Loving the person in front of you

We may be asking the wrong question.

By Adam McDuffie

Christians are traditionally characterized by a desire to live a Christ-like life. While that can take a variety of forms, we often see this expressed in a desire to be as close to Jesus as possible. We sing of wanting Jesus to walk with us. We look to the teachings of Jesus as a model for our own lives and morals. Even (or especially) when it comes to matters of politics and policy, we so often turn to Jesus.

What Would Jesus Do? WWJD?

Jesus becomes the model for our stances on policy, and it seems he can be used to justify any number of positions. It becomes less a question of what Jesus would do and more a question of what do I want Jesus to have done.

We live in a world that is broken and hurting. Violence, war, oppression, poverty and injustice can be found across the globe. We have been so distracted by the violence in Gaza and Ukraine, we have almost forgotten about what is happening in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Lybia, Azerbaijan, South Sudan and so many other nations across the world.

Here at home, we feel suddenly overwhelmed by the influx of young immigrants from Central America. Horrific conditions at home have made it more appealing for families to send children north in the hopes of a better life.

So we ask, WWJD?

Maybe this is the wrong question.

I have seen articles saying that Jesus was an advocate for peace; he would not approve of this conflict. Or Jesus loved the poor; he would support this bill to tax the 1 percent. Or Jesus welcomed all into his arms; he would let the immigrants in.

I’ll be the first to say that I’ve thought this way as well, but we’re asking the wrong question.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:37-40, NRSV).

The question is not just what Jesus would do; the question is who is Jesus.

“Just as you do it to one of the least of these.”

The man sleeping under the overpass. He is Jesus.

The little girl who has just arrived at the Rio Grande. She is Jesus.

Jesus does not simply care for the homeless; he is one of the homeless. Jesus does not just welcome immigrants; he is one of the immigrants.

I am not saying we should throw WWJD out the window. I am saying that we should not base our actions solely on his teachings. We are called to do more than that.

We should not be acting solely because Jesus said to do this or to do that. We should be acting because we recognize the inherent value placed in each and every life. Because we recognize the imago Dei, the image of God, in each and every person we meet.

This is not to say that we have to raise people up to the level of God in order to make them worth serving. It’s the opposite. This is about recognizing the humanity of Jesus. This is about understanding that Jesus does not stand above lording over his people. Jesus is among those who are struggling, walking with them. His message was that we needed to recognize the least of these as being as worthy of our love as anyone else.

Jimmy Carter, while on a mission trip in Massachusetts, met a man named Eloy Cruz who explained it like this: “We only need to have two loves in our lives: for God, and for the person who happens to be in front of us at any time.”

Maybe if we stopped wondering what Jesus said to do in a given situation, and simply acted based on the knowledge that this person in front of me right now is Jesus, we’d all care a little more about humanity. Maybe, just maybe, this world could become a better place.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.