Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life … “ (John 14:6). Christ followers claim to believe it, or him. In the current climate of tolerance and political correctness followers of Jesus will respectfully but firmly insist that Jesus’ way is the way like no other, that doing it Jesus’ way gets us to the core of what is real and alive, and that following Jesus’ way is not only a good idea but is wise, beautiful, right and the best hope of good for all. We who follow Christ really believe it.
And yet … do we really believe it? Is Jesus’ way helpful, saving, game-changing in matters transcending our own immediate personal living, in matters affecting the future and well-being of more than our own circles, in the issues and concerns that daily appear in our newspapers? For example …
Currently the U.S. teeters on the edge of default on our indebtedness. The people charged with overseeing our economic systems cannot agree on what to do. I think I can understand at least a bit of the level of complexity wrapped up in this crisis and therefore appreciate how difficult any path forward will be. I do not envy the people who are on the spot and yet must take action that will not only avert disaster but will also lead us to another place altogether. I have no revelatory word that eases their burden or quickly resolves our problem.
But I do have a burden that whatever is done does not hurt the people already most hurt, or stress people already at the breaking point, or crush people already broken. However we get our financial house in order we cannot do it at the expense of the poor. I say this because I follow the one who came as good news for the poor, whose kingdom belongs especially to the poor (and not only “spiritually” poor), who promises to make right the injustices of the world that lay at the root of much of the world’s poverty. Among those who speak into this crisis, some must speak on behalf of and for the advantage of the poor. Whatever measures are adopted, they must not further deny those whose lives literally depend on government aid. Of course, such aid is very costly and giving it occasions abuse and fraud, and all the rest. I understand that. Still, following Jesus makes it non-negotiable for me that programs and services that help people must NOT be the primary way we cope with the current crisis. As if all would be well if only we stopped helping people, as if the only way to protect our way of life is to curtail help for others who otherwise have no help at all, and the like.
I sent my congress person an email urging that U.S. food programs and aid to the poorest of the poor not be targeted as a way out of the current fiscal crisis. He sent a very nice letter through the US mail system to thank me for my concern. He went at some lengths to tell me that the situation was grave, that we have overspent as a government, that we had to get it all under control, and that nothing was sacred or off the table so far as he was concerned. In other words, the poorest of the poor could not count on that member of congress for protection. I have thought that the deeper problem was, in fact, that nothing was sacred—not even persons, if a crisis became severe enough. As a matter of conscience and an expression of faithful following after Christ, my congress person will not get my vote in the next election.
Could Jesus know something we don’t? Could he have insight into a deeper reality than we even perceive—that loving the least and the most vulnerable somehow syncs us up with the eternal and with wisdom and power transcending the usual, and that to care in ways that God cares offers us a future that can be grasped in no other way, a future we would give anything to welcome?
A second and, I think, related example of how avowedly ardent Christ-followers may not really believe that Jesus’ way is the best way—at least not enough actually to follow— relates to the heightened sense of threat and terror in our world, and our responses to it. Ever since 9/11 we have been on terror alert. On that tragic day, the U.S. joined much of the world that already knew the real and present danger of terror attacks. Quickly, we identified the enemies and went after them. Ten years and two wars later, neither of which is really over, here we are. We’ve killed a lot of people at a high cost. Of course, there is the loss of life—incredibly disproportionate in terms of the numbers of non-combatants killed as collateral damage. And, of course, there is the enormous dollar cost of waging the wars and maintaining whatever victories and measure of security they have bought us. These costs have and are sky-rocketing—billions upon billions.
In the face of such costs, what should give us pause as earnest followers of Jesus, as sincere proponents of the way and truth and life Jesus is and offers, is that many accept these costs as inevitable, as the God-given and even God-sanctioned costs of protecting our rights and security. Even to question this, as I am now doing, strikes some as unthinkable, unpatriotic, and perhaps unchristian.
Yet, the One who embodies the way, the truth, and the life tells us that those who live by the sword will die by the sword—not live but die. Moreover, he tells us not to return evil for evil, but rather blessing and prayers and tangible good for the evil received. His first followers, speaking in his name, assure us that caring for the enemies may even have saving impact—which would be good not only for them but those whom they had formerly targeted as enemies.
Our usual habit is to personalize these clear teachings and to invoke a different set of protocols when nations are the key players. In so doing, it becomes possible to spend ourselves into oblivion trying to secure ourselves, to protect our ways, and make sure “it will never happen again.” Under such perceived necessities, nations fund the machinery of war without a thought even when doing so contributes to gathering fiscal doom. And, in responding to the doom, the only recourse appears to be at the expense of the powerless and voiceless poor.
Again, could Jesus know something we don’t? That the terror we have most to fear lurks in places other than normally targeted, that enemies might still become friends, that caring for people and meeting common human need (at home and abroad) may yet win hearts that, in turn, could bring a peace never ever achieved through weaponry and brute force?
What might happen if nations could become “poor in spirit” in relation to God and others, mourning the losses and deficits common to life everywhere in our kind of world, devoted to mercy-giving and peace-making, insistent on what is right for all, even to their own loss and hurt, and especially for those most often ignored?
Or, more modestly, what might happen if a few more within nations of the world, in response to the Way, the Truth and the Life, really believed and followed? Followed enough to insist that governments explore other ways to fix broken economies and respond to the fearful prospects of terror—other ways than to keep throwing money to buy protection, or the illusion of it, that effectively denies that very protection to the worst off among us.
How better might the poor benefit and the fear of terror be relieved if we embraced tenaciously the Way, the Truth, and the Life?