Proper 19-A; September 14, 2014; PICNIC!
“WWJD?” “What Would Jesus Do?” People have many different reactions to that little slogan. Some resonate with it, of course; perhaps they are VERY sure what Jesus would do in any situation and equally sure that they would do it, too. Others kind of cringe, recoiling from what they think smacks of fundamentalism and a simplistic reading of the Gospel.
Actually, I think it is a very good question, a proper and even an easy question to ask. It is, however, not such an easy question to answer, or to hear the answer Jesus might make.
Peter’s question to Jesus is a version of “WWJD.” Just how far should my forgiveness go when someone has really been bad to me? What would you do, Jesus?
As is the case with many of the parables in Matthew, Jesus tells a story to illustrate his position. The story comes from one world – the everyday world of economics, of right and wrong, of do’s and don’ts – but the meaning of the story lies in quite a different world, the world of unlimited, abundant, overflowing, embarrassing, foolish mercy and grace. The master is willing to forgive every last cent of debt owed him by the slave, but the slave does not learn this lesson well. This time, the master’s mercy turns to wrath. If Jesus is the master, we can then understand what Jesus would do when asked to forgive: he would forgive abundantly. It seems pretty clear that the one forgiven should also do as Jesus did: forgive the debts owed him. What does Jesus do then? I’m afraid it’s not a pretty picture.
There’s another slogan that’s popular in some Episcopal circles: “It’s not about rules; it’s about relationships.” This came from the Episcopal student community at Washington University, in St. Louis, and was the product of some intense discussion or retreat they had on the gospel. It’s a version of “What would Jesus do?” When given a choice, they would say, Jesus would choose the relationships over the rules. Forgiveness is more important than the amount of debt owed. The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What would Jesus do? It’s a very good question. The answers, however, I think come not from rules but from relationships. The answers are best formulated in a community, in the push and pull of friendships and commitments, where what we think is the “right” answer is challenged by someone else’s opposite version of the “right” answer.
What would Jesus do about global debt forgiveness? What would Jesus do about same sex marriage? What would Jesus do about racism? I might think I have the answer, but I just might learn more about what Jesus would do from the answer you have, or from the opinion you have formed from reading the gospel, or from the facts you bring to the table.
What a value, then, to a church as a diverse community, a place where the tough questions Jesus raises can be tossed around and debated from different points of view – to be a place where all of us can ask those questions and hear some answers, in the context of our conversations, our relationships, our listening to not only what Jesus would do but what Jesus would have us do.