Quite often, I am accused of being an idealist, a religious or spiritual idealist. It's because I take very seriously the notion that Jesus came not just to live, die, and live again, but to show us how to live. And to a lot of others, Christians and non-Christians, pastors and professors and Walmart greeters, that just doesn't seem very practical...or perhaps realistic.
But I do it anyway. When I have a question about what it means to live in this world in a particular situation, I turn to Jesus and see how He did it. When I'm trying to figure out what it means to be part of community, I look at the community in the Gospels and see how they were doing it. It's not just about Jesus and the disciples, although that's a big part of it (and that's important because the disciples were just about the most ragtag group of guys and gals that you could possibly imagine - blue collar, white collar, humble, arrogant, gracious, greedy, they were a mix of it all), but it's also about all of the quiet little things that Jesus did, by Himself and with others.
For example, Jesus never considered a single situation "too messy" to get involved in. He wasn't afraid to touch lepers, to eat with the unclean, to be touched by the bleeding woman. Yet so often, we look at situations that are aching for the love of God, and we say that's not something we want to get messed up in. That's not something we want to get entangled with. What would this world say of us, as Christians, if we got into something so...dirty? I can't buy that narrative. I look at the Gospels and see the way that Jesus responded, and I have to say, I'm going. I'm going because Jesus went.
You're just asking for trouble.
Or take our world's narrative that says that we live in a world on-demand. The world requires us to respond, and right away. We don't get time to think it over, and heaven forbid we ask for time to pray about it. But Jesus prays about things a lot. Jesus retreats from it all and goes to the mountain or the garden, just to get away and to pray. In the crucial moments of His final hours, He's asked to speak in His own defense, and He's not quick to do so. For awhile, He says nothing. So I refuse to be rushed by this world. I refuse to buy into the tyranny of the demand. That's not how Jesus did it; why should I live any other way?
You just don't get it, do you?
Or we can look at any number of social situations that Jesus put Himself in. One of the questions that comes up routinely in ministry or in the church itself is whether men and women can be alone together if they are not married. Our culture has convinced us it's dangerous. Our culture has told us that it's just a trap, that anything can happen when we don't protect ourselves by refusing to be alone with others. But Jesus was alone with others frequently. He stayed with the woman at the well while His disciples went to town, and it was the turning point of that woman's life. He doodled in the dirt until He was alone with the woman caught in adultery, who, by many accounts, was naked. Jesus, alone not just with a woman, but with a naked woman! And nothing happened. Jesus refused to buy into cultural narratives, and He refused to be bound by social decrees. Why should I let them take hold of me?
You're so naive.
It's not really about the specifics, although that's part of it. The biggest problem that we have is that most of us, Christians included, pastors and professors and Walmart greeters included, don't believe that the "Jesus model" works in a world like this one. We don't believe that the way Jesus lived is very realistic for the rest of us. We say that Jesus is our example, but then we have a thousand reasons why He can't really be our example, why we can't really live the way that He did.
Why not? Why on earth not?
Jesus sounds really radical. He does. I'm not going to pretend that's not the case. He absolutely sounds really radical, especially to our modern sensibilities, even as much as we say that we like all the things that He was doing. Even as much as we say that we like the idea of eating with sinners and that we like the idea of healing the sick and that we like the idea of amazing grace. It still seems just...too radical, too impossible, too unrealistic. Too idealistic. I get it. I see that.
But I also see something really human in the way that Jesus lived. I see something really real in the Gospels, and that something is love. Maybe it's not practical. I don't know. But it's beautiful.
And if at every turn, I'm trying my very human best to do something that beautiful, well...then call me crazy.
It wouldn't be the first time.