Following Jesus with sympathy and action

"We are not lords, but instruments in the hand of the Lord of history...we are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ's large-heartedness, by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, for whose sake Christ suffered."

So wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter from 1943, just months before he would be arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in a prison in Tegel. Earlier in the letter he says, "the great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts," which was true in Germany in 1943, just as it is true in America in 2016, just as it was true one dark afternoon on a hill called Golgotha outside of Jerusalem in the first century.

Evil is a havoc-playing masquerade, an empty parasite feeding on the good, true, and beautiful. But evil isn't the last word.

Jesus is the large-hearted Lord of history.

Jesus "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:6-8).

Jesus suffered for and with those who suffer, no matter their race or vocation.

Jesus is the last word, the Word made flesh who stands ready for the consummation of history, where he will wipe away every tear and make all things new (Rev 21:1-5). 

Jesus is the king of a multiethnic, kaleidoscopal kingdom which hopes for the moment when we feel his scarred palms press against our wet cheeks and hear him say "welcome home."  

Our churches must step into this evil day (Eph 5:16) with the bright hope of the gospel, the good news that the dividing wall of hostility between us and God and between "us and them" has been crushed by the crushed body of our savior (Eph 2:11-21). We need men and women who reject passivity and bear the sufferings of our neighbors (Eph 4:2). We need to reject narratives that give us villains to hate, that creates an "us" and a "them." We need to stand with our black neighbors, affirming their full dignity and worth as men and women made in God's image. We need to stand with our local police officers who also bear the image of God. The mere fact that those two sentences seem so discordant together is a sad testimony to the masquerade of evil all around us. We must not give in. No more "waiting and looking on." It's time to follow our savior and move towards our neighbor with gospel fueled large-heartedness.