Wednesday, February 10, 2016

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Vs. WWJD

My grandmother was fond of the saying "God helps those who help themselves". She was a very strong independent woman. I heard that so many times that I looked it up and was surprised it was not in the Bible. When I was a teen WWJD bracelets were all the rage. What would Jesus do?  Both of these sayings are forever etched in my brain.

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about many things, immigration, welfare, refugees.  She told me that God helps those who help themselves and that God would want us to do whatever it took to keep our families safe and take care of "our own" first.  We should do nothing that would have even a remote chance of endangering our families.  OK, I love my family and would do just about anything for them. I love them more than myself, but I love God more.  So is it what God would want? I know he gave me my children and I am responsible for them. Especially when they were small.  So I did what I always do. I went to the Bible. After all, my friend was sure the Bible and especially Jesus would back her up.

So first off, I checked again and "God helps those who help themselves" is still not in there. Of course neither is WWJD.  But, the sentiment of being like Jesus is a valid one, so I had to look at what Jesus did and said.  First off, he was a firstborn son, and in that culture with no medicare or Social security, it was the firstborn son's job to look after his parents in their old age. Especially if the mother was widowed. We don't know that Jesus' mother was a widow, but since Joseph is not mentioned in Jesus adult life it's likely. Accidents happened a lot back then, especially working construction as Joseph did. (the word we translate to carpenter is actually better translated to builder and they built a lot with stone because there are not a lot of trees for building with wood, but lots of rocks) Jesus did not stay home and take care of his mother. In fact he at one point ignored her and his brothers. He was doing God's work which He must have thought superseded his responsibility to His earthly family. OK but he was divine, so maybe it was different for him. Lets look at what He told other people instead.  Well, four of his disciples had a fishing business to support their families. We know at least one was married, because later they visited Peter's mother in law. All four of them dropped their nets and went off with Jesus leaving their families without their income or presence.  Remember no birth control so there were probably kids involved. It was normal to marry and have kids. Jesus not doing that was against the norm. Many of the disciples were probably married and had kids.  Remember the man that asked if he could follow Jesus, but wanted to bury his father first? Jesus said no. He comes first, not your family. He even talked about hating your mother and father in one of my least favorite verses because it's so hard to understand.  Mary and Martha, sisters. Martha is someone I relate to. She was trying to take care of her family and their guests. She got rebuked for it.  So taking care of your family first, even though it's my first instinct, doesn't fit with WWJD.  This Christianity stuff is harder than I thought.

So what about the foreigners, and the sinners and the people who are different from us.  WWJD about those things?  I remember another friend once told me that Jesus didn't understand how our lives were, how persecuted we are now and how hard things are and how bad the world is.  No, the world wasn't the same back then. I think it was harder. Remember they were conquered, invaded and occupied by a foreign country. Different race and religion. Those occupiers made rules, required high taxes and took what they wanted. They allowed the Jews (sorry to the friend of my younger days who thought Jesus was a blue eyed American Christian, he was a middle Easter Jew) to worship, but imposed rules on them and made life harder.  Any soldier could grab someone and make them carry their stuff for a mile. (It's kind of cool that  a lot of the mile markers Romans used are still there) it didn't matter if you were on your way to milk a goat, eat dinner or go to worship. If they grabbed you, you had to do it, walking and walk back. That must have been annoying.  If they wanted your house or livestock, they could and did take it.  Sadly they also took the occasional daughter.   When someone disagreed with them they killed them and made a show of it. They killed a lot of people both before and during the occupation.  Corrupt Jews were given the job of collecting taxes. They were allowed to add on however much they wanted as their fee, as long as they got Rome what it required. They had permission to take anything you owned to pay your taxes if you couldn't pay it or send you to prison and sell your family into slavery. So no one liked those tax collectors, they were traitors and got rich off of other people.  Then there were the samaritans. They had their own villages, because they were different and no one liked them. They were half breeds and considered a different race and religion. They were also considered foreigners. They were sinners because they worshipped differently.  So Jesus knew what it was like to have a tough life. He lived surrounded by foreigners, other religions and sinners.

