Jesus, the Essence of Reality
I was traveling down a street in Larkana, Pakistan with a friend on a very hot summer day when we came up to a “T” intersection. On the sidewalk directly in front of us sat a beggar girl. She was crippled and lay exposed to the blazing heat of the sun. Behind her in the shade was the person who had placed her there to beg. I was shocked – and I did nothing. I felt helpless. I did not believe that I could take any kind of responsibility for her, and so I continued on and left her, unchanged and untouched on the side of the road.
Whenever I think back to this incident I feel ashamed. Jesus would have stopped but I just drove by. I have many reasons to excuse myself: I had no authority, ability or resources to take responsibility for her; My mandate in Pakistan was not to help beggars, I do Bible translation; I was busy and people were waiting for me; My interference would not have been appreciated; It is a cultural thing I don’t understand; There were other important things I needed to do.
Jesus Would Have Stopped
Nonetheless Jesus would have stopped. In fact, in a very real way through the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:37), Jesus told me to stop – and I kept on going. Verses like “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” sound scary when I think about this incident.
But this is why I am a Christian: because Jesus would have stopped. Such an attitude of love, mercy and redemption resonates with me as the essence of reality, the heart of God. Jesus only did what he saw his Father doing. So when I do not follow Christ, I am rebuked, corrected and challenged. When I do not obey, I am called to turn, change and follow more closely. In contrast, many philosophies and religions do the opposite and provide loopholes so that the sacrifice of compassion can be avoided and selfishness can be justified. However, in this arena Jesus allows for no compromise.
Faith that Undermines Compassion
This does not mean, of course, that only Christians can show compassion. Merciful and kind people can be found in any religion and any culture. The hero in Jesus’ parable is a Jewish heretic. Christians do not have a corner on the market when it comes to love, mercy, humility and meekness. Gandhi is a good example. All people in all cultures, in all religions, in all walks of life reflect the image of God in some way and so they demonstrate love and mercy. However, in many cases it is not an outworking of their professed view of reality, their religion, but in contrast to what they confess to be true.
For example, a Hindu would believe that the beggar girl was experiencing the result of her own karma. As a consequence of reality it is, in some sense, appropriate. A Muslim would see this as fate, judgment from God and therefore right. The Buddha was known for his compassion. But Buddhism would consider the situation as something to be ignored, as unreal. A materialist would dismiss the person’s life as irrelevant and justify their self-centeredness.
People, whether Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or materialist, are compassionate, but often the tenets of their religion and philosophy run counter to acts of compassion. However, a true Christian, that is, one who follows Christ, sees the situation of the beggar girl as a perversion of what God desires and seeks to follow Christ in bringing restoration.
Christ: The God who is Real
I am a Christian because when I look at Christ I see the God I believe must be real: a God who cares, a God who hurts, a God who heals. When Jesus met a leper he did not clean him up and then touch him (Luke 5:12-13a). He first touched him and then cleansed him. He first entered into his pain, his disease, his anguish. Then he brought healing, not condemnation. There are people, most of whom, I suspect, are not Christians, who do this with those suffering with AIDS. That is a Jesus thing to do. And therefore that is also a God thing to do, because when we look at Jesus we see God.
Jesus said, “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48). Such a laughably impossible goal is the only one worthy of beings made in the image of God. How do we do the impossible? “Follow me,” Jesus says.