by Eugene C. Scott
Most lists include Jesus as the third most important person in human history. Third! Have they never watched Talladega Nights? And no, the two finishing in front of Jesus are not the other Persons in the Trinity.
But seriously, Muhammad and Isaac Newton nose Jesus out at the finish line in these lists mainly because Jesus shares credit for the founding of Christianity with the Apostle Paul (#6) and because Jesus did not start a political movement.
WWJD in Politics?
Agree or disagree with Jesus’ third place finish, it is true Jesus was not very political. Why then are so many people today trying to enlist Jesus in their political causes? Why not ask What Would Muhammad Do? Or What Would Isaac Do?
Instead everyone from PETA to President Obama is asking WWJD? as a way to add biblical street cred to their ideas. The animal rights organization PETA prints the words “What would Jesus do?” over pictures of animals being killed. At the end of the video they answer for a silent Jesus and conclude, “Go vegetarian.” Trouble is he didn’t go vegetarian.
And though I could find no citable examples of the Religious Right using the WWJD phrase, religious conservatives have long implied Jesus may be on their side politically. They may have been the first to have drafted him to their team.
But the Religious Left has since piled on. Sojourners, speaking for the Religious Left, wonders, “Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?” After exegeting many of Jesus’ actions as not only religious but rather political, and claiming Jesus was an angry activist, author Aaron D. Taylor answers his own question with, “I don’t see how a person [Jesus] can be an angry activist and a friend of aristocrats at the same time.” Problem is Jesus did have several aristocratic friends: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to name two.
Rabbi Eliyahu Fink calls this “transparent political pandering.” I think it’s worse than pandering. It shows either a towering ignorance of Jesus or a dangerous dishonesty. Or both. I have a friend who believes that because Jesus pulled a coin from the mouth of a fish and told Peter to use it to pay his taxes, Jesus is for taxes and, in this case, for raising them on the “rich.”
WWJD in Weird Ways
Victoria Emily Jones says, “The phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ has become a snowclone, a phrasal template that’s customizable to suit any purpose. A lot of its present-day derivatives have nothing to do with Jesus, but instead substitute his name with somebody else’s.”
Jones is on to something. Many, however, are not merely using the WWJD? phrase as a snowclone, but rather are using Jesus himself that way, substituting Jesus for themselves in their political beliefs.
It’s the faulty “name it and claim it” theology (Jesus said for you to give me your money) being applied to politics (Jesus said you should join my political cause).
Neither false belief have much more to do with Jesus except using his name as a snowclone.
Jesus as a Reflection of Me
What this amounts to is not an attempt to honestly follow Jesus and to live life as the third most important person in history did. But rather it is striving to show Jesus would have followed us. In this way, we treat Jesus as a mirror’s reflection of ourselves mimicking our every move.
This is troubling first because it is so narcissistic. Second because it gives me permission to stay stuck in my misperceptions and misbehaviors that are destructive to myself and others.
What would Jesus do? My reading of his four biographies shows Jesus would challenge nearly every foundational belief in my life, either for me to deepen them beyond my shallow perception, or to throw them out because they are self-serving lies. Knowing which is tricky. Yet Jesus has often asked the latter of me.
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” not “Make up your slogan and recruit me.”
I know some of you reading this may not believe Jesus was the Son of God. That’s a subject for another conversation. You may simply think Jesus was merely the third (or second or tenth) most important person in history. What is undeniable is that, without starting a political party, enlisting a military, or founding a government, Jesus has impacted billions of lives.
Whether you believe Jesus was God Incarnate or not, my living spiritually challenge for next week (Holy Week) is this:
Read one of Jesus‘ biographies (Mark and Luke are very straightforward) and choose several humanly accomplishable things Jesus did. Then each new day of the week attempt to do that very thing.
Monday I will forgive something big the way Jesus did; Tuesday I will spend time with some children; Wednesday I will look at someone I disapprove of or am afraid of with non-judgmental eyes; Thursday I will not defend myself if accused or attacked; Friday I will give grace and mercy to someone who may not deserve it; then Sunday I will replace my fear of the future with faith.
I do not want this to be an exercise in perfectionism, nor in futility and frustration. More than likely it will take more than one day to accomplish any of the above. And if I know myself, I will fail at one or more of the above. What I do desire is to know and experience the attempt. What do I feel when I succeed or fail? What have I learned about myself? What have I learned about Jesus?
What would the third most important person in history do? Unfortunately not a lot that I fill my daily life with. Maybe this week I’ll find out. Join me please.
Eugene C. Scott doesn’t wear bracelets or outfits. Jesus didn’t either. He also loves to read and write stories. Eugene is currently writing another blog called The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.