John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
It is fascinating for me that at the end of the opening text of this chapter, which introduces John in Luke’s Gospel with a fiery message of repentance from sin, John’s response to the people who engage with him is not a ‘spiritual’ answer of needing to just believe or have faith in an unseen deity. His response is practical, social. Those with more than they need must share with those who don’t; those who are in positions of power are instructed not to abuse this privileged position. This flies in the face of much of what I witness in global Christianity these days. And yet, there are more than a few pockets of communities taking the social proclamations of the Gospel seriously. For this ‘good news’, in all of it’s potent immediacy, is too powerful to only have a bearing on life after death. It must (to paraphrase James badly) have an impact on our here and now as well.
Towards the beginning of lockdown I had an awesome catch up conversation with a good friend of mine. We talked all sorts of things, but the one topic that captured my attention the most was our discussion around the question: “What does it look like for me to serve others right now?” I had been thinking on this for a few days and was in a corner. I had come up against that mindset that presents itself as a false dichotomy. Is it wiser to look after my own welfare, and so doing my family’s, or to get out and about and serve vulnerable people in our community?
I say false dichotomy because the temptation is to rush violently towards either side of the argument. Strongly impassioned cases can be made for either side, but the tug of war between the two stifles any action to resolve the issue. I’m aware that my initial question is really driven by my desire to protect myself and my family from an enemy. This is a wise and good undertaking, and who could argue otherwise?
However, this enemy threatens not just our family, but all families. Can I, as a Jesus-follower, ignore the plight of other humans with whom I share this Earth? I think not, and I think John would agree. This tug of war need not necessarily win– deeper engagement may provide for a more nuanced third way. Wisdom need not be in competition with passion, they may be allowed to join hands. The disappointing reality is when either one avoids the collaboration, or is left out because of the competition.
None of this removes for me the heightened sense of, and very real, threat that dawns when considering putting myself, or family, at risk. However, neither am I released from the echoing cry of John the Baptist. I must continue to wrestle with this and trust that God will bring about in me this third way. I must trust that I can hold tightly to wisdom and passion, and that God will produce in me a life of hope for not only those I would call my own, but also those God would call God’s own!