A married couple took in a homeless woman, and instead of showing gratitude, the woman turned them into Child Protective Services, accusing the parents of neglect, starvation and other abuses of their seven adopted, special-needs children.
A family took a young man named Nicholas Cruz into their home after his mother died unexpectedly. Their son had observed that Nicholas was despondent after the loss of his mother and talked to his parents about letting him live with them. And, as we know, they did, and then he – by his own confession – murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, FL, on Valentine’s Day.
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
The couple who took in the homeless woman and gave her shelter, food and post-surgical care did all that because they believe that they’re called by their faith to reach out to people in trouble and invite them into their spiritual community. And now they must deal with the aftereffects of feeling betrayed, turned on, by this person they invited into their home. And the young man who wanted to help Nicholas Cruz has to deal with the aftereffects of his killing 17 people at his high school. Unexpected and tragic outcomes of trying to do good.
So what about us? How are we to follow Jesus? How do we know what Jesus is calling us to do to continue his work of social justice and peace? How do we respond to his voice in our heart and to the opposing, persistent voice in our minds warning us that if we get involved in certain situations, we risk being hurt or killed?
Jesus is clear in what he expects from us. If we truly follow him and his challenge to love him, others and ourselves with all that we have, we are to stop at nothing to do what it takes. And, he says without equivocation, even if that means our own death. How do we balance living out our faith and having common sense approaches to staying safe? For ourselves, for our families, for our friends, to live to do good another day? And does Jesus really mean physical death, or can we rationalize what he has to say and dilute it to a less threatening call, make it more palatable? That he is speaking figuratively about death, death to our desires for self-promotion, competition with others for possessions and prestige and self-absorption.
But what if we take him literally? That Jesus is truly saying that we must be ready to give up our physical lives if that’s what it takes to follow him? None of us can answer these questions for another. I know with certainty, for example, that I would protect my children’s lives with my own. But I can not prescribe for you what you are to do or not do in your following Jesus. Just as you cannot speak for me.
People who love and support the couple who gave shelter to the homeless woman are encouraging them not to turn away from their courage and determination to live out their faith just because of her actions. And people who love and support the young man who wanted to give shelter to Nicholas Cruz are affirming his reaching out to another who needed help and are encouraging him to keep doing what he did before. To continue to be the extraordinary young man that he is.
Scott Beigel, a geography teacher at Stoneman Douglas high school, died when he unlocked a door to make it possible for students to get into a room to hide from the shooter. Assistant Football Coach and security guard Aaron Feis died after shielding students from bullets. And athletic director and wrestling coach Chris Hixon died after rushing to the school to help the students under siege.
So we see that it can be physical death, that Jesus’ declaration to us resounds in our time: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And even though we can’t decide for each other what we are to do each time, what we can do every time is pray. Pray for guidance, to ask God to show us what God wants us to do in each particular situation. And trust that God will show us exactly what God wants from us, needs from us at any particular time and will help us do it. And will be with us during our actions and afterwards as well.
With that, when we see another without a home, when we see a young person without a family, when we stand at the classroom door, we’ll know exactly what God wants us to do. And with God’s help and grace, we’ll do it.