WWJD went the rounds a few years ago, showing up most notably on bracelets on the arms of devout Christians. The well-travelled acronym for ‘What would Jesus do?’ doubtless spurred many on to acts of compassion, kindness and various good works.
While I don’t disagree with the idea that we should imitate our gentle, kind, compassionate Savior, something else recently transformed the way I think about the concept of my behavior toward others. Notice I say it transformed my thinking. The working out of it is going to be a daily challenge, I’m sure.
When imitating Jesus we have a knotty problem. Jesus healed people and forgave sin, but he also rebuked sharply, most famously in the scene where he overturned the moneychanger’s tables at the entrance to the Temple. He tailored his action to the inner condition of the people he interacted with. How are we to imitate someone who could read people’s hearts?
While listening to Eric Metaxas interview the somewhat radical Christian author Ted Dekker, I was stunned by a posit Dekker suggested. (By the way, Dekker’s story is pretty amazing. You should check it out.) I will paraphrase. “What if true Christianity is doing what Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew 25 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…I needed clothes and you clothed me…I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” What if our salvation consists not just in the act of a simple confession of faith, but is tied to these very real, and let’s face it–uncommon–acts of compassion? Now I’d heard these verses many times. The passage is couched in parable, most scholars believe. But I took the meaning quite literally because I’m pretty sure that’s how he, Dekker, meant the question. I understand the truth that faith without a demonstration of works is not really faith at all, and I have attempted to demonstrate my faith with good works. But…
I have never visited a prison or fed a starving person. Would giving clothes to the goodwill count, or playing piano at the local mission, or passing out hamburgers to the homeless once or twice? As Scrooge says in A Christmas Carol, ‘I’ve been no better than the next man, or no worse if it comes to that.’ In the end, would my faith be invalid? Was I joining the dismissive masses by giving myself a pass from Christ’s words? For a few hours I allowed myself to entertain the idea that Dekker proposed, or rather tried to escape it, and sat with the horror of it. Did Jesus really mean that these specific activities were what he was looking for? It is so easy to make excuses for ourselves, by simply parroting the popular dogma of the day. I don’t want to do that. Too much is at stake.
To complicate matters, in the last week my husband suffered a painful injury of the foot, and is not able to walk. I am his primary caregiver and must take on additional duties during his convalescence. Even if I were to start my ‘prison ministry’ now, who would care for my husband or do those jobs?
On a commute back from a job I had across town, I prayed, “Give me wisdom, Lord! What do you want me to do?” Almost immediately the thought occurred to me, ‘I must treat my husband as if he were Christ.’ How would that change the things I did and the attitude in which I did them? Life with him is the sphere of influence in which I find myself. Since it’s unlikely that even Mary the mother of Jesus visited prisons and clothed the naked, as her job was to be the mother of Christ, surely there is an overarching principle that Christ was teaching that applies to all people. But a principle must have a concrete reality. I thought of the most obvious person with whom I was in relationship. That is where I must begin. There may be a time when God calls me to prison ministry, but there was no question that now was certainly the time to care for my husband. So it is with all the people with whom I have contact. I’m called to see them as Christ and treat them accordingly. It seems to me that Jesus was giving us the most odious examples to show that there is no one from whom we are exempt from treating in the manner we would treat him. My behavior towards others is my treatment of him. Period.
I pondered this through the evening, and in the night another thought appeared. Trying to imitate Jesus aka WWJD, can inevitably bring a sense of pride, but treating another human, whether he or she is your spouse, your boss, your co-worker, or that other fella on the road as if you would treat Jesus, flips the narrative. It engenders humility. This, I think is what drove Mother Teresa, not the thought that she was imitating Christ, but that she regarded every other human, in a very real sense, the same as her Lord.
Perhaps I’m missing the point, or overstating the obvious, and there’s no question I’ve much to learn. I’m still mulling it over.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.