Reframing the Question “What Would Jesus Do?”

Reframing the Question “What Would Jesus Do?” February 20, 2021

“What Would Jesus Do?”


That’s a question Christians ask themselves many times over the course of their lives. Some even go so far as to wear WWJD bracelets so they can glance down at their wrist as a constant reminder. Perhaps even some have the letters tattooed on their knuckles. Either way, I’m sure we are all aware of the phrase and the sentiment behind it. We want to live like Jesus and want to do exactly what he would do in all situations.

The problem, of course, is that Jesus (the first-century Jew) isn’t around. So, we have no idea what he would do in many instances. We are modern people living in a modern world, so plucking a Second Temple Jew from his context and asking what he would do in, let’s say, the United States of America, is really anyone’s guess. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment. I just don’t know if it’s a realistic idea.

Further, when we ask “what would Jesus do?” whose Jesus are we talking about? The Bible’s? Okay, from which Gospels? All of them? Okay, but they’re all kind of different. After all, they are other people’s accounts of his life, and those other people had their own lenses and filters through which they viewed the world. Traditions’? Sure, but there are a lot of Jesus traditions, many of them quite unlike the others.

So, what do we do? Throw our collective hands up and stop trying to follow Jesus? Not necessarily. I think there is something amazing about him that we would all do well to learn. What’s that, you ask? Simple: Jesus thinks we are all capable of doing great things on our own. As he said in John 14:12, we will do greater things than even he did.

Why would he say this? I believe it’s because he didn’t see himself as special, just the first. Not first as in best. And not first as in removed from his Judaism. But first to fully “get it.” An enlightened master. A true bodhisattva. An anointed one.

So, when we ask “what would Jesus do?” I think we miss the point if we are literally looking for something in his life that validates whatever we are about to do. It reminds me of that anti-vaxxer who went viral with her idiotic shirt about how Jesus didn’t get vaccinated. Well, duh! There’s thousands of things Jesus didn’t do that we do today. But that’s beside the point.

A better way to ask the WWJD question is this: How can empathy lead the way? Or what is the loving thing to do in this situation? Questions like these. That’s what Jesus truly did, more often than not. Sure, I don’t really think he got everything 100% correct. Just ask the Syrophoenician woman who put him in his place. That story, to my mind, shows me two things about Jesus, though. First, Jesus wasn’t perfect in how we typically think of perfection. And second, Jesus didn’t have an inflated ego and was able to repent (change his mind) on the spot.

This type of Jesus – the one who is truly human and who can truly be followed – is a much more compelling Jesus than the quasi-man many Christians seem to fawn over. Their Jesus seems like a robot; one who didn’t fart, shit, get boners, or throw up after eating bad guacamole. But the Jesus who lives out of a place of empathy and compassion? Now that’s a Jesus I can get down with.

Does that mean I’m going to get a WWJD bracelet any time soon? Not a chance. I’m not really into pithy little Christian sayings. But for those who do ask this question on a daily basis, I hope this can help frame things a little better. Jesus was not a modern person, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be into solving modern problems with modern solutions should he come back today. I think he would be in favor of curbing climate change. I think he would support the Black Lives Matter movement. I think he would be in favor of LGBTQ affirmation. I think he would be against all wars, including the dreadful Drug War. But maybe that’s just the Jesus I want to believe in because these are the things that matter to me. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Jesus would want from me.

Until next time.


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