Wednesday, March 1, 2017
“Christ begs you to do the right thing and not for your sake, but only for the sake of doing the right thing.” — James Green
Us "first world" types would like nothing more than a life we could live according to directions (with pictures) like those that come with flat-pack furniture from Ikea. We want rules, we want order, we want to know what to do without having to figure it out for ourselves, but that’s not the way life is. When Karen and I first moved to California in 1970, we decided we wanted to start hiking and backpacking since there were so many great trails in Southern California. So, naturally, the first thing we did was to buy a book, “The Complete Walker” by Colin Fletcher. We needed instructions on how to walk (we were always trendy). If you buy that book, still available in its fourth edition, you will find that in the first paragraph, the author says “If you really want to walk, put this book down and go out and walk.” It was just natural for us to want to have instructions for everything; we need rules and routine. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day wanted the same thing, and Jesus wouldn’t give it to them. They wanted rules and boxes to tick off and Jesus told them to go love, to go serve, and to go care for those in need. Remember the man who wanted eternal life? Jesus looked at him, loved him, and told him to sell all his stuff and come follow Jesus. The man went away sorrowing because he had many possessions the Bible tells us. I think he also wanted a rule to live by, a box to tick off, and instead Jesus gave him a principle to follow. We don’t like those. People would ask Jesus to tell them exactly what He meant, and He would tell them a parable. They wanted a strict definition of neighbor and they got the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Not what they were wanting, nor what we want. The Pharisees were the real sticklers for rules, but Christ had some harsh words for them. In Matthew 23:23, He told them, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Rules are just not enough. The right thing to do is the right thing to do regardless of what civil law or religious law tells us. We have to figure out what to do based on all that Christ taught, lived, and demonstrated for us. Of course, we do have laws, rules, and codes of conduct but there’s a problem with the all those rules we have. Some things are legal but very bad, according to Christ. Some things are illegal but very good, according to Christ. It was legal to own slaves, to beat and even murder wives but that was very bad. It was illegal to protest against slavery, but it was right to do so. One night, almost fifty years ago, when our first son was a little baby with a fever of 106, we rushed him to the hospital. It was three in the morning, and we were the only car on the roads. I sped (illegal), I ran stop signs and red lights (illegal), and I pulled into an “Ambulance Only” space at the Emergency Room (illegal), yet we saved our son’s life by getting him there so quickly. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that in almost every situation in life, what is the right thing to do “depends.” We can do what is legal and be very, very wrong, and unethical and immoral. In “It’s A Wonderful Life” we see the nasty, old banker, Mr. Potter, doing something that was legal but immoral, unethical, and oh so very wrong. Things turned out all right because of the hearts of others who knew what the right thing to do was, and they overcame the legal evil. We can do some things that are illegal and save lives and souls for Christ. How do we know when to do the right thing without those Ikea instructions? Depends. We have civil laws, and we have religious laws, but the only law that really counts is the one that is reflected in the eyes of Christ. Christ told us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” That doesn’t leave much room for other human interpretation of to whom we should turn for directions. Every night we need to pray that prayer that Elie Wiesel taught me, “So, how’d I do today, Lord? Did I make you proud or ashamed?” Doing the right thing in the eyes of Christ may never be easy, but it is always “right.” I don’t have a link to a short clip today, but you might want to watch the movie, “Hidden Figures” to see some good examples of what was legal and wrong and what was illegal but right. Those courageous African/American women depicted in that film (some still alive) showed us how to do the right thing in the right way. It was hard for me to watch parts of that because I was in high school when those things happened, and I knew the attitudes and actions were true and real and caused pain to children of God. When we learn to love as Christ commanded us to love “one another as I have loved you,” we will never have to wonder about what the right thing do is ever again. Christ is The Way—we have but to follow. He’s all the instructions we will ever need.