I’m going to say things that have been said before by many others. You will not find anything new here. It may sound different than what may be expected from someone like me but it still needs to be said. Again and again. I guess.
Jesus’ calling of the 12 disciples was never a simple invitation to engage in a pleasant announcement about a coming kingdom. His was a calling that would require the utmost unselfishness and commitment from them. They may have been excited to walk in the dust of this rabbi but it got complicated real quick. In spite of His many thought provoking ideas about this kingdom, few thought it would lead to a cross. His cross or theirs. When they walked away from their fishing nets to participate in His new way of life, everything would have to change. And it did.
“Follow Me” was an invitation to do life as no one had ever done it before. Leaving their nets behind was easy. Grasping the significance of followership was not. It was difficult, in part, because they had to deconstruct from their old ideas of followership. It wasn’t easy. What they believed He was calling them to do seemed impossible. It even stupified them at times. On top of that, the best of the best of the religious elite scorned these followers as unlearned, unacquainted with the Old testament Law and the Prophets. Nobodies who were nothing more than pesky gnats on the backside of an ass.
It probably was better that way. Unlearned, unsophisticated, and unprepared they were never taken seriously. Not even by themselves until Resurrection Sunday. But follow they did.
I’m not always sure that Jesus believed they would. There were moments of brilliant understanding followed by great disappointment. His way of life was different. It was upside down. The way to greatness was through servanthood, humility, self sacrifice, speaking forthrightly and portraying His love and grace.
His way was clearly different from the religious elite and the wealthy ruling oligarchy. It also was far different from imperial Rome which viewed the Jews and this motley crew of followers of “The Way” as nothing more than potential insurrectionists…as a bothersome fly on the back of the Roman emperor. The Empire was powerful. This goes without saying. It flexed its muscles and people died. It dominated and did not tolerate, let alone celebrate differences of others under their strong arm of protection.
Jesus saw life much different than either the Romans or the Jews. His way, the good news way, embodied justice, truth speaking, and acts of love. His way came in the fashion of a prophet, the attire of a servant-king with a towel draped over His arm with a heart for all people especially the poor, oppressed, marginalized, sick and downtrodden. His was a voice for the voiceless offering hope for them thru access to His kingdom…the kingdom of heaven. It piqued their curiosity and moved them to call for His coronation.
Even though He was a king, it seemed His role as a prophet got Him in the most trouble. He protested the injustice of the people by the Romans and the Jewish religious elite and wealthy oligarchy in the most crafty of ways. His protest was to publicly denounce them and call them to do better. He had a right to do so but this only brought the venom of those who opposed His way of life..
We like to think of Him speaking only of the good news of salvation but His was a call to a different way of life and a different kingdom. In this he did not waver. His protest was often delivered in parables and short homey stories. It clearly called them all out for presuming to be God followers. In this prophetic vane, gentle Jesus meek and mild was a master of speaking truth to power. He called out personal injustices, collective injustices and systemic injustice. And, of course, He paid with His life for it. He never raised a fist, recruited an army or called down fire from heaven. But he did enlist His followers to join Him in this peaceful protest. But they ran away.
We don’t think of it that way but it was a protest. He protested the way of life of all parties and walked into the den of lions and delivered a message that a change was coming and they could do nothing about it. His words and deeds, His very existence was an assault not only on the fierce forces of Satan but the very people who failed in their duty to be a light to the nations.
What He was doing was modeling the way of life that was narrow but leads to everlasting life. It caught His followers off guard and it catches us off guard (though He spoke with great clarity and His life was an example). In doing this, He modeled a voice for the voiceless. Unwilling to remain silent in the face of power. He spoke out against all kinds of sin including racial hatred, oppression of the poor by the wealthy, abuse of power by the rich and sexual assault men perpetrated against women among many other things. He did not align Himself with the empire, nor the conserevative Jewish leaders, their wealthy liberal counterparts, or the Zealots looking to create chaos and incite an insurrection. He may have had empathy for the Essene community holing up in the desert waiting for the kingdom to come but instead, he got into the middle of the mess and protested all inequity and injustice. HIs words were clear and precise but they went mostly unheeded–even though His own Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my son, listen to Him!”
What did He expect from His disciples? Well, nothing less than what He said and did. And what was expected of them is still true of us today..
