Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 10

by Joe Gunby

John 5:4: “Abide in me.”

“Take ‘er easy, Dude. I know that you will.”
“Yeah, well…the Dude abides.”

If we’re willing to go there, I think we find might something useful about what it means to abide in the movie called The Big Lebowski. It opens in a brightly lit supermarket as a man shuffles down the aisles to the refrigerator case, as the voice-over intones:

Sometimes there’s a man, I’m not saying a hero—cause … what’s a hero? But, sometimes there’s a man, who, well, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there.

Right off, we know that this is different than the numerous movies that tell the central conflict as an obstacle that must be overcome by someone who possesses heroic qualities — or at least who comes to exercise fortitude in the midst of difficult circumstances. In the Hollywood version of the world, heroism is necessary because the threat of evil permeates the world. Goodness is defined over-against some more basic badness. Have you ever wondered how the “good guys” in movies could be so violent? From John Wayne to Jason Bourne, we’ve been taught that in order to be good, heroes have to encounter evil on its own terms and in a way, be better than the “bad guys” at using violence to achieve your goals.

But not the Dude (the main character in The Big Lebowski). While he runs into a lot of bad situations, he never marshals virtues or resources out of his own strength to meet those circumstances, because, as we’ve been told, he’s no hero. Not only is he no hero …

… he is quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County, which would place him high on the list for laziest all time.

Now, while laziness is certainly no Christian virtue, there is something in the Dude’s resistance to heroism that is similar to the easygoing assurance of what the gospel of John calls “abiding.”

In the story the gospel tells, it’s goodness that is basic, and badness is like a limb detached from it. The gospel promises us that what we need to be good is to be attached to the very source of life, not try to make things right ourselves.

What a relief to hear that we don’t have to marshal the courage to face one more round of chemotherapy through our own strength. How refreshing that we don’t have to keep up appearances when a member of the family gets put in jail or goes into rehab (again). If we remain in the source of our life, we can have peace in the midst of brokenness and pain. The image of the vine and the branches assures us that what brings life and joy is not something that we produce, but is something that comes through abiding in Jesus.  

4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

Our lives produce good things because we are intimately connected with the life of God, which flows through us when we abide. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.

Prayer: Gentle Jesus, even when you were sweating bullets, you refused to bend the world to your will. Help me to abide in you as I learn to pray: “Not my will, but yours.”