Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Great Spin-off Question about Serving

In response to my last post, Megan wrote:

Andy, I have a spin-off question. You mentioned not worrying about "making a mistake"- alluding to the mistake being if you gave someone the wrong kind of assistance. But what if the mistake is putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation? I have heard folks- mostly grown men- give the answer to questions like Marti's "Instead of giving cash, take them to lunch." Or as you say, give people the gift of time and attention. But if I am walking to my office in an area of town with a bad reputation, with no one around to help me, as is the case most days, and a stranger asks me for money or something else, which is also not unusual- what am I to do? Am I being un-Christlike to consider my safety and not stop by myself to "give attention" to the stranger, let alone lunch? I have no problem helping people in "safe" environments like my office- but is that enough? Is there a line somewhere between being Christ-like and helpful and placing myself at risk of a violent crime? Or do I find that line after I make the mistake? How does a young woman respond to the call to be a "Good Samaritan?"

I love spin-offs!

Your point is well-taken, Megan. I would say that it is not un-Christlike to consider your own safety. Jesus himself did so as he prayed in Gethsemane before his crucifixion. It seems to me that his personal well-being was weighing pretty heavily on his mind as he asked if it might be possible for God’s cup to be removed from his lips.

But going deeper, and a bit more “theologically speaking,” you and I are trying to be Christlike in a broken world. The world in which we live is imperfect and there are people here who will intentionally hurt others and commit violent crimes and prey on those perceived as vulnerable. In fact, it is because we live in a broken world that followers of Jesus are commanded to “be Christlike.” If the world was already as God intended it to be, well then our job would be done, and the party could really get started.

I wish there was a line like you describe; a risk-marking boundary that showed us “this far but no further.” That line would be in different places for different people, I suspect. And it would be in different places in different contexts, as well. One would tend to draw that line much closer when walking alone in a part of town with a bad reputation, for example.

But what happens if I draw that line and instead of a boundary protecting me it turns out to be a barrier that keeps another from receiving life-giving help? Of course, this is the heart of the question you raise.

I’m not intending to “proof text” here, but maybe this passage has something to say: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19b-20)

I believe that when I say that I am a disciple of Jesus, I am saying that my life is no longer my own. My life. My physical life does not belong to me any more. I have in my wallet a copy of John Wesley’s covenant prayer that says, in part, “I am no longer my own, but thine…. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.” The idea of the prayer is that we belong to God, whether that means we will prosper or suffer as a result of our actions.

So, I don’t believe that you always have to be risking your life in order to be considered Christlike. And neither do I believe that a situation being life-threatening excludes it from Christian discipleship.

I believe that, because we live in a broken world, there may very well be times when following Jesus means risking our lives. And that bothers me, because I don't know if I am really willing to do that.

PS - I have a-whole-nother response that has to do with your use of the phrase “Good Samaritan” but I believe I’ll save it for a-whole-nother day. :)

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