What does it mean to follow Jesus?
Is it only about what you believe about Jesus? Or is it more? Like how you act? What you support? How you interact with others?
Scripture has many references to what Jesus calls his followers to do if they are to consider themselves his disciples.
We hear Jesus tell his follower to love one another, to pray for their enemies, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to welcome the stranger, to visit the imprisoned. Followers of Jesus are to show mercy, to forgive, to love justice, and to end injustice. Followers of Jesus are to walk with and eat with the oppressed and exploited.
These aren’t just personal actions though. They have a public implication. They impact others’ lives and still others can see what the actions are and what kind of impact they make.
In other words, if faith doesn’t have a public implication, it’s rather empty.
And those implications should impact our politics and policies. They should impact our politicians and regulators too. They should impact how we do business and run organizations. They should impact how we do stewardship of the planet and of our bodies. They should impact how we treat others – both those what are friends of ours, those that are enemies, and those we don’t know. They should impact life. Otherwise, why are we wasting everyone’s time, including your own, thinking we are following Jesus, when all you are doing is pretending to do the bare minimum?
I continue to read The Politics of Jesus, by Obery Hendricks, Jr. In the section I read most recently, there is a discussion on the influence of the Hebrew bible and justice on Jesus.
“Mishpat is usually translated as ‘justice.’ Biblical justice is he establishment or restoration of fair, equitable, and harmonious relationships in society. The major implication of its meaning is that any member of the community has the same rights as any other, that everyone has the same inalienable right to abundance and wholeness and freedom from oppression.” (Pg. 43)
Sadigah is usually translated as ‘righteousness.’ Study of the uses of sadigah and its related terms reveals that its focus is on behavior that fulfills the responsibilities of relationship, whether with God or other persons. In other words, when people fulfill their relationship with God through obedience and observance of biblical ordinances and…with humanity, too, then they are considered righteous. Or to put it another way, the basis of biblical justice is fulfillment of our responsibilities to and relationships with others as the ultimate fulfillment of our responsibility to God.” (Pg. 44)
So what does all this mean? It means that to really follow Jesus, there is more than just a belief about Jesus. There is action that follows from this belief. What that action is will vary on each person. Some are gifted in certain ways that others are not.
We can’t escape the public impact of faith being carried out. And we can’t ignore the fact that public expression is built right into faith. You can’t be a closet Christian. People will know based on how you live and interact with others.
“What is significant here is that both justice and righteousness are based on social relationships. Not on individual, personal piety or on individual conformity with ritual and liturgy, but on social interactions. In fact, in the Hebrew scriptures there is no word for ‘individual’; there is only the plural term for ‘people,’ that is, community. In other words, justice is the divinely ordained way of relating to one another in human society. For this reason, for any society or political endeavor to rightly claim to be consistent with the biblical tradition, it must have at its center justice for all people regardless of class, gender, color, or national origin.” (Pg. 44)
Large sections of the church in the West has downplayed the community and public aspect, making following Jesus primarily about having a personal savior, with personal piety, and not having an impact publicly or “bothering” other people.
As a result, we have abdicated our responsibility to one another and bought into the idea that every person is an island. Individuality might be nice, and might be good for some in society, but it doesn’t match up well with Scripture or what Jesus talks about. No wonder we have the challenges that we face as a society – poverty, homelessness, brokenness, etc. If we are just individuals, then do we bare no community responsibility? If we are just individuals, then should we wonder why our churches are in decline?
Following Jesus is more than just me and Jesus. It’s all of us together.