Tuesday, June 9, 2020

What Would Jesus Do?

As we continue to wrestle with race relations in America, it remains difficult for us, as Christians (and often, as white Christians) to know what we are supposed to do, what we are supposed to say, what we are supposed to believe, how we are supposed to act. I don't want to say, how we are supposed to react because our actions should be deliberate and intentional, not a response to injustice but a real move toward love. And I stand by the things that I said on this topic last week. 

But in the past few days, I saw a Christian friend post a question that she was clearly wrestling with, and it's the kind of thing that can get us all in trouble if we let it, so I wanted to take a moment and address that, too. 

The question was this: I'm watching all of this play out on the news, and I'm wondering what Jesus would do. Would He stand with the protesters and call out the injustice in the system or would it be enough for Him that He's not a racist? Would He love His neighbor, or would He just be satisfied with Himself?

When we read this question, it's easy to say wow, yeah. Man, that puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? Except that it doesn't. This puts Jesus in a political bind that is a false choice, offering two options that do not account for anything remotely resembling the kind of real love that Jesus brings into the world. 

We're told, forcefully, that these are our two options right now. Either we stand with the protesters or we do nothing. Either we're part of the movement or we're part of the problem. We're told that it cannot be enough for us that we, ourselves, are not racists, and in one sense, that's true. But in the sense that it's being used, our only other option is to grab our poster board and go join the movement. Go stand on the streets. Go shout our voices and raise our hands and declare our allegiances.

But Jesus never talked about how much He loves everyone. He just...loved them.

If you take a few moments and even try to think about Jesus - the real Jesus, not our cultural version of Him - standing at a protest rally, the image is striking. And it's striking because it's just not the kind of thing that Jesus would do, I don't think. It's not the kind of example we see Him set in the Gospels. It runs counter, in fact, to everything that we know of Him. 

Now, if we're talking about the cultural Jesus, then of course, He's there. If we're talking about the Jesus we've made in our image, who adopts our pet projects, who takes our perspective on things, who lives in our world in the same ways that we do, then sure, He's at the protest. Sure, He's standing there. 

But Gospel Jesus is different. 

Gospel Jesus came into contact with the marginalized all the time. All the time. Every story we see with Him has some kind of sinner in it, some kind of afflicted person, someone who is cast down or thrown out because of who they are. (And before you get mad - I'm not implying that race is a sin. I'm saying that humanity has always created in-groups and out-groups, and every story of Jesus has some member of an out-group in it.) And at any moment, Jesus could have said that our systems need to change. He could have declared that the way our societies are set up is wrong. He could have used His voice for what we now call social justice. 

He could have raised a racket for quality health care when the bleeding woman pushed through the crowd to touch Him. She'd spent her whole life savings on medicine with nothing to show for it. Together, they could have changed the world for every sick individual out there. But He didn't. Instead, He showed mercy to this woman and set a precedent for healing the sick.

He could have fought for the rights of women, the marginalized, either when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Him or certainly when He spoke to the woman at the well. You'll notice that the man caught in adultery was not brought to Jesus; just the woman. He could have raised His voice and fought for the rights of women and demanded that the man be brought before Him, too. But He didn't. The woman at the well had had 5 husbands, none of whom was still in the picture. If she had been unfaithful, they could have stoned her - but five men had left without stoning her, so He could have chastised the men for leaving, for not taking care of the woman they had committed to. But He didn't. Instead, He showed compassion on these women and gave each of them a testimony about what a real man looks like. 

In private and in public, everywhere Jesus went, He was opening dialogues, not joining them. He was starting the conversation - real conversations - about how we're supposed to live together. He was opening up ways for others to share their stories, to give voice to their own experiences. It is like I said last week - He was a true friend, not merely an ally - and this question we ask about whether Jesus would be an ally or a selfish man is a false choice. He would be love, just like He always is. 

And He never let His mission get sidetracked by planting Himself too firmly anywhere but in Heaven. He was always in motion, always moving. He never set up shop in one place for too long, never wanted to give the impression that this was the hill He was dying on until He got all the way to Calvary. And this is exactly the position we try to put Him in when we try to figure out where He stands in our cultural/political realities - we want to put Him on one side or the other, just as we feel the pressure to be in one camp or another, but the truth is that Jesus can't be encamped. He can't be pushed to one side or the other. He always, always toes the line and shows us that the real path of love through this world is a narrow line right through the mess of it. 

That's wisdom. Because the truth of our living in this world? If we can get through this mess, there will be another one down the road. From the very beginning, we've been creating in-groups and out-groups and as soon as we get one out-group in, we push another group out. Who these groups are and how we justify it has changed over the years, so Jesus knew that if He took a stand on an issue in the Gospels, He'd be standing on issues for the rest of our lives. That's why He decided just to love persons. He decided to take a stand for human beings without ever having to declare Himself against any politic. Love has a strange way of getting away with that. 

And it's not - listen, it's not because the politic doesn't deserve to be opposed. That's not it at all. You can ask Jesus, and He'll tell you that He hates racism in all its forms. That He hates elitism. That He doesn't stand for injustice. That He's all for equality and whatever other good thing we put in front of Him. Of course the politic grates against everything that He stands for. 

It's just...the best way to change the politic is to show love for the person. It's to put humanity above the issues, not to step down into them. It's to keep your head up by holding love in the highest authority. The systems change not when we change them, but when we demonstrate, through our love, their weakness. They don't bind us. And they don't determine our love. We determine our love, and love crushes politic every time. Every. time. 

What would Jesus do? Would He stand with the protesters and speak out against in justice or would it be enough for Him that He's not a racist? 

I think, as is always the case with Jesus, He'd show us a third way, the same way He's been showing us from the very beginning of everything - 

He'd show us love. 

So can we please, even in these trying times - especially in these trying times - stop trying to make Jesus look like us and instead, try to look a little more like Him?


Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying no one should protest anything ever or that no one should be protesting this. What I am saying is - always be a friend, not just an ally. Love others. Truly love them, even when love is messy. 

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