He’s a fascist. He’s a communist. They are trying to destroy the country. He’s funding groups that are trying to destroy the country. Memes that imply this person is an idiot. Memes that imply that person is a danger.
Insults. Blame. Scapegoats. Labels.
What is a follower of Jesus to do in an environment where it seems that everyone is ramping up their rhetoric? What is a follower of Jesus to do when everyone is waiting for the other side to take the first step in acting/speaking in a civil manner? The implication is that if I am first, then I will be perceived as weak and will be walked all over.
It is much easier to complain about the state of affairs than to do anything about it. We can rationalize away any action by ourselves as merely a small drop in the bucket, so what’s the point? We can rationalize away the name calling when it is our side doing it (whatever side that is) because those other people don’t know what they are talking about – if only they would listen to us!
But what is a follower of Jesus to do?
Turn the other cheek? Love your enemy? See Jesus in the other person? Live out the faith that we claim regardless of what anyone else does?
There are many who will dismiss these ideas as something that we can do when everything is smooth sailing, but they can’t possibly work when there is conflict. When times are difficult, we seem to think it is ok to tell Jesus that he doesn’t know what he was talking about. We tend to start to think that Jesus isn’t alive and in our midst, but was some guy that lived 2000 years ago and is still dead. We seem to forget that Jesus is resurrected and alive and in our midst. Or we purposefully ignore this, choosing not to see Jesus in our midst. We fear embracing the idea that Jesus is really alive and in our midst. If that is the case, then our lives would have to change. We rationalize this behavior and langauge by asking how Jesus could be in our midst at the same time as evil? So we much handle evil our way. And we fail.
I’m not saying we are pushovers. We are called to call out injustice where we encounter it – to name it for what it is. That isn’t easy and it won’t win you friends. It may cost you friends, a job, and maybe even your life eventually.
People claim they want there to be a change in the world. But they aren’t willing to do something different to bring this about. They are waiting for someone else to go first. People like the idea of change, as long as it is someone else changing and not ourselves. Why do we need to change – it’s them that are the problem.
But if we all wait for someone else, it will never happen.
What if you are the someone else that is called to start? What if you are the ones that needs to be changed? What if you are the person God is calling to be a light in the world first? What if you are the one that can set the example? Scary, isn’t it? But here’s the question again – what is a follower of Jesus to do? Call names and scapegoat an enemy? Or love your enemy?
What we do in response to something speaks louder than anything that you or I can say or write about it. It expresses what we truly believe. And it can contradict everything we claim. But our actions will not lie about what we really believe. Our actions come from our true beliefs about the world, God, others, and ourselves. Being true to our true beliefs is very important to humans and we will not violate those beliefs because to violate them would be to go against who we believe we are. This is why we can be hypocrites and yet still believe we are not. While we may claim the beliefs and teachings of Jesus, our actions will declare our core, deep values and beliefs that guide us. We will be consistent with our core beliefs and values.
When we claim that we follow Jesus and our actions conflict with what Jesus taught, we are really good at rationalizing away the difference. When Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger and we fear the caravan at the same time, we feel we can get off on technicalities – we rationalize that the caravan doesn’t apply because of A, B, and C. Besides we welcome D, E, and F, so technically we are keeping this command. The reality is that our technicalities form the essence of our core beliefs about the world, God, others, and our self.
We claim to follow Jesus and yet our language conflicts with what Jesus taught – “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” (Matthew 15:18). We rationalize that the politician we are talking about is a danger, evil, etc., so technically we are keeping the command because we are just pointing out what kind of person they are. Yet, what does this labeling say about ourselves and what comes from our own heart? It is one thing to point out an injustice that is occurring – even when caused by a specific person. It is another thing to name call, dehumanize, and demonize – even if that same person is doing that thing.
No where in Jesus’ teaching does he talk about using the methods of the world to change the world, or defeat the world. No where.
Instead, we are called to be different, to employ different methods and means. Jesus cared about the means more so than the ends. Jesus never taught or lived by the belief that the ends justify the means.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16, NRSV)
Where do we go from here? We live out what we claim to believe. It’s really that simple. If we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we live that out – as much as possible. And when we fail, and we will, we seek forgiveness, we repent, and we get up again.
We are called to live out the baptismal life – to join Christ in his life, death, and resurrection every day. Every day we are called to deny ourselves – deny the desire to be right all the time, to dehumanize and demonize our enemies, to destroy our enemies, to adopt the ways and expectations of the world. We are to deny these things every day, to pick up our cross, and to follow Jesus. Not waiting for someone else to go first. Jesus calls us to follow, regardless of what others will do. And others will do what they do. Others will follow the way of the world. Others will be critical and label us. Others will attack us. Others will crucify us – either figuratively or literally. We are called to discipleship every day regardless of what others will do. Our lead is Jesus – to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. When we look away, we start to drown like Peter did when he tried walking on water.
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
(Matthew 14:28-33, NRSV)
Where do we go from here? The same path those who have gone before us did. We aren’t the first to go. We never have been the first. There have been many who have gone before us, living out the faith they were given regardless of the consequences. The risk of being first was already taken by so many before us. We stand in the company of the saints who surround us. We are not alone. It is time to live the faith, as fully as we can. Not pretending to be Christians anymore. Not pretending that we can say we are followers and then acting differently. The time for pretending is over. The time to be the light to the world is now. We need Christians to be Christians, followers who live out discipleship, to live out the teachings of Jesus, to proclaim discipleship with their actions.
The world is desperate for this proclamation. Let us proclaim the faith with our lives. And if we have to, to use words.