Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Only Jesus They See

I heard a song recently that called Christians to live their faith more openly and to be kinder to those around them. This song argued that it was essential to treat others as we believe Jesus would treat them, because we may be "the only Jesus they see". I think this is an important message, and I don't think it's just about reaching out to non-believers. All of us struggle with our faith sometimes, and it can be difficult to feel a strong connection to Jesus. Sometimes seeing God's love in the face of another person can make a huge difference, even for those of us who already know Jesus loves us.

I think that Christians (myself included) tend to be a lot better at talking and thinking about love and justice than actively living it out. So often we are like the people James decries in his epistle who see people in need and say, "God bless you," but do nothing to help them. Sometimes I choose not to see the need of those around me, or I choose not to make their struggles my problem. All too often my compassion is passive instead of active. I like to try to be nice to people in general and to give money to charity, but what will I do when someone in need appears right in front of me? Will I help them?

I understand why so many of us well-intentioned people turn away. We don't want to stick our noses in other people's business. We're afraid to commit ourselves to someone else's cause because we aren't sure how much time and resources we have to commit. We have a regularly scheduled day, and we don't know if we should deviate from our planned activities to spend time helping someone else. We worry that if we get in too close, especially if the person is stranger, we might get victimized ourselves. We fear that we might not be able to help the person anyway, and we don't want to be yet another disappointment to him or her. We have all kinds of logical reasons why we choose not to try to help, and they don't sound all that selfish or cold-hearted in our minds.

All around us we see bumper stickers that say 'WWJD.' We've gotten so used to seeing them that we usually just dismiss them without bothering to wonder what Jesus would do. It's a hard question for us to consider. Jesus dedicated his entire life to others during his ministry, but we have careers and families. We have other good and loving obligations that keep us from spending all of our time in service to the poor and sick. How do we decide how to use our time best?

Each time we see people around us who need some help or kindness, we need to ask ourselves whether we can help and really challenge ourselves to take action whenever possible. Sometimes there really is nothing we can personally do, but perhaps we can bring the problem to the attention to someone who can help. We can take time out of our day to pray for those people that we cannot help, and even if we don't have the power to fix all their problems, we can contribute whatever kindness we can. A suffering person will not begrudge an act of kindness just because it isn't a cure. Every act of kindness is appreciated, and we need to be sure that we're sharing God's love by showing people that they are worth our time and kindness. We have to remember that we may be the only Jesus those people see and act accordingly.

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