Can “Radical Jesus” Lead Us to a Better World?

Can “Radical Jesus” Lead Us to a Better World? October 15, 2019
Joan Chittister
The Nazarene by Antonio Sicurezza, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

What’s your responsibility to the world? When you hear about the plight of refugees or the growing epidemic of homelessness or the rampant corruption of our political leaders, do you sit back and shrug your shoulders in dismay? Or do you step up and take action?

If you’re like me, you fall into a category that might best be labeled “concerned but inactive.” I am alternately angry, troubled, bewildered and angst-ridden by the state of our world circa October, 2019. But I have not taken any action, aside from contributing money to the causes I believe in. After reading Joan Chittister’s new book, The Time is Now, that may change.

Chittister is an American Benedictine nun and author who, at the age of 83, is speaking out. Loudly. “Sister Joan” is demanding we do something to get out of the mess we find ourselves in. In her words, “it is our moral and spiritual responsibility to make the world a better place” for everyone in it. She tells us:

Our world waits for you and me, for spiritual people everywhere—to refuse to be pawns in the destruction of a global world for the sake of national self-centeredness.

There’s a Role Model that Sister Joan Wants Us to Follow: Jesus.

Sister Joan asks us to stop and consider what being spiritual really means. She points out there was once a time when going to church was a measure of our spirituality. Most people believed that perfect church attendance was all it took to be right in the eyes of God. It wasn’t true then. It isn’t true now.

Sister Joan challenges us to “live as Jesus lived.” This is not the sanitized version of Jesus that dwells in some churches and in popular culture. This is radical Jesus, the one who moves amongst all people, regardless of their age, race, sex or standing in life:

Jesus moved with drunkards and sinners. He healed the outcast and the enemy. He gathered women as well as men to his side. He chastised leaders who overlooked the poor; he defied the doctrine of sexism that religions use to make male minsters superior. He stood up and in a clear voice declared wrong any policies, sacred or secular, that burdened the backs of the powerless and crushed the spirits of the poor.

Chittister believes that Jesus wanted us to follow his lead, to stand up for the poor and disadvantaged, to speak out for those who have no voice, to take right action when we see or hear about acts that are spiritually and morally indefensible. We cannot and should not remain silent. She states:

We often ignore, resist, reject the idea that, like Jesus, we have a role to play in righting a world whose axle is tilting in the wrong direction….to follow Jesus means that we, too, must each do something to redeem our battered, beaten world from the greed that smothers it.

She reminds us that the while Jesus could be loving and kind, he had another side. This Jesus challenged religious “authorities” and their antiquated views. This Jesus, when he sensed spiritual laws were being broken, upended the moneychangers’ tables.

There is no room for maintaining the perfect spiritual routine, the antiseptic moral cleanliness…none of that marked the life of Jesus himself, who consorted with sinners, healed foreigners, called women to discipleship, contended with scribes about the nature of faith, and irritated the leaders of both religion and government.

“We have to be about something greater than ourselves.”

The quote above from Chittister is a reminder that we must sometimes fight our own complacency and our belief there is nothing we can do. In her words, “The work of God is in our hands. To ignore that is to ignore the very fullness of life.” It is up to us to “speak up and speak out”—or we risk our national and global crises going from bad to worse. Again, in her words:

Those who risk nothing risk much more. While we keep our heads down, our mouths closed, our public reputations unblotted, thanks to the silence we keep in the face of great public issues of the day, the pillars of society erode around us. The Constitution flounders against the political ambitions of the very people pledged to protect it. The poor get even poorer. The middle class watches their retirement go to dust.

In the words of Barack Obama, we are the change we seek. We are the ones who must lead, who must influence, who must participate, who must cajole, who must teach. Sister Joan asks all of us:

Shall we do something to reshape the heart and soul of the world we inhabit? Or shall we do nothing and claim we are powerless? There are rallies to attend, students to teach, peacemaking courses to take, public legislation to study and discuss, facilities and services to open to the homeless. Will we raise no voice at all in the pursuit of God’s will for us all?


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