I read an inspiring story on ESPN (of all places?) about a group of young men doing the right thing in defense of a girl who needed extra encouragement. In some ways, she was one of “the least of these” in that she found herself at the mercy of others, defenseless. (I suppose we’re all a bit of “the least of these” from time to time then, right?)
The story sparked encouragement and reminded me why I love young people, specifically teenagers. Their capacity for doing good, even within their own sphere of influence, inspires and challenges me. My knee jerk was to hope that the young man loved Jesus, to give credibility to our cause. But then, it sparked a theory.
What if: there are 4 types of people.
A. Those who do good in the world and know why
B. Those who do good in the world and don’t know why
C. Those who do not do good in the world and know why
D. Those who do not do good in the world and don’t know why
A large majority of people in the world try and want and do live good lives. They participate in means of making the world better for others. They’re kind, they’re gracious, they’re giving. When you dig deep, their reason is some intrinsic call to it; they often flounder for a real hard fact as to why they think they should live “a good life.” I’m becoming convinced the source of this goodness – in everyone – is Jesus. All over scripture this idea is supported. The difference between category A and B? Group A names their source of good works as Jesus. Group B just doesn’t know what – or Who – to call it.
More and more, I believe (part of) our role, as people who want others to understand following Jesus, isn’t to “introduce” them to this other-worldly being, but rather connect them to someone who already lives within and even speaks to their spirit. Yearning for peace? Jesus wants Shalom for you. Regret those mean words? Jesus leads us to love others as ourselves.
In the past our messages about Jesus and the God-sized-hole filled with sin and shortcomings have often served to alienate and arm others, putting them on the defensive. Sure, we acknowledge “we’re all sinners” but what we mean is you’re the one who needs to deal with this problem. But if we look at the way the story was originally written, and I mean really start at the beginning, we find this beautiful poem of God creating things good, culminating in a crescendo of praise for his work of creating man and woman, in his own image.
Screw ups come later. And we’re all there… sin started as an event but became a situation that permeates the world we live. It’s a reality with which we’re too familiar and recent events bring that close to home. But that pull to live justly and love mercy and walk humbly? We’ve felt it tug us toward something and often we just don’t know how to name it. Maybe our experiences haven’t pointed us toward a man, a name, a belief, a way of life.
Starting at the beginning of the story, with goodness, puts everyone – believer and non-believer alike – in the same garden. No one has to defend anything because we’re talking about beautiful things. We’re offering a name and a face to something – I’m convinced – we all feel and experience, perhaps in very different and distinct ways. And once we know the source of something we all want more of, who wouldn’t want to get to know more of it? If you say this Jesus is the cause of me wanting to let the old lady in Meijer go ahead because I have a cart full and she’s holding a ham, then I want to know more about this Jesus and how I can be like that more often. I want more goodness in my life, so it makes sense to get closer to that source of goodness.
But again… it’s just a theory.
(As for types C and D, that’s a separate post, but I’d be tempted to look deeper at all of Jesus’ healings for reasons in at least one case. The other, type C (?), comes down to living a life lesser than what’s offered. But it sounds so opposite of my post to say it that way. But yeah, that’s how I feel.)