Jesus’ words are read in our sanctuaries weekly. They are there not only as a manifesto the early disciples were to follow but for us today. But it seems we are sadly lacking in followership today. In fact, we seemed to be following different saviors and our speech is anything but savory. We are unconcerned about speaking out against injustice or for the voiceless. We are more interested in defending our own way of life–as a white privileged majority not as followers of Jesus who have understood that to find your life you must lose it for His sake. It is becoming much worse than I imagined. It seems most are abandoning their kingdom citizenship and aligning themselves with a political party to change the world. Abandoning Jesus’ way of life altogether or some mix and match variety which will never satisfy a slaughtered lamb.
I don’t want to be too harsh. Not everyone is drinking the kool-aid offered by the political parties vying for power today. There are some who are smart enough not to miss Jesus in all of the contentiousness debate going on about us. It isn’t a simple issue or a singular issue. But most of us in the church don’t want to walk the way of Jesus. We know why? It is messy, disturbing. We like to be liked. We want to do no harm first. We have to keep our image intact, and our way of life undisturbed. We dislike when things change. We prefer comfort and convenience, safety and security. But herein lies a truth we are hard to admit. Our way of life is a sin. Our silence and inaction is a sin. It is a sin in many different ways. Have we learned nothing from the lessons of Israel (see Isaiah 1:2-20 and Habakkuk 2). How is this so you say? When we don’t speak out for those who are being mistreated and oppressed. When we don’t find ways to resolve problems but only want to spread hate and overlook our oppressive ways. When we arrogantly believe our way is better than another and in doing so mock the way of Christ who became a servant to many. It is a sin when we are silent about racial injustice particularly when Jesus made it a point to say that we are to “love God and love our neighbor as yourself.” This is willful disobedience. Instead of following Jesus, we shrink back from getting involved. Jesus called His disciples to speak out against injustice and asked them to lay their lives on the line for His kingdom–not the kingdoms or political parties of this world. His way is a different way. If we do not follow His way, we may call ourselves a Christian but we are not one of His followers.
Do We Look Like Jesus?
Obviously, I am not talking about our appearance when I am asking, Do we look like Jesus?” But if you call yourself a Christian I think it is a fair question,
Remembering the question John the Baptist posed Jesus, “Are you the one we have been expecting?” Jesus’ reply was “What does it look like to you, John? The lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead arise, the poor have been preached the good news of a Gospel declaring the rule and reign of God has come. I have come to bring a righteousness and justice that sets men free.” He meant both spiritually and physically. Jesus knew John could read the bread crumbs. They were in plain view anyway.
If someone is curious that we are followers of Jesus, can we say, “Tell me what you see? What do you hear about me?” Is there enough evidence to prove to you that you are following the path of the crucified Christ? What if they asked the poor among us? Our immigrant neighbor from Egypt? The recovering addict living in a sober living facility? Our black or brown neighbor? The Muslim family living down the street? What about our enemies? Would it be said that we love them like Jesus? Christians haven’t always looked like Jesus but we should. This cuts both ways. I’m still working on it myself.
Jesus associated with the outcast, marginalized, mistreated, poor, and even His enemies. He was kind, gentle, sought justice-demanded it and promised it would come. He spoke against racial barriers, oppression of the poor, against the empire, and religious elite’s practices of believing one way and living another. His words still cry for justice and righteousness to prevail. He demands a righteous way of life where evil does not prevail and good people do not remain silent or inactive.
In “The Way” of Christ, we must be followers. He is counting on it. Followers not just Christians. We need to put aside caustic social media dialogues, insensitive comments about people who are being treated unfairly, a people of color whose babies are dying in the streets. We must see the imago dei (the image of God) in all of us as a starting place to engage civilly in conversation that will lead to real change. We must find ways to live out our humanity in ways that are respectful, wise, loving and kind…just like Jesus.
What are you standing for? How are you engaging others at the deepest level of their need? Where is the empathy needed to hear with an open heart and mind? What are you advocating for? How are you doing so? Is your message clear or is it contentious? If you are a Christian, we are held to a higher standard at the very least. But if you are a follower of Jesus, we are called to champion a different way…the way of the crucified (slaughtered) lamb. Who are you following? What bread crumb trail have you caught the scent of? Is it the way of Christ (which is the narrow way) or an ideology, political party, system of belief that is fraught with cynicism, hatred and injustice. We will be required to give an answer.
The journey of faith will always take us deeper into a redemptive and restorative life in the way of the sacrificing Lamb and not the way of a privileged life.
So, how are you doing?