Lenten Devotional: March 9, 2021

Where is Jesus in our work?
by Ben Whetstone

Luke 10:25-29: And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Last year many of us took the leap and joined one of Oconee Street UMC’s anti-racist small groups. Tagging along with me when I joined were some questions, doubts, and concerns. Now, I am far more able than most to get distracted by philosophical questions, but perhaps some of these came to your mind, too:

  1. Are these groups just trendy and fad-like? Also, I’m not sure what I think about all this new vocabulary.
  2. Ugh, we’re mostly rich white people, talking to other rich white people. Are we just doing this to make ourselves feel better? How’s that going to help anything? 
  3. Where exactly is Jesus in this work? 

We can agree that it’s important to be self-reflective and honest. But, just as the self-justifying lawyer in Luke’s gospel, we sometimes have other, secret motives. Perhaps we don’t naturally and instinctively love our neighbor, especially those neighbors that are very different. Or a fear we might get hurt. We’d like to delay action until we feel more ready. “Wait,” we say, “just a few more questions.” 

But I do still have these questions. And since I do, perhaps I can offer some answers to my lawyerly self:

QUESTION: “Where is Jesus in our work?”

Art by Heinrich Hofmann.

Well, that’s asking the question backwards, isn’t it? You may think that if you examine the work of being neighborly, you will discover Jesus. But you probably know from experience that it doesn’t work like that. Remember just a minute ago when we were talking about how easy it is to delay actual work by talking or fretting? 

First, go and abandon yourself to Jesus, and then you will see Him in your work! You’ll see Him everywhere, in fact. But you must be willing to follow. You can’t expect to see Jesus without an exercise of faith, and you can’t have faith until you follow. Following is faith, as it was for the fishermen leaving their nets. Jump in! 

QUESTION: “But, wait. Something else is bothering me. Sometimes I do get started on the work, but then I get disoriented and still don’t know where Jesus is in it. For instance, am I right now writing a devotion to tick a box? Or…? I’m actually kind of scared by this.”

I hear you. Remember that our anti-racist small groups are not ends in themselves. They are means of grace, which can hasten, strengthen, and confirm our faith that Jesus is with us. They ideally stir us each to love of God and love of neighbor. Like all the other opportunities our church leadership so graciously extends to us (drive-thru communion, the new responsive reading cards coming to our mailboxes, our Sunday School classes, etc.), there is no guarantee that anything will happen. 

And yet, you must humbly believe that God can work in and through these groups, and these acts of service, and that God wantsto. That is not arrogance. That is faith in the power of God, who has promised to be present with you in Christian fellowship. So the thing to do is to keep looking for Jesus as you work. 

One way to do this, ironically enough given where we started, is to step back once in a while to make sure you’re still following Jesus and not someone or something else. It’s even appropriate to ask those questions! But when you do ask, you can ensure that you’re not just procrastinating or dodging by inviting Jesus to answer. 

Merciful Lord,
We love you and want to follow you. Help us be physical and concrete in our obedience, not abstract and well-intentioned. Though we’ve failed a thousand times, give us another shot at listening and obeying.
We would really love to feel your presence as we work, and to walk with you.