Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 12.15.12
You might remember when a few years ago, everyone was reading the book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. In case you haven’t read the book
“The novel begins on a Friday morning when a man out of work appears at the front door of Henry Maxwell while the latter is preparing for that Sunday’s upcoming sermon. Maxwell listens to the man’s helpless plea briefly before brushing him away and closing the door. The same man appears in church at the end of the Sunday sermon, walks up to “the open space in front of the pulpit,” and faces the people. No one stops him. He quietly but frankly confronts the congregation—‘I’m not complaining; just stating facts.’—about their compassion, or apathetic lack thereof, for the jobless like him in Raymond. Upon finishing his address to the congregation, he collapses, and dies a few days later.
“That next Sunday, Henry Maxwell, deeply moved by the events of the past week, presents a challenge to his congregation: ‘Do not do anything without first asking, “What would Jesus do?”’ This challenge is the theme of the novel and is the driving force of the plot. From this point on, the rest of the novel consists of certain episodes that focus on individual characters as their lives are transformed by the challenge.”
That’s all good, except for me the book takes kind of a weird turn along the way. Maybe I’m the one who is thinking wrongly here, I’m just trying to figure things. So, partway into the book, the newspaper editor starts refusing to print ads for products/services he believes Jesus would not approve. I’m absolutely okay with that, it’s his paper. He has the absolute right to print whatever he feels he should print, and turning down the revenue he would have made from those ads was a difficult, and probably unpopular, stance for the editor to take. So far, so good.
But then, a bunch of folk in the story start trying to get alcohol illegalized, and that’s when my “WWJD” senses start tingling. I’m just not sure that that’s something Jesus would have done. Yes, He spoke against being drunk, but did He ask the government to close all the bars? Did He start petitioning for laws against wine making and selling? If He did, it’s not recorded anywhere. Hm.
As a Christian, what is my responsibility toward the evils I see in my community? Do I become a hard-driving, outspoken activist pushing for stricter laws for things I believe are wrong?
What Would Jesus Do? It’s an excellent question, but the answer, I believe, is not as straight-forward as we would like.
When I look at the Gospels, I see Jesus making the lives of individuals better and, as far as I can tell, no social activism. He rescued Mary Magdalene from the men who were going to stone here. Jesus is clearly “anti-prostitution,” but He doesn’t start an organization to sweep the town free of prostitution. Nor did He let Mary believe that what she was doing was acceptable behavior.
What is a Christian’s responsibility to their community? “…Christians pay taxes, participate in civic duties, respect traffic laws and property regulations, and cooperate with civil authorities in curbing or controlling crime and violence.”
What if we believe the laws are wrong? Do we picket abortion clinics? Do we sign petitions to make drinking alcoholic beverages illegal? If we feel our government is taking the country in the wrong direction do we start a movement to impeach the president? Do we work for World Peace, even though the Bible tells us that it just is never going to happen?
I don’t have any idea what the right answers would be to those questions. The example that Jesus set for us had very little to do with the government of His day and everything to do with individuals who needed help.
Jesus help folks, not because He knew from that moment on, every person He helped would become a follower, but because they needed help. He didn’t let what the person was going to do next worry Him at all. Many of us, though, as Christians, want to set limits on our charity. A man holding a sign at an intersection may not receive our money because we worry about how he will spend it. Many of us resist turning in our tithes and offerings because we don’t approve of how our church is spending it.
What would Jesus do?
If we took the challenge that Charles Sheldon gave the characters in In His Steps, to “not do anything without first asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’’, how would our lives change? What would we have to change? How would our relationships with our families change? With our bosses and fellow employees? With the man at the intersection holding a sign? How would our churches change?
People who watched Jesus when He was here knew almost instantly that something was different about Him. What was it that made Him so different? He wasn’t movie star handsome. He wasn’t Donald Trump rich. People who hung out with Him were changed, usually for the better.
What did Jesus do that was so different from the other religious figures of that time? I believe the most important thing He did, was He looked at the individual. He wasn’t concerned with personalities or other people’s opinions. He didn’t worry too much about the rules or societal norms. He saw people who needed His loving and healing touch.
Today we worry too much about what other Christians will think, what our motives are, what kind of person it is we are trying to help – are they going to misuse what we are giving them? We think too much about setting some kind of precedent and letting people take advantage of us. We worry about too many things that, if we would admit it, really don’t matter at all.
What matters is, will people see Jesus through us?
Arthur Simon is the founder of an organization called, Bread for the World. He recalls a saying that he learned from his father, who had grown up on a Wisconsin farm.
Simon’s father said, “Even the cows should know you are a Christian by the way you treat them."
Simon has incorporated that way of thinking into his own ministry, and added, “And if cows, how much more people!"
“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 1 John 3:18-20
What would Jesus do?