“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
I have a friend in ministry who once had this passage play itself out in his life in an interesting way. Though an ordained methodist, Jason experimented one Lenten season with wearing a clergy collar out in public. He was surprised to note how many people eyed him suspiciously at the local Starbucks and many strangers were willing to talk to him about their trials and tribulations in public locations. One week, while working on a sermon at a Barnes & Noble, Jason noticed a homeless man sleeping uncomfortably in one of the seats. It was clear that the man had not bathed in some time as many of the other patrons left a quarantine zone of empty seats between themselves and the man. Like many of us, Jason was used to seeing people in need and knew that somebody else could help this man. However, the more he attempted to work on his sermon, the more he realized that most of the people in the mini restaurant were staring at him, waiting for him to do something. Remember: he was wearing a clergy collar, everyone knew he was a Christian. So Jason reluctantly made his way to the counter, purchased a sandwich, and dropped in on the table in front of the homeless man. “Gracias” muttered the man under his pile of clothes while preparing to begin eating. “What’s your name?” Jason asked. “Jesus” the man replied.
Upon later reflection Jason wondered whether or not he would have given that man food if it were not for the fact that he marked himself as a Christian and therefore strangers had expectations of what he should do in the situation.
Jesus regularly challenged his disciples to change their lives in strange and uncomfortable ways. It is not easy to live into a new reality where we are called not to react to everything but instead continually act according to the kingdom principles of love, forgiveness, and generosity.
So, the next time you’re out in public and you see someone in need, or you’re being ridiculed by someone at work, know that following Christ’s commands are not always easy. But think about how you would act differently if everyone around you knew that you were a Christian and had expectations of you according to that identity. How would you act differently?
The answer to that question is what discipleship is all about.
(You can find out more about Jason and his ministry at www.tamedcynic.org)