Monday, June 16, 2014

In His Steps

1Peter 2:21-25  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22  "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 23  When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25  For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

 In 1897 Charles Monroe Sheldon wrote a book entitled In His Steps  which was to become a Christian classic of its time. The title is borrowed from 1 Peter 2:21 “so that you should follow in his steps” , and this book challenges its reader not to do anything in life without first asking “What would Jesus do?” I am fascinated that although this book went on to sell more than 30 000 000 copies, and many, many more contemporary followers of Jesus have worn wrist bands with WWJD etched on them, very few have taken the time to think about the context of the verse that started it all: 1 Peter 2:21.

This verse comes from Peter’s letter written from Rome in approximately 67AD. The letter encourages Christians in the north-east province of what is known as Asia Minor (Turkey). They are dealing with the struggle to remain faithful to the way of Jesus in the face of religious and political persecution. Peter points out that Jesus also suffered “leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps”.  Therefore following in Jesus steps (by asking the question “What would Jesus do?”) is specific to suffering.

The question more accurately asks: “What would Jesus do when confronted with suffering, persecution and difficulty?” Jesus responded to persecution without returning the abuse, or threatening the abuser. Instead he “entrusted himself to the one who judges justly”.  So, following in the steps of Jesus, challenges us to find a grace-filled response in the face of suffering. This does not mean that Jesus-followers condone injustice or abuse. There is One who “judges justly” – and those who live life ignoring the ways of God are like sheep who have gone astray are asked to return to “the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”   

Today, June 16, is a national holiday in South Africa. We remember the young people of 1976 who confronted the system of Apartheid and forced the leaders into the painful process of change. Many leaders today embellish their histories with a “June 16th story to enhance their status. What is forgotten is the essential fact of this day – that it was very ordinary young people from local communities who stood firm with dignity and courage as their only weapons. They suffered for a just cause, and many lost their lives, their education, and their liberty as a consequence. They truly followed in the footsteps of Jesus. The challenge for today – June 16 - is for us to confront evil and injustice with the love and grace of Jesus.

For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord,
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us forward into freedom,
from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred,
all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
fear will die and hope increase.
Words: Fred Kaan
Words © 1968 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. 

First Sunday after Trinity
31 Mercy, Justice and Love
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 197.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

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