“I watched them tearing a building down, a gang of men in a busy town, / with a ho-heave-ho and lusty yell, they swung a boom and a sidewall fell. / I asked the foreman, ‘Are these men skilled, as the men you’d hire if you had to build?’ / He laughed and said, ‘No, indeed! Just common labor is all I need. / I can easily wreck in a day or two what builders have taken a year to do.’ / And I thought to myself as I went my way, which of these two roles have I tried to play? / Am I a builder who works with care, measuring life by rule and square? / Am I shaping my deeds by well-made plan, patiently doing the best I can? / Or am I a wrecker who walks the town content with the labor of tearing down?” (Wrecker or Builder, author unknown).
Jesus spent his life building bridges. Let’s notice…
1. The Racial Gap
In Jesus’ day, the Jews had “no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). The hatred ran so deeply that most went out of their way to avoid Samaria. The direct route between Galilee and Judea went through Samaria. However, many Jews nearly doubled their travel time by bypassing Samaria.
Jesus was different. He traveled through Samaria (John 4:1-ff; Luke 9:51-56; Luke 17:11-ff). He even healed a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-ff). He pointed out proper behavior in a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). He told a story which emphasized a Samaritan’s mercy (Luke 10:25-27).
Jesus’ lack of prejudice is seen with other peoples as well. He said of a Roman, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (Matthew 8:5-10). He said of a Syro-Phoenician Greek, “O woman great is your faith…” (Matthew 15:21-18 cf. Mark 7:26).
He reminded the Jews of how God, through His prophets, had shown kindness to a Sidonian and to a Syrian (Luke 4:24-27).
2. The Gender Gap
Throughout history, there have been those who have despised women. This was true in ancient Greece. “To the question of Socrates: ‘Is there anyone with whom you converse less with than with the wife?’ his pupil, Aristobulus replies: ‘No one, or at least very few’” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, p. 355). “Socrates thanked the gods daily that he was born neither a slave or a woman” (J.W. McGarvey, The Fourfold Gospel, p. 150). This was true in the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. “She became the living property of a husband who could lend her out, as Cato lent his wife to his friend Hortensius, and Augustus. As Augustus took Livia from Tiberius Nero… he exercised the jurisdiction of life and death” (Schaff, page 357).
Jesus was different. He talked with women and treated them with respect. He spoke with a Samaritan woman, early in His ministry (John 4:6-ff). We are told that His disciples, “Marveled that He talked with a woman” (John 4:27). He had compassion for a widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-ff). He spoke of a woman’s great faith (Matthew 15:21-28). He commended the giving of a poor widow (Luke 21:1-4). He said of Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Him, “She has done what she could… Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:8-9; cf. John 12:1-3; 11:1-2). This same Mary also sat a Jesus’ feet and learned from Him (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus appeared first to women after His resurrection [1. Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14-18); 2. Other women (Matthew 28:9-10)].
3. The Generation Gap
It was difficult to be a child in the first century world. Philip Schaff described parenting in the Roman Empire saying, “Another radical evil of heathen family life… throughout the extent of the Roman Empire, was the absolute tyrannical authority of the parent over the children, extending even to the power of life and death, and placing the adult son of a Roman citizen on a level with moveable things and slaves… with this was connected the… monstrous custom of exposing poor, sickly, and deformed children to a cruel death, or in many cases to a life of slavery” (p. 360). F.W. Mattox also described the time saying, “The destruction of the newborn infant was common. A sickly or deformed child was drowned at birth, and the fate of the normal child was solely in the hands of the father. The exposure of girl babies was common enough that there were professionalists who gathered them up and reared them until they could be sold into slavery” (The Eternal Kingdom, p. 23). Things were much better in Israel. However, even there, children were disdained by some. This is seen in John’s work “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” (Luke 1:18). It is also seen in the disciples rebuke of parents bringing their children to Jesus (Matthew 19:13).
Jesus was different. He had time for children. He used children as an example of the humble disposition one should have (Matthew 18:1-5). He instructed His disciples, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for as such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
4. The Social Gap
Many had no time for the physically challenged and those of the low-end of the socio-economic ladder. When two blind men cried out, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!” – The multitude told them to be quiet (Matthew 20:29-34).
Jesus had time for them. He had compassion on them and healed them (Matthew 20:34).
5. The Character Gap
Many Jews were self-righteous. They considered themselves too good to associate with those of questionable or sinful character (Luke 5:27-32; 7:36-47; 15:1-32).
Jesus knew that He could not help people unless He was with them. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). Those who would not forgive and rejoice when a sinner returned to God, were likened to the elder son in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). The father in the parable said, “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32).
6. The Sin Gap
There was a huge chasm between God and man before Jesus came. Man could not bridge this gap.
Jesus bridged the gap. He told His disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes through the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Paul wrote, “Through Him we both (Jew and Gentile B.H.) have access by one spirit (the Spirit’s revelation cf. Ephesians 2:18, 20; 3:3a, 5 – B.H.) to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).
Jesus work to bridge the gap between God and man also resulted in the bridging the gap between Jew and Gentile. He “has made both (Jew and Gentile – B.H.) one” (Ephesians 2:14). He has reconciled them both (Jew and Gentile – B.H.) to God in one body (the church cf. Ephesians 1:22-23; – B.H.) through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16).
Jesus was a bridge builder; what about us? Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).