This summer, I’m playing with the book of Mark every week! Check out my original post about why I’m studying Mark, and Mark 1:Authority, Mark 2: Avocado Toast, Mark 3: So You’ve Left Fundamentalism…, Mark 4: Our Patch of Earth, and Mark 5: What is Your Name?
“As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd;
and he had compassion for them,
because they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things”
It is really exhausting to try and be Jesus.
They gave me a WWJD bracelet at summer camp, and I never really took it off.
The fundamentalists installed the WWJD button, but when I left the fundamentalists for the progressives, I found out that they have the button, too. What Would Jesus Do about homelessness, health care, refugees. Read about Jesus to figure out what is Good and what is Bad. Jesus is your compass: watch Him spin in your hand and walk where He points.
So I wake up every day trying to be Jesus. I guess there are worse people to try and be like.
I’m really bad at it, though.
The Christians around me are bad at it, too.
And when you’re really bad at something, the shame can harden into hypocrisy. I cover up the dark parts of myself – my racism, greed, lust, xenophobia, – that aren’t like Jesus, because I don’t know what else to do with them. And the more I cover them them up, the louder my righteous indignation gets towards everyone who is practicing my secret sins in public. If you don’t deal with your shame, you will weaponize it against the Other. We fail ourselves, our leaders fail us, we resent our leaders but we resent our own failures even more.
If you don’t deal with your shame, you will weaponize it against the Other.
WWJD, y’all. What could go wrong? What could go wrong with serving the poor, justice for the widow and the orphan, healing the sick?
A whole hell of a lot can go wrong when WWJD is the beginning, the end, and the middle of our religious experience.
When all we do is follow in Jesus’ footsteps, all we see if the back of God.
We’re so busy trying to be Jesus, we never look at Jesus.
When I read this story in Mark two weeks ago, my first scribbles were about how we, too, can have compassion on people who are lost, who are sheep without a shepherd. I need to see people with compassion, and teach and love them like Jesus!
As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd.
And he had compassion on them.
For they were like sheep without a shepherd.
But instead of reading that story and looking for what to do next – can you take a breath, and just look at Jesus? Instead of putting yourself behind Jesus’ eyes, can you let yourself be the one that Jesus sees?
In the crowd, one of a few thousand, probably on the road for days. You’re up on the edge of the water, squinting for the boat over the glare from the sun, jostling for a better position, arms rubbing up against strangers’ arms, trying to make a little square of personal space for yourself but not willing to move to the back where there’s more room, because you got here early so that you could have a better view. You’re elbowing your neighbor a little more sharply than necessary. You’re hot, sweaty, you smell terrible and the guy next to you smells even worse, and there’s tightness in your shoulders and soreness behind your knees.
Being a “sheep without a shepherd,” y’all, is not romantic. It’s always having your ear to the ground, hoping that the next person that comes along will have answers that finally resonate. It’s standing on the edge of so many stages waiting for a hero to come out from behind the curtains. It’s being hopeful and resentful of your own hope; cynical but ashamed of your own cynicism.
It’s always having your ear to the ground, hoping that the next person that comes along will have answers that finally resonate.
It’s standing on the edge of the water, waiting for a boat to come in, and hoping that someone on that boat will be the kind of trustworthy that you can stake it all on. Or even just stake a little bit on.
What do you think it would feel like to have Jesus really see you, right in that hopeless and cynical minute?
A Jesus who doesn’t blame you for abandoning your church.
Who doesn’t shake his head at you for not knowing exactly what to think about hell.
Who doesn’t furrow his brow because you’re angry at your professors in seminary.
Who knows that you get in fights online with “heretics” because you’re kind of scared that you’re a heretic, too.
Who knows that you haven’t read your Bible in like 3 years because you aren’t even sure how you’re supposed to read it anymore.
Who saw you pretend to be more religious than you are with your family, and less religious than you are with your coworkers.
Who takes in all that information about you, and His eyes tear up. Because you’re a sheep without a shepherd, and He knows how terribly hard and lonely and frightening that must be.
And even though he’s tired and overworked and hungry and unrested, he gets out of the boat. Because he knows that you’re so desperate for someone trustworthy to reach out an arm and say,
“Grab on here. This is strong. This will hold you.”
If we never look at Jesus, we will never see Him looking back at us. We’ll never hear His words to us. We’ll never see His heart for us. And we will never fall in love.
And I believe with all my body and heart that the only thing that can carry us through darkness, through betrayal by our Church and betrayal by our brothers and sisters – that can give us strength to fight for justice, boldness to forgive, fierceness to stand between the oppressed and the oppressor, courage to speak one imperfect word instead of falling into silence, humility to fall silent instead of speaking over the Other – the wisdom to know What Would Jesus Do, and the power to do it – all of this, every bit of it, only can come out of the white-hot center of falling in Love with Jesus and knowing that He has already fallen in Love with us.
Because the Gospel is the Good News that God so loves this world, so loves me, so loves you. If I can’t see Jesus’ love for me, I’ll never see how much Jesus loves my neighbor. And the only sustaining way to serve my neighbor well, to do what Jesus would do, is to see them as beloved.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
And Jesus loves you, this I know.
That is the big Gospel that is fuel in the jet engine of all our service and all our justice. Jesus, climbing out of a boat and seeing a beach full of hopeful and cynical people, and reaching out his arm.
This is strong. Hold on here, love.