So back to our WWJD question. What did Jesus do about these people and how did he treat them?  Well, we all know the story of the Good Samaritan. In fact because of it, Samaritan is a compliment now instead of a racial slur.  We do often forget the question it was in response to. Jesus was asked the most important commandment. He said the first is Love the Lord your God. The second he said was "Love your neighbor as yourself". He said on these two hung all the other commandments and the prophets.  So someone asked who is considered your neighbor. If I have to love someone as much as I love myself, I need to know who. Is it just my spouse and kids? Is it the people who live next door? Is it everyone in my town or in my church? Is it just people who are my race, religion and citizenship? Is it just people with whom I share an economic level?  Who are these people I have to love as much as I love myself? The answer was a story. In the story the guy is ignored by the people of his religion and his race and his town. He is taken care of by a foreigner, different race, religion and lifestyle.  We don't completely get how much the Samaritans were disliked, so we are not as shocked by the story as the original listeners probably were.  We are supposed to consider "THOSE" people our neighbors and love them????  He also talked to a samaritan woman at the well who was also a sinner.  That was a huge taboo thing. He had dinner with tax collectors (those traitors) and prostitutes. He healed the servant of a Roman soldier. (can you imagine how upset people were that he was nice to a Roman?)  So, I guess taking care of our own first and closing borders is not WWJD thing.

We still have the safety issue. Are we supposed to protect ourselves and keep ourselves and are families safe at all cost? My knee jerk reaction is yes, but when I read the Bible and think about the WWJD question. Well, I get a different answer. Sermon on the mount. If I had a time machine I would go back and see that sermon. I don't speak the right language so I wouldn't understand the words, but I want to see the faces. For us, because we have heard the words so many times they lose meaning, but when you read it and think about it, Wow. This guy was radical.  We hear turn the other cheek, but don't think abut it. If someone slaps me, I want to slap them back, not let them slap me again. If someone steals my jacket, my first response is not to also hand them my shirt. I was amazed when I read Les Miz the first time, by the actions of the priest, now I know he was just an early adopter of the WWJD thing. If someone made me carry stuff for a mile (remember most people in that audience had probably had a soldier grab them and make them carry heavy armor for a mile) I would not want to carry it for a second mile (and then walk two miles back home).  Love your enemies? Pray for those who persecute you?  He told one guy to sell everything and give it to the poor.  So OK I get it, we are supposed to love and care for other people, regardless of race, religion, citizenship, wealth, sinfulness, or even if they are nice people or not.  OK but what about safety?  WWJD? He got arrested, beaten and hung on a cross and did nothing to defend himself.  He got Resurrected so lets drop that example (even though he still went through a ton of pain) What happened to his disciples and those who followed him? Surely they knew how to do the WWJD thing best, did they stay safe? Did they do whatever it took to ensure their own safety and that of their families? I wish I could say yes, but the answer is no. They didn't. Every one of them was killed for his faith. John the Baptist was beheaded while Jesus was still around preaching. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. He flat out told them that they would have trouble in this world. He told them that if they followed him they would be persecuted. He also told them to go into ALL the world. Not to stay home and hide and be safe. They got arrested, and beaten and killed. Just like Jesus.  They didn't stay safe. Their families didn't stay safe.  Man, this Christian thing is so radical and scary and different than what I thought it was.

So what does it come down to? Jesus told a lot of stories. One was that at the end of everything he was going to sort the people out. The ones that were His and the ones not.  He has this big group all calling his name, all of whom claimed to be his followers. They all know Scripture and claimed to be Christian. But, Jesus says they are not.  He sorts them into two groups and the people are confused. They are seeing people who seemed like good Christians in both groups. They ask him whats going on. All the good church going people are not in the same group.  He points at his chosen group and says. "When I was hungry, thirsty, lonely, sick, naked, etc, you helped me".  He looks at the other group and says you did not. Both groups are still confused going, "Um, I never saw you" Then he tells them that whenever they did it or didn't do it for anyone, they did it for him.  If someone needs help, we are supposed to give it, because it's as if Jesus needs the help.  So when we ignore that sinner, that refugee, that orphan, that widow, that child in need, we are ignoring Jesus.  We will answer for it. That is enough to make me want to do what I can.  I don't want to be the one to tell him I kept my family safe but that was it, (remember the story of the talents, I can totally bury my family in an underground bunker and keep them safe, but is that WWJD?) I want to say that I tried to help others and I tried (though I fail more often than I like) to do the the WWJD thing.  I remember when my son told a sibling that I told him he could do something. I had not, and he was in more trouble than he would have been for the lie.  I think we will get in trouble if we tell others that God said such and such, when he didn't. But, luckily for me, he summed it up in two commandments. I can remember two better than ten or hundreds. Love God and Love others.  Going to work on that.

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