I have been in a season that is difficult to describe. Some might call it wrestling with my faith, but that is not it. My faith is fine, stronger than ever. I do not doubt Jesus, nor His love for me or His love for you. I am wrestling with Christianity and the immense disconnect between the Christianity that is so loud and visible right now and my Jesus, who it claims to be in pursuit of. I search for the fruit of the Spirit; for love, for joy, for peace, for patience, for kindness, for goodness, for faithfulness, for self-control, for the SINGULAR fruit of the Spirit, in all the noise and chaos that claims to belong to Jesus and I find it so deeply lacking. There is so much focus on OTHER people’s sin while ignoring our own deep brokenness. We want to legislate people into goodness, instead of loving them as they are and showing them the authentic kindness of Jesus, which is the root of real transformation. Love for others, the real kind that flows from His heart to ours, has been replaced by smear campaigns against groups of fellow human beings and the support for more walls and less compassion. We are told we cannot afford such luxuries in a time like this, we need political power instead of God’s love. Just like in Jesus’ day, the people want a King, not a Servant Savior. And in all of this, somehow American Christians are the victim. It does not align with the posture of Christ and it breaks my heart.
So in this season of searching for Jesus’ footsteps in the midst of all the kicked up dust, I read this quote about the concept of the Moral Circle it has really stuck with me.
Your best friend just got a job waiting tables at a restaurant. To celebrate with her, you go to the restaurant to eat dinner on her first night. You get seated in her section. Soon your friend comes to your table, sweating and stressed out. She is having a terrible night. Things are going badly and she is behind getting food and drinks out. So, what do you do? Easily and naturally, you say, “Don’t worry about me. Take care of everyone else first. Then get back to me.” This act of kindness on your part is no great ethical chore. It is just natural to extend grace to a suffering friend. She is inside your Moral Circle.
But imagine you go out to eat tonight. And your server, whom you vaguely notice seems stressed out, performs poorly. You don’t get good service. What do you do? Well, since this stranger is not a part of your Moral Circle, we get frustrated and angry. She is a tool and she is not performing properly. She is inconveniencing me. So, we complain to the manager and refuse to tip. In the end, we failed to treat another human being with mercy and dignity. Why? Because in a deep psychological sense, she wasn’t really “human” to us. She was a part of the “backdrop” of our lives. Part of the teeming anonymous masses toward whom I feel indifference, fear, or frustration. Only those Inside my circle are truly “persons” to me.
To me, it seems that our job as Jesus-followers is to welcome people into OUR Moral Circle. Authentically. We should extend to everyone the same love and compassion and understanding and benefit-of-the-doubt-giving that we give to OUR people; because Jesus’s people, the ones HE loves, should be the ones WE love…and Jesus loves everyone. Every.ONE. Every time we engage in the act of “othering” people whether it be by race or gender or sexual orientation or religion or income or employment status or level of need or choices they have made, we stand in opposition to what God asks of us.
Last Sunday, our pastor spoke about The Good Samaritan. The story starts with a religious person asking Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” seeking a list of people he needed to love as himself, or more likely, a list of who he could exclude from this kind of love, and Jesus answered him with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There was a man who was beaten and robbed and left half dead on the side of the road, and two high-ranking religious officials not only walked by him, but CROSSED to the other side of the road to avoid him. Then a lowly Samaritan, despised by Jews (like the one who asked the question) and definitely not part of any religious elite, saw him, pitied him, dressed his wounds, carried him to an inn and paid for his stay and anything he needed. Jesus asked which of these men was the man’s neighbor and the correct answer was, “The one who had mercy on him.” and Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
So, let US go and do likewise. I’m speaking to myself here as much as anyone. He may be working on my heart here, but to pretend that I’m exempt from the need of this CONSTANT reminder is not genuine. I need it. I need people around me who spur me onward, and I’m lucky to be surrounded by many people who often remind me of these truths. We don’t need to travel the globe to share Jesus with people, though it may actually be easier on us if that were the case. It’s easier to be good to people who don’t wear on us daily, or to be our best selves for 5 days in a totally different environment. We can pretend to bear fruit for a little while, but the facade slips if it isn’t real. As Brant Hansen says in Blessed Are The Misfits, “Look at the fruit. That’s what falls out of it when you bump into it.” When we are busy or exhausted or someone hurts us or we are inconvenienced, what comes out of us? When someone bumps into us, physically or metaphorically, what do we produce? That’s the fruit. And to bear love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and self-control in our DAILY lives, that’s a Jesus thing. We can’t manufacture it. We can’t pretend it. But if we allow Him to produce that fruit in us, those things will touch the people we interact with every day. It will let the world know just how GOOD our God is, because it actually sees it in us, one neighbor at a time.
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?”
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love God and love people. I pray we learn to do it well.