This week, Pope Francis is on his first Papal visit to Africa, including stops in Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic. Commentators have made much about the Pope’s plans to visit the Central African Republic, a nation bloodied by a Civil War since 2013. The nation is torn between Christian and Muslim militias, and the Pope will visit leaders and worshippers from both religious groups during his visit in Bangui, CAR’s capital and largest city.
Commentators have labeled Bangui a war zone. Just because it is a large city does not mean it has been spared from violence. And many, including some within the Vatican, have questioned the safety of the Pope’s planned visit. But Pope Francis has insisted on visiting the places that need Christ’s peace the most. He reportedly joked to his pilot, ““I want to go to CAR. If you can’t manage it, give me a parachute.”
With the Pope insisting on visiting CAR, I have pondered about my own faith. Have I let it challenge me? Have I risked being unpopular and unliked to follow Jesus? Have I put myself – my finances, my status, even my physical safety – in harm’s way to follow Jesus when necessary? Resoundingly, the answer is all too often “no.” So I must challenge myself to do better
And I pose the same question to you: Are you allowing Jesus to challenge you to do what feels uncomfortable and risky? Does your faith guide you where you need to go, or do you guide your faith where you want to go? And I pose the same challenge to you: do better to follow Jesus, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
It’s inconvenient to admit it, but Jesus doesn’t call us to a life of security and safety. He doesn’t call us to a faith of comfort and conformity. Jesus said in Matthew 10 and Mark 13 and Luke 21 that the world will hate us for following him. He said in John 15 that the world will hate us just like it hated him. Ours is a faith that requires courage and conviction. Ours is a faith that requires us to follow Jesus down some uncomfortable roads.
Unfortunately, some Christians have used those passages to justify a persecution complex. They point to all the ways that secular culture has deviated from what they have deemed a proper Christian life as evidence of discrimination and persecution against Christians. When same-sex couples are allowed to get married, they cry that Christian values are under attack. When Christian business owners aren’t allowed to discriminate against customers, they cry about religious liberty. When Starbucks doesn’t put a nativity scene on its red Holiday cups, they cry that Christianity is being bleached from society. I
Meanwhile, there is real injustice in the world that Christians should care about. Often, the coffee in that cup is harvested by exploited workers being paid starvation wages. The paper used to make that cup might have been harvested from rainforests that sustain millions of people. Those cups go to landfills, where they remain undigested for thousands of years. The whole process of the red Starbucks cups is sustained by fossil fuels that pollute the earth and contribute to climate change. Outside that Starbucks store, there might be a homeless person who faces death from starvation and exposure while thousands of people, many of them Christians, walk by him without even making eye contact.
Let me be clear: it is these instances of injustice that really do persecute Christian values. And it is in these instances that we follow Jesus by standing up and demanding change.
In John 8: 1-11, we read about Jesus saving a woman from injustice:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
I don’t think the way this passage is written quite does this frightening scene justice. Here was have a ritual killing, an impromptu one at that. It’s an instance of frenzied mob violence, as much about venting anger and frustration and passion as about following any religious dictate. A stoning is a brutal community affair, a public execution in which the whole town is the executioner. And Jesus stands in front of this crowd and, albeit indirectly, tells the crowd not to stone the woman.
Jesus is no stranger to this kind of mob violence. Let’s not forget that his mother, Mary, could have been stoned just like this woman for being pregnant out of wedlock. In Luke 4, we read how Jesus himself was nearly thrown off of a cliff by a mob of religious folk from his hometown. And of course, Jesus is eventually ritually and publicly executed at the beckoning of a bloodthirsty crowd.
So Jesus knows that he is risking his life to stand up for this woman.
How often do we have the courage to risk comfort and reputation, or even safety, to stand up to injustice? If we’re honest with ourselves, not often. Yet, it is in the face of injustice that the world needs us most to be the Church. It is into the heart of injustice that Christ asks us to carry his light.
There is injustice in your communities, in your schools, even in your homes and in your churches. And it is there that Jesus wants you to follow him. And there is injustice in our nation and internationally. It is to solve those problems, too, that we must follow Jesus.
God calls us to be encouraged and emboldened by our faith, not just comforted and saved by it. How can you be more courageous in following Jesus? How can you be a nonconformist for Christ? How can you risk comfort and reputation, perhaps even financial and physical security, to follow Jesus?
Pope Francis says that he will parachute into a war zone if he must to bring Christ’s message of hope and peace where it’s most needed. There are war zones around us, too, into which we must be willing to parachute.
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Emmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter@DunkerPunks and on Facebook.
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