Christ Church Pitsmoor

A cup of tea – 2 :: wwjd?

on April 1, 2012

The traditional post service cup of tea is often a point at which we pick up some of the more pointed or controversial things said in our ministry.
 Here, Huw Thomas asks whether we need to ask “what would Jesus do”?.

The banner most broadcast in the Occupy London protests asks the question: What Would Jesus Do?

The broadcasters presumably wanted to contrast the banner’s question with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.  Although I share a desire to follow Jesus I feel uneasy at the WWJD question. Fact is, most times I don’t know what Jesus would do.  And  I’m not sure I need to know the answer, or be prompted by the question.

To act as a real compass, I’d need to be able to ask WWJD in circumstances unlike those in which he is depicted in the gospels. I recall seeing a banner at some event in the run up to the Iraq war on which was painted the question: “Who would Jesus bomb?” Clearly, the Jesus of the gospels rejects the sword at his arrest, but I don’t know what he would have done if he was Prime Minister, recently faced with a potentially massacring Gadaffi. Similarly, I know he threw money changers out of the temple, but I don’t know what he would have done if he shouldered the responsibilities of the Dean of St Paul’s.

I find the WWJD question begs a knee jerk appeal, often trivialising or sentimentalising the person of Jesus. Yes, if you ask me which crowd of folks looks more like Jesus, the protestors or the bankers, I’d have to say the former look more like the itinerant young rabbi making his way around Galilee. I just don’t think the similarity is relevant.

If Jesus did have a favourite colour, I still reserve the right to choose my own. Discipleship is about applying what Jesus taught, whether as a protestor  or a merchant banker or a police officer called upon forcibly to evict the campers from the London highway. Reading the story of Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11) there is an interesting interplay between what Jesus does and what others then do. Once on the donkey, Jesus does comparatively little at this point. He has created this one awesome symbol, by entering the city on a donkey never used before – but the cloaks, the leaves, the shouting are all done by other folks. It’s an inspiring picture of discipleship taking it’s inspiration from him, but then applying it in so many different ways- including one so creative that we take palm leaves with us on this Sunday, 2000 years later.

To be a disciple is to follow Jesus, not to ape him.

Reading the gospels it soon becomes apparent how frustrating discipleship would be if it tried to second guess Jesus. If there’s one trait of Jesus that answers the question “What Would Jesus Do?”, it’s his continued capacity to surprise. You’re petrified on the lake and WWJD? Have a kip. You’re concerned that this crowd have no food. WWJD?  Tells you to feed them.   As sinners perfume his feet and centurions ask for his help you find it impossible to predict WWJD, and at the foot of the cross you give up any hope of answering the question. You find yourself on the road to Emmaus telling some stranger where you thought WWJD would lead.

The idea that one can so string up the traits of this surprising teacher to be able to puppet him through a succession of life’s occurrences is at best simplistic, at worst  it results in an idolatrous refashioning of Jesus as a graven image.

Jesus had an annoying tendency to divert WWJD questions back from whence they came. Call him good, he asks why you said it. Ask him who counts as a neighbour and he makes you puzzle it out with a Samaritan’s story. Discussing the judgement of God he turns to his listeners and asks “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12v57).

Maybe this Jesus is less interested in me asking what he would do, and keener on me asking what I should do?


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