“Needs,” what does that mean? Look up the definition of the word and you will find a statement like this one: “Something that is necessary.” As humans, what do we need? What is necessary? In the field of psychology a theory proposed by Abraham Maslow, and still espoused today, ranks our needs as human beings. Needs take the form of a pyramid and build from basic up to self-actualization. Basic human needs according to this ranking are food, shelter, friendship, love, and security. These basic needs must be met before a person can move upward. Why is that important? Why spend so much time on a dry psychological theory? Because Maslow (knowingly or unknowingly) synthesized the work of Jesus.
Jesus’ ministry was comprehensive. Hand-in-hand with preaching the gospel He interacted with his community. He lived and worked among the “people”. The Bible makes a point of emphasizing that Jesus did not shy away from interaction with people: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, fishermen, children, temple leaders.
While mingling with people Jesus provided for a variety of needs. Let us take a look at this in the case of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho. As chief tax collector he was wealthy, so his financial needs were met. Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus did not center on providing an economic solution. Instead it focused on another need. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus was someone “rejected” by society. According to E. G. White, Zacchaeus was “detested by his countrymen. His rank and wealth were the reward of his calling.” Zacchaeus’ need was to be accepted, to become part of his society.
Jesus met those needs by not only acknowledging Zacchaeus’ presence but also by sharing a meal with him in his home. Emotionally, Jesus established a friendship; societally He created a way for Zacchaeus to become part of his community again. Jesus acted as a reconciler, a conduit for Zacchaeus. To become a part of, instead of standing apart, isolated.
We often think one dimensionally when considering what is a need. Often focusing on food, shelter, clothing—the main ideas covered by Maslow’s hierarchy. These are tangible items that are easy to focus on. However, we often forget the intangible needs that are just as important, friendship and emotional connection and support. These are also basic needs that have to be met. When we are mingling with our community we have to pay attention to emotional needs, listening to that elderly neighbor whose friends have passed away or who no longer receives regular visits from family members. The nursing home visits that we take for granted can become ways to establish a relationship with someone, to provide that support system they may no longer have and that they long for.
Other examples of Jesus meeting needs are referenced in Mark 5:22-43. In the course of these verses Jesus ministers to physical needs, healing and life, for the woman with the “issue of blood” and Jairus’ daughter, respectively. Both were unknown to Jesus, both sought Him out for healing and both trusted that He would address the problem they brought to Him. There was an immediate, pressing need in both situations. The woman suffered from her illness for years and this was her chance to get help. In her desperation she reached out and touched Jesus. She did not approach him, did not ask him for healing, instead she believed that some form of contact, no matter how small would be enough. Jairus’ asked Jesus to heal his daughter, not knowing she was dead; his request was verbal but he did not expect Jesus to leave what he was doing and come with him. He believed that a form of contact, a prayer, no matter how small would be enough.
In both cases Jesus went beyond what was asked. He reached out, acknowledged each individual and created a relationship. As an extension of that He also provided the healing they requested. Again, what can we learn from this example; how can we meet physical needs? The first step is being aware that there is a need. In the instance of the woman, Jesus knew there was a need, He felt her touch. In response He became the source of healing, once again reconciling her back to her community through meeting a physical need.
Repeatedly we hear that the world is full of people who are suffering. Where do we begin? In our neighborhoods, work places, grocery stores, and areas where we gather. In making a connection with someone we build relationships and opportunities to meet a variety of needs.
The most difficult part in ministering to the needs of others may be reaching outside of ourselves. Again, this is modeled by Jesus. When he called Zacchaeus down from the tree it was in a public manner. He chose to share a meal with someone who was ostracized by his community without the hesitation that comes from considering what others might think or from the fear of losing His place in society. In order to minister to the needs of those around him Jesus put aside, in a very tangible way, considerations about reputation, status, and how he was viewed. He became part of his community.
Already, I can hear the question forming: Are you trying to say that Jesus conformed? No, the clear illustration is not one of conformity. It is one of compassion, of reaching out and providing while maintaining his role as Christ and savior. What does that mean for us? We are charged with following Jesus’ example and ministering to the needs of those in our communities.
The Busy Life Bible, New International Version, Zondervan, 2006.
White, E. G., The Desire of Ages, 553
Need. Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/need. Accessed August 2016.