The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.
Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.
I have long subscribed to the idea put forward by people like Frederick Buechner that the place where your passion and the world’s need intersects, there lies your calling. I’m not so sure of that anymore. I’m not so sure that following Jesus is about doing what makes you come alive, as has become popular teaching amongst many Christians. I have seen this idea taught in theological colleges and I have told it myself to numerous people. But after my experience calling the offices of some MPs and the strength of concern I have had over the abandoned men on Manus Island, I’m changing my view.
Jesus calls us to be prophetic, and that, by its very nature, is hardly ever comfortable. Unless you’re the sort of person who just loves an argument and is always up for a fight, then you’re not going to be very comfortable expressing your concerns about a grave injustice to the very people who are perpetuating that injustice.
I recently did some study on the life of John Wesley, the evangelist whose ministry changed the very culture of England in the 18th century. One characteristic of Wesley that impressed me was that he always walked towards the marginalised and looked to be Christ-like regardless of his own personal emotional turmoil. Wesley was a man who probably didn’t realise how Christ-like he was. It’s interesting that, on his way back from his ministry in Georgia, depressed and disillusioned, he lamented, “I went to America to convert the heathens, but who, oh, who will convert me?”
Our conversion comes when we follow Jesus into the uncomfortable places, just like he did, and when we do it because it’s right, just like he did, not because it makes us come alive. It is when we go and do what is right that we gain energy and our passion. It is in the doing, whether it makes us feel alive or not, that our passion is born and grows. Even though I didn’t want to ring the offices of those MPs, my anger and disbelief at what our country has come to with the treatment of the Manus men affected me so much that I could not just sit back and do nothing. The image of the prophetic Jesus within compelled me. To paraphrase the words of the wonderful movement that does so much for asylum seekers, love made a way.
If we want to have the abundant life that Jesus promises, if we want to experience the Christian life and be close to God, then we just go out and do it because it’s the right thing to do. There’s a reason that Jesus said 87 times in the gospels, “Follow me”. Doing what is right is rarely easy, and there are so few Christians who do it. Love by its very nature is sacrificial. As the late, great Ross Langmead wrote many years ago, love is rare.
Acting out love though is how we change, little by little. Richard Rohr says that we don’t think our way into new ways of acting; we act our way into new ways of thinking. We don’t see where our passion lies before we act; we see a situation, we act, and from that our passion grows. That is when it is a Christ-like passion, the passion of the prophetic Jesus who loved without flinching, who denied himself and literally picked up his cross and walked the way of love. As that great follower of Christ, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Jesus acted; he loved. His life was a living sacrifice. That’s why St Paul calls us to do the same in his letter to the Romans. Because that is where we find life, in sacrifice, in discomfort, in doing what we don’t want to do.
God is love and love is giving, to quote Ross Langmead again. Love, by its very nature, opens itself up to hurt and abuse. But it keeps loving. That’s what Jesus did and it’s what he calls us to. It’s the only way we will find the life we have always wanted. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but it does.
Love is the narrow way, because so few travel it. It is the way of paradox: we die to live, we open ourselves to hurt and rejection to gain joy, and we surrender to gain victory. It is the only way. Any other way is not the way of Jesus. But any other way is not worth the life and joy we gain when we follow the way of the One who had to be crucified before he was resurrected, the One who is the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, who bore our sufferings because he did what was right.