these feelings of vulnerability, think of the individual again. Can you feel any affinity with them? Does this change the way you view them?

Going Deeper

Grab your printout if you did that yesterday or your Bible and mark all the repeated words and note contrasts.