Back in that awkward time between mixtapes and MP3 players (okay, it was probably well after the advent of MP3 players), I burned a mix-CD with MP3 songs I bought. One of those songs was called “Saving Grace” by this then-super-popular CCM band Point of Grace.
It’s all about saving grace
All about living love
Being Jesus to those He came to save
Sharing life and giving our own away
It’s all about serving God
It’s all about saving grace
If this were a radio or TV show, you’d be hearing audio of dozens of Christians using phrases like “Being Jesus,” or “Be Jesus,” or “I think you just have to be Jesus to these people,” or “We’re just called to be Jesus to people.” But it’s not, so use your imagination.
I most recently read the phrase in a Relevant magazine article that got this post started. To hear many Christians talk, “being Jesus to people” is basically our calling as Christians. It probably has something to do with those little WWJD bracelets and a little novel from the late 1800s called In His Steps.
It’s not exactly from the Bible, though.
What is from the Bible are a few verses like this: “Be imitators of God, as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1) and “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” (I Peter 2:21).
But I think the most important passage in all of scripture that tells us about being and Jesus and people is a little line in the parable of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus says (Matthew 25:40), “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.’”
We’re not called to be Jesus to those in need.
We’re called to treat them as though they’re Jesus.
This is a massive dichotomy.
If you treat a homeless person like you think Jesus would treat them, who knows what you do. Maybe you give them some spare change. You offer them pity.
But if you treat that same homeless person like they’re Jesus, this starts to make things very different. Imagine! Imagine if you saw Jesus sitting on the street with a sign saying “Will work for food.” Do you assume he’s lying? The son of God? Lying about whether he’ll work for food?
You walk into a prison to be Jesus to those people. Maybe you’re nice to the inmates. You talk to them. Maybe you try to lead them in the sinner’s prayer.
You walk into a prisoner and you see Jesus behind the bars. Now that’s a different matter altogether. You reach through the bars. You take his hand. You ask if they’re treating him okay and if he needs a lawyer, and maybe how you can help him out. You listen.
There’s a big difference between being Jesus to someone, and letting them be Jesus to you.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
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.’
I have to admit: I suck at this. I don’t let people be Jesus to me very well. When people ask for money, I open my wallet and show them I don’t have any cash. I don’t carry cash. But I don’t try to help much either. I haven’t set foot inside a prison to “do prison ministry” for years. I have more clothing than I need. Every now and then I send a donation to Charity:Water or Action Against Hunger, but every now and then I still hope the King will remember the few dollars I sent to get him food and water, not all those times I saw him on the street corner and assumed he’d use the money for drugs.
David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.
4 thoughts on “Stop Being Jesus to People”
Being Jesus to people is what we’re called to. We’re also called to see God in others, as they’re made in the image of God.
(Don’t romanticize the homeless, either. They need to be helped, and they need to be served; but it’s a mark of never talking to the homeless or helping the homeless that someone writes so rosily about the messiness of the human life and the fallen human state in anyone.)
I would agree that the homeless do indeed need to be helped and served, and I’m aware of an excessive amount of mental illness among homeless populations, but you’re incorrect; I’ve been to a shelter in Pittsburgh several times, participated in a homeless feeding ministry there, and helped with Interfaith hospitality Network here.
We’ve had this discussion on facebook where I explain that I differentiate between being Jesus and imitating Jesus. 🙂
Two words. False dichotomy. The Bible says both. Being clothed with Christ and therefore acting out of His identity is just as much a biblical theme as the converse.
I was reading the writings of a saint from the Middle Ages (I think) recently. She was referencing the moment when Jesus saw the poor woman give all her money to the temple, which was a pittance compared to the fraction, and how He said that the poor woman had given more Han all the rest. This saint went on to say that anybody can plan a good deed ahead of time, but it’s the small, spur-of-the-moment deeds that count the most because a person doesn’t have time to think, only to act. In other words, the spontaneous acts reveal who you truly are and thus mean the most to God.