When I was in college, I was on the debate team. We traveled to tournaments on several weekends each semester. In preparation for one tournament, some of my teammates started dropping out. I decided that I didn’t want to go if my friends weren’t going, so I went to my debate coach’s office to let him know I wouldn’t be going either. Let’s just say, Coach Mike was not pleased with my attempt to get out of the tournament. We went back and forth discussing my reasons for not wanting to go and his insistence that I meet by obligation anyway. At some point, Coach Mike became aggravated and dropped the bomb on me. He said, “you know, you’re not always that easy to work with.”
I began to sob, partly because it was harsh, and partly because it was true. In that one moment, something shifted in me. I thought back to the times when I’d been cocky, ill-tempered, or treated others poorly. I spent a lot of time with my team, and my behavior was not always kind. And I thought about other times and places and groups of people who had seen me act in less than stellar ways. Right then, I knew I needed to be better and do better.
It’s been about 25 years since that conversation, but I can still clearly recall how I knew instantly that my life was changed. The truth hurt – a lot – but it made me try to be a more thoughtful and attuned person going forward.
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Sometimes, we feel changed in an instant; sometimes, we have a dawning realization that we’ve changed; sometimes, we see the changes only in hindsight. Our reactions to the call for change can range from denial and defensiveness to gratitude and repentance.
Jesus spent his ministry calling for change. He asked those with power and wealth to be more like servants in their leadership. To serve those with less in order to meet their needs and help them, not just lord over them with arrogance. He wanted the poor and downtrodden of society to understand that he loved them, plain and simple, no matter what their status was.
God still calls to us. I have a feeling he might have some harsh, but true, words for us these days. Jesus might echo Coach Mike’s words and expand on them: you’re not easy to work with, and you’re not behaving like I taught you.
We may claim to belong to him and act on his behalf, but do we spend time getting to know him by praying for guidance and reading his word as a whole (as opposed to cherry picking verses out of context for our own purposes)? Frequently, the Jesus I know is not the one portrayed in culture. He is painted as punishing, intolerant, and mean, especially to those who are considered the least of us in society. Instead, I think he would call for more kindness, more understanding, more love. He came to rescue everyone, not just the ones with light skin, money, and privilege. How are we treating his people, keeping in mind that we are all his people? Jesus didn’t participate in “us versus them” thinking. In fact, he hung out with those considered outcasts.
God calls for us to revisit our attitudes and asks whether we are fulfilling our obligations to him. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us know that we need to be better and do better to follow Jesus’ example. The truth may hurt, but it can also set us free. Free to be more like Jesus, so that we show compassion for those in need and give love to all.