“Tell Them What Jesus Did”
It made me stop…not physically stop the car but stop thinking about what I had been thinking about — whatever that was–and made me think about the sign.
Here’s a Scripture verse that points us in that direction. It’s Mark 5:18-20 after the healing of the demon-possessed man where a Legion of demons was sent into the pigs…funny story. Here’s how it ends:
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
I know that it’s been popular to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” and wear the wrist bands and T-Shirts and hats or whatever. This is all based on the Charles Sheldon book, In His Steps which has the following description on the back cover over at Amazon.
Rev. Henry Maxwell, speaking slowly and determinedly, yet not fully realizing the implications of what lay ahead of him, repeated his astounding proposition, “I want volunteers from First Church who will pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly, for an entire year; not to do anything without first asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?'” Maxwell never dreamed that among those who responded would be the most influential members of his congregation, the wealthy heiress with her millions at stake, the newspaper editor with his job on the line, the president of the local college, the town beauty. But together they pledged themselves to a new step of faith that would change, not just a handful of people, but an entire town-for good. This timeless classic by Charles Sheldon has blessed millions of people around the world who have asked the vital question, “What does it really mean to be a Christian?”
While I think this can be a fruitful exercise, I think there’s a problem with working one’s ethics this way. Mainly, it pulls Jesus out of history and places him into a situational ethics dilemma. That’s contrived, I would think, even though it may be several steps in the right direction for the person thinking this way.
What would Jesus do about cloning human tissue with the goal of eradicating a disease or two? What would Jesus do about a global AIDS crises? What would Jesus do about slavery? (Remember, it doesn’t appear that the early church…closest to the historical Jesus…was full of abolitionists. I think we could argue that they should have been.) All of these situations make the situational problem primary in the discussion…we start there. Here’s the problem. What would Jesus do?
Perhaps, that sign on the highway is onto something. Perhaps we need to start by telling the world what Jesus did. And, after telling the world–and ourselves–what it is that Jesus did, we can then ask how we, who have heard those stories and are shaped by them through the Holy Spirit, should address the issues at hand.
And, so, talking about abolition of slavery, we can look at how Jesus spoke about freedom and justice. We can note how it doesn’t appear that he was only speaking of freedom from spiritual chains but also real, man-made ones. We can look at Jesus’ actions to those who were the least, the last, and the lost in society, those who had been abused or who had rights taken away from them. And then we can ask the question…if THIS is what Jesus DID and SAID…how should we respond to the issue at hand.
Perhaps the difference here is more subtle than I think it is. But, I think the sign has it right. We need to tell what Jesus did.