The 16th-century Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, wrote a letter to her nuns toward the end of her life. In that she included the following:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion in the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless humanity now.
The idea that we are to be the hands and feet, the eyes and the mouth of God in the world is not new and in my opinion, is central to Christian Spirituality, if understood correctly. At the heart of this idea is Incarnational Theology, the understanding that God became man and dwelt among us.
We have just finished Epiphany and before that, Christmas the two seasons that celebrate, above all else, the incarnation of God into the world. The foundational idea in incarnation theology is that God became incarnate, became human in Jesus Christ to embody God’s love for humanity fully. I want us to dwell on that for a moment, God’s love for the world play itself out in the fact that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. God became flesh and dwelt among us.
The portion of the letter I quoted takes this incarnational theological idea one step further and implies, well it does more than suggest that we are to become Christ in the world. In grand theological terms, Mary, the mother of Jesus is called the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit, brought God into the world as a baby. What Teresa is advocating that we are to become Christotokos; we are to become Christ-bearers in the world. We are to love the world, and the people in it, just as Jesus did, without condition. But we need a little caution here. Caution that in our desire to be the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus, we do not think we are Jesus and believe we have a responsibility to save the world.
Several years ago, the WWJD thing became all the rage. It popped up everywhere, and it became almost a fashion statement to wear one of those bracelets with the initials on it, WWJD? The idea was that it would call our attention, or at least it was supposed to draw our attention, to the idea that in all situations we were to do things the way Jesus would do them. The problem is, we are not Jesus. Sure, we have the bible and tradition that guides us and shows us what Jesus did, but the real question is, what does Jesus want us to do? Feed, clothe, visit, love, love, love!
I believe I have mentioned this before; I am not a big fan of memorizing Scripture passages. I have my favorites, but I can look them up. Back in my college days, I attended a Christian school, and each year the school would host the regional bible contest. Kinds from all around the east coast would come, and there would be a spelling bee of sorts but with bible passages and, in the end, the one who had memorized more bible passages one, wait for it, a bible. Not sure why since they had most of it memorized. The problem with all of this is that memorization is not enough. What does it mean? What is the practical application of that passage in your life, and my life? What is the context of that passage? What was going on at the time that passage was written? We take something so complex and turn it into a game to win a prize and impress people with our ability to memorize. We do not change lives by our ability to memorize Scripture; we change lives by our example in the world.
This past week there was a story about the Falkirk Center at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The mission of the Falkirk Center, taken directly from their mission state is:
“a think tank dedicated to restoring and defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values in all aspects of life.”
Of course, there is no further definition of what “American Ideals” and “Judeo-Christian Values” means in this context, but, it is Liberty University, so I have a pretty good idea. As disturbing at that is in the 21st-century context, there is a more disturbing part of their mission statement that comes right in the opening sentence:
“Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough, and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic action and initiative is needed…”
Turning the other cheek, a central tenant of what Jesus taught, is no longer enough?
I have some suggestions of bold, unapologetic action and initiative that could be taken; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing outstanding health care to all who need it — providing quality education in a setting that does not require metal detectors and teachers that have to buy their supplies in the classroom. How about showing concern about the future of our planet and not just the future of corporations by no mocking science. We are protecting freedom of religion even if it means to stand up for the rights of people who do not share our Judeo-Christian ideals and those who also desire freedom from religion. It is not our words that make the difference; it is our actions. The central tenet of those Judea-Christian values is the love of neighbor, all of our neighbors; our black neighbors, of Muslim neighbors, our Hispanic neighbors, our LGBTQ neighbors, all of our neighbors, and how are to love them, without condition!
Jesus, the very Word of God, became flesh and dwelt among us not to exclude anyone, not to leave us with a set of rules and regulations to determine who is and who is not to be included in the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not become incarnate so a bunch of narrow-minded people, throughout all generations, could twist his words to cause death and destruction around the world, no, God chose to send His Son into this world to leave us with an example of how we are supposed to live. If we claim the title of Christian, then it simply has to begin with that first principle which is love, just love, just simple childlike love for all of creation and not just the parts of it that look like us or love like us, all of it.
Want to change the world, it starts by changing us.