Sometimes I talk to my seatmates on the plane. Sometimes I don’t. But when the young woman next to me had a panic attack brought on by her just-discharged-from-Afghanistan post-traumatic stress, how could I not talk to her?
How could I not tell her all would be well as the plane bolted down the runway? How could I not offer her prayer as we wobbled into the sky?
For the rest of the flight she peppered me with questions about my faith.
“How can you know Christianity is true when there are so many other religions?” she asked.
Because of Jesus, I told her.
Just look at him. Jesus knew how to respond with a wise word in a tricky situation. He loved children, and children loved him. He had compassion on the sick and suffering. He stood up to abusive power. He was filled with love and confidence when everyone around him was filled with fear. Peace, be still!
Jesus knew how to pray. Jesus knew how to preach. Jesus knew how to teach. He knew where to go and when to go there, and he did it all with humble panache. Jesus lived a life of consistent holiness, plucky love and convincing, enduring, steadfast sanity.
In our age of debauchery, unforgiveness and scatter-brained, flitting, fleeting distraction, that’s how I want to live. Like him.
Because Jesus is true, I think Christianity is true.
I love Jesus. I have a visceral attraction to him. Peter and Andrew, James and John, must have felt the same way, which explains why they cast down their nets and followed Jesus, seemingly at a word (Mark 1:20).
Love for Jesus is the animating dynamic of the New Testament. If we don’t understand that love, we’ll never understand people’s response to Jesus. We won’t get mother Mary with her sword-pierced soul (Luke 2:35). We won’t get Saul-becomes-Paul with his Law-honed mind catching fire in the blue flame of his gospel-struck heart.
We certainly won’t be able to understand those first seashore disciples who set out after the Rabbi of rabbis with an urgency that makes Elisha following Elijah seem like a Sunday oxen roast picnic (1 Kings 19:21).
Without a life-clenching love for Jesus, we won’t even get the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose gnashed-teeth hatred of Jesus proves his attractiveness in a sort of love inversion.
Love for Jesus makes sense of Jesus’ teaching. It disorients all our other desires and aspirations. The seat at the table’s head loses its cachet (Luke 14:8). Throwing a banquet to build our social capital portfolio becomes all too gauche.
Our eyes wander off to society’s human marginalia — Jesus’ “poor, crippled, lame and blind” (Luke 14:13). Then we’re blessed. Then we’re “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14).
Love for Jesus decenters our other loves and relationships. Natural and appropriate love for family, for those closest of bonds that Jesus calls us on other occasions to honor, becomes as hatred compared to our love for him (Mark 7:9-13; Luke 14:26).
In this way, taking up our cross and following him is not a call to burden-bearing but to following our heart’s desire (Luke 14:27).
While it might make sense to count the costs when we’re building or warring, the secret logic of Christian discipleship means our calculations happen on a very different sort of balance sheet (Luke 14:27-32).
Following Jesus involves giving up all that we have and are (Luke 14:33). We’ll sell it all to buy the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46). Mortgaging the house seems like a bargain if it means we come away with that treasure-stocked field. We’ll do it gladly (Matt. 13:44).
Costs? What costs? You may have the whole world. Give me Jesus.
Fred Rogers, that Presbyterian saint for our age, once said, “Let’s make goodness attractive in this so-called new millennium.” In this what-can-I-get-away-with moment, I suspect Mr. Rogers was on to something. And I think living out his words will mean, above all, pointing to the visceral, attractive goodness of Jesus.
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan., and author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope and the Future of the Rural Church (Herald Press). He blogs at DoxologyProject.com.