What Did Jesus Do?
By Audrey Stallsmith
I recently read George MacDonald's Victorian-era novel, The Curate's Awakening, about a clergyman who suddenly discovered that he really didn't know enough about Christianity to defend it. That wasn't so uncommon at the time, as many men went into the church simply as an alternative to, say, the law or the military.
Suddenly called to account for preaching another man's sermons--also apparently a common practice--the curate found he had nothing much to say for Christianity himself. As a result, he had to start looking at what Jesus actually taught! And he found it vastly different than what he and the majority of his congregation seemed to take for granted. In fact, when the curate began preaching what Jesus really said, he deeply offended many of his parishioners.
Victorian fiction like MacDonald's can be heavy going for we modern Christians who are used to a more streamlined style of writing. But most of us are familiar with another Victorian novel, Charles Sheldon's In His Steps, which adjures us to ask ourselves, "What would Jesus do?" (And we've all seen the WWJD bracelets!) Before we can answer that question, however, we first need to be very familiar with what he actually did.
After finishing MacDonald's novel, I took a morning to skim the gospel of Luke, reading all the red lettering. And I had to conclude that, in every era, most of us believers have lacked what I would call "the wholehearted generosity of spirit" that Christ preached. Even in the 21st century, we--like the curate's congregation--seem more attached to the erroneous attitudes that have sprung up among us than we are to Christ himself.
That is easily proved by the pastor who wanted to burn the Koran, and the supposed-to-be-Christians who picket soldiers funerals and call those soldiers' deaths God's punishment. Haven't these people ever heard of Christian love?
Too many of them, I suspect, have been taught to fear and hate anyone who is different from them. Christ, on the other hand, adjures us to love even our enemies. And John, following his Master's example, holds that, "perfect love casts out fear." (I John 4:18) That can apply not only to our fear of God, but our fear of other people as well.
Jesus, after all, insists that we give everything to Him--including our strongest affection. We must be more committed to the Kingdom of God than we are to our families, our wealth, and even our safety. That will actually free us up enormously. If we consider the Kingdom more important than our own success or reputation, we will be able to stop worrying about whether or not we are "getting ahead"--and stop obsessing about what other people think of us.
Jesus also requires that we love everybody else on earth as much as we love ourselves, and treat them as we would want to be treated. If we can manage all that, we will be so full of God's spirit that we will have no trouble doing what he wants us to. Of course, managing all that is the hard part. Loving people--even loving God--is much easier in theory than practice!
As a home health aide, for example, I can testify that working with the elderly could try the patience of a Mother Theresa. No matter how many times I tell myself that it isn't my patient's fault she can't remember things, having to answer the same question that I just answered two minutes ago can impart a distinctly irritable tone to my voice. Although I know that her medications make her forgetful, on some level I must believe that she just isn't "bothering" to remember. That she is deliberately inconveniencing me!
Treating me like a servant, in other words. That's when I have to remind myself, "Uh, Audrey, as an employee, you are technically a servant." And, even if I wasn't, Christ has adjured us not to be served but to serve. And to give, as He did, our life for others.
In His case, that included the others who stood below His cross jeering and celebrating his humiliation. Obviously I have a long way to go in learning to be a servant!
If I could just get it into my head that my first loyalty is not to myself but to Christ's kingdom, I could stop feeling "put upon" and joyfully welcome any opportunity to be of help. Because what I do for other people I am doing for Him. I am like a starving woman who has suddenly been given an abundance of bread--more than I can possibly use. Naturally, in gratitude to my benefactor, I will want to pass as much as I can on to others who need it as much as I do. As with manna, I will be given all I need as long as I keep using it. If I try to hoard it instead, as some of the Israelites did, it will rot.
We modern "Pharisees" seem to be all about fear and building walls and an "us against them" mentality--a hoarding of "self-righteousness". But Jesus, who came down here to show us what God is, was all about generosity. He exhorts us to love our enemies as well as our friends, love God above everything, and give more than we can afford. That includes giving both God and others the benefit of the doubt.
We should assume that God already has the happy ending thing covered, and that the faults of our fellowmen are minor when compared to our own. And we should never allow our lives to be inhibited by worry or fear, because we are servants of the greatest Power out there, and He always takes care of His own.
Finally, if I am truly working for God, I shouldn't require anyone else's acknowledgement. He gave me anything I have to offer, after all. Any thanks should go to Him. And, even if nobody else notices my service, He will beam over it like a proud Father. Because He'll realize that my toddling attempt to follow in his footsteps is an expression of my love for Him.