I was recently asked to write a Gospel summary. The instructions given to me were as follows:
"In your own words, write a summary of what is important in living as a Christian. This summary pertains to both basic values and concrete ways of living as revealed in the Gospels by the words and actions of Jesus.
Imagine that you are explaining the teachings and example of Jesus to an adult who is interested in Christianity. This person is intelligent and well disposed, but not yet familiar with the Gospels and, therefore, has asked you to write this summary. The length of the summary depends on you, but you should try to give what you consider to be a representative summary of the Gospel message."
I was to write the summary without looking at Scripture and do so in one sitting. The result was two very different pieces. One was much more theological and reflected on what it means to be a Christian, the other a more literal summary that dealt with Christ's life and the challenge it poses to followers. The piece that follow is the latter.
On the table next to my bed stands a small card that reads: "Today's Challenge: Live Jesus."
The card may only be the size of a business card and the challenge it poses only two words, but its message is so much more expansive than that. Those two words, live Jesus, mean so much more.
To live Jesus is to live the Gospel. Living it is no simple task, neither is trying to summarize the message of the Gospels, but I guess it wouldn't be called a challenge otherwise, now would it?
It is today's challenge. A challenge renewed and reawakened each day. The challenge starts in a manger, under the cover of darkness, where God became human. Born to a simple family, Jesus defied all odds and brought the Divine into the everyday, bringing with him hope and a new way of relating to God. To live like this Jesus is to recognize the Divine in our midst.
From there the challenge took form through the life and ministry of Jesus. On the banks of the Jordan, he fulfills the prophesy of his cousin John, who baptizes him with some reticence, as the Spirit falls upon him and Jesus is called forth to the life he will lead unto death. Jesus seems to sense the challenge that lies ahead for him (if he doesn't sense it then, the next forty days in the desert communing with God and being tempted by the Devil surely make the point clear.) Yet when he emerges from the wilderness he invites others into the journey he has already begun.
Calling fisherman to cast out their nets, to have faith, he wrangles a ragtag group of disciples to follow him, to become fishers of men. These followers leave behind their livelihoods to follow this teacher. He leads them for miles on foot, teaching them in word and deed. As they travel they meet people of all sorts- the rich, the poor, women, children, temple officials, prostitutes, tax collectors, and many more. In one way or another he talks with and relates to each one of these people.
In some cases, he challenges them and their way of thinking. He questions the temple official's motives and blind adherence to rules (he heals on the sabbath and replies to the questions of commandments meant to trip him up), a move that does not make him popular by any means. Of the rich, he instructs the rich young man that he might do all the things in the world right but to truly find God he must leave his riches and follow Christ.
In other cases, he uses them as examples. "Be like a child," he instructs his disciples, for to do so is to trust and love purely. "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me." He crafts stories from the Good Samaritan to the Prodigal Son to teach his disciples about how to live, the gifts of faith, and the call/responsibility that comes along with such faith.
This call was lived out even further in the way he welcomed those he met and was welcomed by them, growing in relationship and allowing lessons to be learned, healing to take place, and people to find God. Dining with prostitutes and tax collectors, he was one with them. And on the hillsides, he instructed many, feeding them with loaves and fishes and nourishing their souls by instructing the masses in how they would be blessed for being true to themselves and following God in the Beatitudes.
Through all of this Jesus lived fully and after three years of ministry he went with his disciples to Jerusalem for what would be his Passion, death, and resurrection. Here, the challenge to "live Jesus" takes all the life and teaching from his life and is distilled. Here, to live Jesus is to be the hands of Christ; the hands that break bread and share it with friends, so that all might be fed. Here, to live Jesus is to have the eyes of Christ, eyes that look up from the floor where you kneel to wash the feet of others, humbled in service and love. Here, to live Jesus is to feel the pain of betrayal by friends in the garden and to forgive. Here, to live Jesus is to carry the cross to death. There, on the hillside, Christ died, nailed like a criminal to a cross. To live Jesus is to be present to that.
And finally to live Jesus is to live the Resurrection, Christ's rising from the dead. Returning to share the Good News, as he had before his death, but with a new spirit, one that called those he taught to action in remembrance of all he had taught them. He told the women at his tomb not to weep but to share the hope of his return. He met his terrified followers in an upper room and on the road to Emmaus, where they didn't recognize him, and in each place he brought them joy and promise, bolstering their faith and calling them to more. He was alive and calling them to live too.
And so, the Gospels end. Jesus ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit is left with his followers. But the Gospel message doesn't stop there. We wake up to it every morning. It stares us in the face. A story lived thousands of years ago, a challenge that is still alive today: live Jesus.