Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting Involved

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).

The last thing I need right now is one more thing to do. From conversations with friends and church members, I suspect many echo that sentiment. There is just so much to do. Our work seems to get more challenging by the day. Our children’s over-scheduled activities can having us running morning, noon, and night. Some of us are caught in the challenging role-reversal of middle age and find ourselves being parents to our parents. Others battle frightening sickness. In the midst of all of this, we seek to maintain our relationships with family, friends, and our faith community. So I don’t need one more thing to do...except for those times when I do. Consider...

The words of Jesus included above challenge me in a surprising way. The "words" are the third of Jesus’ "seven last words from the cross," the seven last recorded sayings of Jesus before he died. In many ways, they are like a "last will and testament," where Jesus takes care of things that are important to him. As Jesus hangs on the cross, he looks down and sees his mother, Mary, standing there watching her son die. It is not difficult to imagine that Jesus is concerned about Mary’s needs, and simply asks one of his disciples to look after her. But could there be more going on here? I believe there is. Jesus lived in a very male-dominated culture. In that day, a widow was dependent on the men in her life (generally the oldest son) to take care of her. On the cross, Jesus recognizes that Mary was vulnerable and would need someone to take care of her. So he tells Mary and John to be mother and son to one another. In an act of loving compassion for his mother, Jesus protects Mary’s vulnerability by asking John to step in, and for the two to be family to one another.

Now, as I’ve said, I don’t really need one more thing to do...except for those times when I do. What I mean by this statement is that it’s really not enough for me to hope my church and my faith can be an oasis from all of the world’s problems, a "haven of rest" in the midst of a troubled world. It’s nice when it can be, but there are simply times when for the sake of other people, I need to step into their vulnerability and be family with them. Perhaps someone lives in a dysfunctional relationship and needs a good friend, mentor, older brother, or father. Perhaps a child has no family to care for him or her, and needs to be adopted into a loving family. Perhaps an elderly or disabled neighbor needs someone to take the place of children who live hundreds of miles away. Either way there are times when for someone else’s sake, I really do need one more thing to do, and am asked to rearrange my life around their needs. For the other person, it could be a matter of quality of life, even life or death. For me, it is a matter of faithful discipleship.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was finishing divinity school, he had several job options. Most were in the north, where he could either be a pastor or college professor without the inconveniences and humiliation of segregation. One option, however, was at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Both King and his wife wrestled with the choices they had, because the opportunities in the north were very attractive. They could have escaped segregation. In finally making the decision to accept the pastorate in Montgomery, King says,

"We came to the conclusion that we had something of a moral obligation to return [to the South]—at least for a few years. The South, after all, was our home. Despite its shortcomings, we had a real desire to do something about the problems that we had felt so keenly as youngsters. We never wanted to be considered detached spectators. Since racial discrimination was most intense in the South, we felt that some...who had received a portion of their training in other sections of the country should return to share their broader contacts and educational experience. Moreover...we had the feeling that something remarkable was unfolding in the South, and we wanted to be on hand to witness it" (The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 44-45).

King was invited to enter into the vulnerability that black Americans in the South experienced, and work to change their suffering. The results of that work are well documented. So as you look at your day planner and to-do lists and the people, needs, and opportunities around you, I leave you with a simple question: do you need one more thing to do? Consider your answer carefully!

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