When I became a Christian, I joked that I still hadn’t been taught the secret handshake, and that I wasn’t a REAL Christian. Yet. Then I was quickly assaulted with all the phrases, vernacular and acronyms associated with modern Christianity: F.R.O.G., eschatology, Don’t Let God Be Your 4th Emergency Service. And of course:
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
Which sounds great. After all, in any situation, wouldn’t you want to do what Jesus would have done? I would. I mean, I read the Gospels for the first time like some fanboy, sitting on the side of dusty roads in the Levant, shouting, “Go, Jesus, go!” And I finished realising two things:
1. I wanted more of that.
2. It was going to be hard. I mean HARD.
And then I found myself in all these situations thinking, “What would Jesus do?” And I often came to the same conclusion, “I don’t have a clue!” My car just broke down. “What would Jesus do?” A boy just did something for which I must give him an after-school detention. “What would Jesus do?”
Taking Jesus entirely out of the context of the 1st century AD and dropping him in 2014 is liable to lead to problems. In terms of the Gospel narrative, Jesus did a narrow range of things. He taught, healed, performed miracles and fulfilled the purpose of His very special life.
Often when confronted with a problem, I do not have a parable handy. As many times as I’ve wished and even prayed a miracle might descend on a situation, generally, they remain ephemeral. Whatever the grand purpose God has created for my life, I am not aware of it, and so it can’t really inform my decisions in the way that Jesus marched so resolutely to his own demise and ascension.
So, doing What Jesus Would Do? often adds a level of complication which can, if anything, add anxiety and stress.
HOW WOULD JESUS DO THIS?
What about that? Because then you don’t look at what Jesus did, but HOW he did things. And actually, I’ve found that much more interesting, and much more useful.
For instance, if you take the Woman at the Well (John 4), the What is pretty basic. Meets a woman. Convinces her that He is a prophet. Convinces her that He is the Messiah. She goes off to tell people. Spread the Gospel. The What of that story doesn’t really help us, beyond the fact that we meet Jesus, we get the everlasting water, we go tell people.
But let’s look at the How. Jesus confronted a foreign woman. Alone. He ignored social convention. He created a situation which was unacceptable to polite society. He met a woman where she was. The use of water is a wonderful analogy, but also used imagery the woman would understand. It spoke her language. Pointing out that she had a checkered past with multiple husbands was proof of his prophetic gifting, but also cast her as a sinner. And what did the Messiah do with this sinner?
He allowed her to go spread the good news. A sinner spread the good news? Well, yes, of course. Remember, only one non-sinner ever spread the Gospel.
So, back to How.
Meet people where they are. Speak their language. Don’t judge. Allow them to see the big picture. Invite them to be part of it. Let them be changed by their involvement.
My car breaks down. How would Jesus do it? Call the auto club. Let them know what’s going on. Don’t get frustrated or angry if they’re late. Everyone they’re helping is an emergency. Don’t presume yours is extra special. Thank the person helping. Let them know where you’re going. Why their help has been so valuable. Make them part of the unfolding success story.
A car breaking down obviously pales in comparison to the news of the arrived Messiah. But life is made of small things. WWJD often doesn’t fit neatly into life’s little dramas. But I have found How Would Jesus Handle This is genuinely useful.
What do I do with the kid I need to give an after-school detention to? He’s the adulteress. The WHAT: Pharisees get sinner. Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Woman leaves, having been told, “Go and sin no more”.
The HOW: Jesus sees someone in a punishment situation. What does he do? What I love, probably my favourite moment of the Bible, is what he does. He writes something in the dirt at her feet. What?
WE HAVE NO IDEA!
So, the How is that he first personalises it. Creates a connection between himself and the sinner. Then, he contextualises it. He makes everyone understand that no one is perfect. That we are all in the same boat. As has been oft-discussed, there is no man present. By law, this is unfair. The male adulterer should also be punished. Jesus actually totally ignores this. Why? Because the situation is about the woman. The man’s involvement is a legalistic argument. What is Jesus’ tact? We’re all in this together. “Go and sin no more” is saying, “It’s not ok. There is right and wrong. Try to do better.” Some people take this as the pivotal moment in the woman’s life. And that she will, indeed, sin no more. But I think that misses a point. We have no idea. We don’t need to. God will continue to forgive so long as she asks.
So, my detainee. I interact. I personalise. I let him know that he slipped up, and might well again, but that he needs to try to do better. I don’t focus on the rules side, but on the behaviour side. The issue is doing what is right, not about the particulars of the consequences.
I can’t do what Jesus did. The situation is different. And I certainly can’t guess what Jesus would do in a different story. But I can do things how Jesus did them. And I can do those things in my own story, wherever it takes me.