What Would Jesus Do? by Ray J. Rousseau

Sometimes we must just listen and let another soul unburden itself.
  “Integration” Blog     at Institute of Spiritual Sciences     “Regular Articles” Department  

When we are unsure of what to do, of what we should do, we can stop and ask ourselves, “Imitatio Christi,” What Would Jesus Do? And then perhaps we can just listen, and let a soul unburden itself.
Painting: “Sermon on the Mount” by Carl Bloch; 1887.

What Would Jesus Do?
by Ray J. Rousseau
June 30, 2023

What Would Jesus Do?

Ever ask yourself this question?

Many people assume “What Would Jesus Do?” is a modern pop culture term. But no, Charles Spurgeon, a well-known evangelical Baptist preacher in London, used the phrase “what would Jesus do” several times in a Sermon he gave way back in 1891. In his Sermon, Spurgeon cites his source of the phrase as coming from a book written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis, sometime between 1418 and 1427, “Imitatio Christi” (Latin; The Imitation of Christ). In popular consciousness, it became ubiquitous here in the United States in the 1990's, often heard in conversations, on the radio and TV, found on bumper stickers, books, bracelets, on billboards and even a movie. It became very popular among many Christian denominations and particularly popular with Christian youth groups.

When faced with a difficult or perplexing situation I have sometimes asked myself, “What would Jesus do?” Not often enough perhaps, not as often as I should, but frequently enough that it has changed my trajectory in life.

Now Jesus, just for starters, could heal the sick and raise the dead; I cannot do that. I can sympathize and comfort sometimes however. He could feed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes; this again, is beyond me, however, I can buy a breakfast or lunch for a hungry person occasionally. He was a great orator, literally a Divinely gifted speaker; I do not have that gift, but I have learned I can listen if I try.

I once worked in a very large metropolitan city, for a very large company. In fact, Seattle, the city I worked in, is a very wealthy city itself, a city with a great many wealthy people. It is the corporate headquarters for half a dozen world class companies employing hundreds of thousands of well-paid people.

However, on the flip side, Seattle and its suburbs have a huge population of homeless people. Many thousands in fact.

Homelessness makes many people uncomfortable, as it should. Now many people believe all homeless people are lazy. Not true. There are just as many reasons to be homeless as there are people. Just stop and chat with a few homeless people and you will be amazed, and sometimes horrified, at what can happen to derail a person's life. Do not kid yourself, there is a deep and scary truth to, “… there but for the Grace of God go I.”

Early every morning on my journey to work, I would often wade through dozens of homeless people standing, siting, squatting, and lying on the sidewalk as I made my way from the parking lot to my office building. After years of this you unfortunately begin to develop a practiced indifference. You must if you are walking yourself through people who you see sleeping, eating, and doing everything thing that you do in the privacy of your home, right there, on the sidewalk, …as you pass by.

You walk through it, a sea of suffering and despair, and although you cannot help but notice, you begin, for your own mental well-being, to not see each body as an actual person, you try not to make eye contact, to not relate on a human level. You must adopt a somewhat detached attitude, or you will never make it in to work, let alone navigate through the entire week.

Nevertheless, over time, I began to see a few as unique individuals, as people.

One was Corrine, an elderly lady, now living far from her original southern U.S. home; a shipwrecked soul who had somehow washed up on the sidewalks of Seattle. Corrine sold a locally printed ‘homeless' newspaper on the street. For me it was somewhat ironically named in that the paper was called, “Real Change.” I say ironic because the income earned was not enough to sustain a person, let alone make any ‘real change', not any change significant enough to actually enable anyone to be lifted up and off the streets. However, it was invaluable because it did provide a community of sorts for the vendors who sold it on the street, and also it provided them an opportunity for some meaningful work. This work brought some dignity to those who were ensnared in the gritty street lifestyle that works to strip the humanity from people.

Corrine had occupied the same selling spot for years in front of my office building. I bought her papers, talked to her, and, over time, I got to know her a bit and I began to get involved. I intervened on her behalf a few times when she got suspend from the paper for her arguing and aggressive behavior with other Real Change sellers. You see, there are certain street corners, train entrances, bus stops and the like that are particularly desirable spots to sell papers and the competition between sellers can get very intense sometimes. I had tracked down the editor/owner of the paper and tried to talk him into giving her another chance after she had said and done some aggressively over-the-top things with other vendors and subsequently gotten herself suspended from the paper.

So, Corrine and I, we became friends of a sort. I would remember her birthday and my wife Diane, who is a talented artist, would decorate and personalize a birthday card each year for Corrine, and that would please Corrine to no end, she would carry that card around for weeks afterwards. I would try and help Corrine understand some of the legal notices she would get served occasionally, and I once helped her out of a jam with a very aggressive and threatening male newspaper competitor, which kinda sealed the deal in her mind. She decided we were buddies and she would wait for me to chat in the mornings 3-4 days a week.

Although I was downtown at 5:30am 5-6 days a week, I am not really a morning person, and some days I really did not feel like chatting. I would look down the street, see her ahead waiting, and sometimes I would have an intense desire to take an alternate route to the office, particularly when I was late, or tired and grumpy.

Then that darn question would pop up in my mind, “What would Jesus do?

Well, at that time at least, I was not all that biblically literate, not like some are, but I knew enough to know that Jesus wouldn't dog her, wouldn't try to avoid her, so I'd force myself to stop and visit with her, knowing she was there, waiting for me.

And, over time, she began to trust me, to tell me things. One Fourth of July weekend she decided to share what had driven her to the streets.

It was on a similar Fourth of July weekend, some twenty years before, when there was a horrible accident at a family gathering, and her son had been killed before her eyes. Some time passed, but she did not, could not, get over it, and, over time, Corrine slowly lost touch with what we call reality. She lost her job at a large department store, then lost her home and then all her possessions. She fell through all the safety nets, church, and state, and she ended up alone, on the street.

Through all this she had held on to Jesus, for Jesus was all she had to sustain her. Her tenacity in Christ was incredible. It moved me.

So, every Fourth of July holiday was hard on her, she could not hide from it, the decorations, the parades, the fireworks, it all was torture for her and she would disappear for a few days to recover, if only to then reappear a few days later to let me know she was still there, still trying to understand all that had happened in her life.

I left that job a few years ago, and then I stopped going in to downtown Seattle entirely during the time of the pandemic. Consequently, I lost track of Corrine completely. This has haunted me a little and I still worry about Corrine sometimes, especially around the 4th of July. And, every so often, when I'm faced with a dilemma, that darn inconvenient question still comes to my mind:

“What would Jesus do?”

Copyright © 2023, Ray J. Rousseau
The Institute of Spiritual Sciences (ISS).

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Tags: experiences education and humanities

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