January 15, 2023 Don’t Be a Messiah By Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to our God.

Some years ago, bracelets with the initials WWJD were quite popular. Anyone know what these initials stood for? (What Would Jesus Do). They were intended to make people pause whenever they had to make an ethical decision and reflect on how they think Jesus would have responded. I have found that practice to be helpful, but just read about a young high school girl who had difficulty with this. Her minister explained that the bracelet reminds us that we are to be guided by Jesus’ actions in every part of our lives. “Yeah, yeah, I know all that, but how can I possibly know what Jesus would think?” He replied, “That is why we have a Christian community and stories in the Bible—we help each other figure out how Jesus would have responded.” Her tone was becoming more exasperated, “You don’t get it. Don’t you see? I am not Jesus. I am fully human but I am not fully God. How could I possibly know, let alone do, what Jesus would do—because I am not God?!” Her minister finally got it, replying, “You have a point.”

We at Westworth have a powerful mission statement that people here often quote—we are the hands and feet of Christ within Westworth and beyond. These words originate with St. Teresa of Avila. As the body of Christ, we love with Christ’s love, we see with Christ’s eyes, we hear with Christ’s ears, we speak with Christ’s voice. All of that is true. And there is a big but. We can choose to follow the guidance of Jesus in our daily decisions and actions or we can choose not to. And in these moments, when our egos lead us astray, our hands and feet may look less like Christ’s. We sometimes forget that we are fallible and that even our best efforts may be tainted with the graspings of pride or selfishness or a sense of inferiority.

There is a fine line between offering our hands and feet as Christ’s and taking on a messianic identity. A professor at a seminary was incredibly dedicated to his work and to his students. His schedule was packed and he often looked tired. A colleague asked to take him out to lunch. There, she said to him, “I have good news for you.” Puzzled, he wondered what kind of a promotion she had received. She said, “The Messiah has come.” By now he was thoroughly confused. She then said, “I have even better news. You are not the Messiah.”[1]

To be Christ’s body in the world does not mean that it is up to us to save the world. It does not mean that we are to cram our schedules as full as possible for the benefit of others—whether that be family or organizations such as church. If we really believe that we are Christ’s body, it means a letting go of ego prods, a listening to Christ’s wisdom, a receptivity of Christ’s compassion for ourselves, that we can then be vessel through which Christ can love others.

It’s a fine line between doing amazing things for others and allowing Christ to do amazing things through us. It’s hard to see the difference, but the effects may be evident to others. We may push ourselves too hard and in turn push others too hard if we’re all about action and less about listening. This is certainly one of my faults. My accident has forced me to go a bit slower. And that’s not a bad thing, because it gives me more time to listen.

We may also miss important advice or ideas if we are like a dog with a bone, so convinced about our own ideas that we cannot consider the validity of differing thoughts. That’s partly what caused us white, liberal Christians to cause such suffering with residential schools and other colonizing projects. Even with the best of intentions and sincerity of heart, we may have it wrong. To love with the heart of Christ means being able to admit being wrong, and that’s really hard when we’ve given our all for the sake of others.

It can also be a tremendous relief. We don’t have to know it all. We don’t have to be a superhuman. Jesus wasn’t. He was fully human, not superhuman, and that included having human emotions, getting hooked, and making some pretty unfair accusations. But his divine nature allowed him to set his ego aside and accept a rebuke from a Syro-Phoenician woman or a woman with many failed marriages.

To be the hands and feet of Christ is to eat some humble pie and be ready to admit when we’re wrong. Our ego will fight this for all it’s worth. It will be whispering in our ear, “If you acknowledge that you screwed up, you’ll become a laughing stock. People will think less of you, they won’t be able to trust you.” But think about the people who have admitted fault, who have told you that they are sorry. Do you think any less of them? I certainly don’t. I greatly respect people who can admit fault. That’s when my trust in them increases, not decreases. Confession and apology are not signs of weakness, they are humble signs of being Christ’s hands and feet.

The key to being Christ’s hands and feet is to learn to point not to ourselves, but to Christ. That’s what John the Baptist did. He continuously pointed to Jesus: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” John was so clear about Jesus being the one for whom John was preparing the way that some of his own disciples left him to follow Jesus. According to the Gospel of John, these were the first disciples that Jesus called. John seemed empty of ego, undeterred by the loss of some of his disciples. John did struggle later in his ministry, even doubting, during his imprisonment, if Jesus was the Messiah. But Jesus didn’t rebuke him. Jesus gently assured him, telling others that John was the greatest of all.

Doubt and mistakes can be forgiven. As long as we keep coming back to one who offers himself through us to love, we can be the hands and feet of Christ. But let’s not try to be a Messiah.

[1] Rodger Y. Nishioka, “Pastoral Perspective on John 1:29-42,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year A, Vol 1, ed. by Davie Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p. 264.