Blogging Towards Sunday: April 15th
WWJD? [What Would Jesus Do?] is a phrase commonly printed on bracelets and t-shirts these days to proclaim a message of Christian ethics, morality or world-view shaped action. It’s an acronym that has entered the lexicon of our national and pop culture. It comes from the work and thought of Walter Rauschenbusch, an American theologian and Baptist minister of the last century [1851-1918]. He was one of the key figures in what became known as the Social Gospel movement: an effort to care for the poor, widowed, orphaned and excluded. It began out of an effort to live out the teachings of Jesus, to truly be able to pray may your will God be done on earth as it is in heaven. That movement faded in glory, losing popularity in the beginning of the 20th century to the growing evangelical and fundamentalist perspectives. But now, the essence of the movement is back, feeding those later movements with its vigor. I wonder though if the acronym isn’t wrong in itself? I don’t think Jesus asks us to do what he did so much, as he asks us to find our identity in his kingdom and Way, asking us What Will You Do when you are confronted with….?
Philosophers and theologians tell us that a text (such as the Bible) creates a community: that’s its purpose and potential. As we gathered around the text last week at Easter, [Mark 16:1-8] we were encountered by the resurrection story of the three women, the last to leave the full tomb, and the first to return to find it empty. They didn’t see Jesus then and there, but rather were told by the angelic young man dressed in white, lingering at the tomb, to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus was going before them to Galilee, returning to the birth place of his movement, his works of power, his teaching: in brief his good news. Rather than a celebration of the resurrection of the body, it’s a call to the body of the movement to return to its source, to remember who they are called to be, to re-become a community of Jesus followers and gospel doers.
The teaching today is a return to Galilee, to Capernaum [the center village of his movement in that region]. The disciples, discussing or maybe arguing about the child that they couldn’t heal [Mark 9:14-29] and which of them is greater, better, or smarter than the other eleven. Jesus senses their leadership wonderings and insecurities and asks them a question. He’s not trying to criticize or belittle them, but rather teach them with the Socratic method, what would be seen as the basis of Rabbinical Dialogue: an asking of questions in which the learning of the students happens in the consequential rhetorical dialogue. But, here the disciples say nothing. They are too afraid, insecure, or clueless to even be able to respond.
So Jesus teaches them by example, taking a child, lifting the anonymous little one as an example of what it means to be a servant of slave (in Greek it’s the same word) of all. When we encounter the text from our culture we make a mistake. The Greek words for child (used here) and slave (used elsewhere) are nearly identical, which tells us how the Ancient World saw children. While we often place them at the center of our life together, the Ancients saw them as risky investments: Few lived to adulthood. Unwanted ones were left by the Romans on the ground outside of the town. In the social hierarchy, they were at the very bottom, even below foreign slaves. So what then is Jesus saying in his parable as he plaes the child in the middle of their grouping: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me does not receive me but the one who sent me.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, German Philosopher and former Theology student, wrote what is perhaps the alternate parable, used by our Western Culture, to define greatness:
“What is good? – All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.
What is bad? – All that proceeds from weakness.
What is happiness? – the feeling that power increases – that a resistance is overcome. Not contentment, but more power; not peace at all, but war; not virtue, but proficiency. The weak and ill constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so.
What is more harmful that any vice? – Active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity …” – The Anti-Christ, §2
What Jesus is saying is that we have an either/or choice: either we go with what Nietzsche affirms about strength (which was commonplace in the Ancient World Jesus inhabited) or we make the radical choice to go with the risky teaching of Jesus. How does that recreate us as a community? How is that risky for how we live together here on College Ave in Rockridge? How is it for you in your work life, social decisions, and family commitments?