May 2023 - "Thy kingdom Come, Thy will be done."
If you tuned into the Super Bowl this year or watched any prime-time television lately, you’ve probably seen some of the “He Gets Us” commercials. It’s part of a huge Christian national advertising campaign, sponsored and financed by a non-denominational group of wealthy anonymous Christian donors, which also includes online ads, billboards, free bumper stickers, and free T-shirts. The primary goal of the media campaign is admirable: to present Jesus to a target audience of millennials and GenZers in a way to which they can easily relate.
This recent “He Gets Us” campaign reminds me of another popular Christian trend back in the 1990s that raised the question: “What Would Jesus Do?” WWJD? merchandise featured everything from T-shirts to bumper stickers to wristbands to coffee mugs. “Jesus Gets Us” is comforting, but “WWJD?” is challenging. Many Christians today still use WWJD? to guide their actions and decisions. While it is a good question, it’s not a question that will provide quick, easy answers in times of distress or confusion, simply because it’s not always entirely clear just what Jesus would do in any given situation.
We cannot possibly know what Jesus would do in any situation that He didn’t actually encounter. For the same reason, we can’t know what anyone else would do in any given situation because each situation and each person is unique and different. When parishioners ask me what they should do when their spouse flies off the handle or their rebellious child goes on a rampage, I confess that I really don’t know what I would do, being spouseless and childless myself. I can suggest some spiritual values like compassion, forgiveness, and mercy that might guide one’s decisions and behavior. I can offer my prayers and support. I can simply listen and try to share another’s pain and hurt. But, in the end, I can’t possibly know what I would do, much less what Jesus would do considering that Jesus, too, was spouseless and childless.
Transporting the historic Jesus into our present-day setting and asking what He would do is a futile exercise. What would Jesus do today if He lost his job? What would Jesus do if He were elected president? Well, since Jesus never held a steady job or stepped into the White House, we really have no way of knowing exactly what He would do in either situation. And even if we could know what Jesus would do, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should or even can do it. After all, unless you, too, can walk on water or raise the dead to life, it might be rather presumptuous for you to expect to act exactly like Jesus in any given situation.
Fortunately, Jesus did provide us with a practical example on how to discern God’s will: prayer. Prayer is plain and simple but not necessarily quick and easy. Jesus spent a lot of time alone in prayer. And he encouraged and taught His followers how to pray. “This is how you are to pray,” said Jesus: “Our Father who art in heaven, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The real question is not so much, “What would Jesus do?” as it is “God, what should I do?” Or more specifically, “God, what do you want me to do?” And that is not always an easy or comfortable question to raise since we may not like the answer we receive.
Solving the Jumble word scramble puzzle in the newspaper is a part of my everyday morning routine. The Sunday Jumble includes the solution on the next page. If I get frustrated with a Sunday Jumble, or just impatient, I can peek at the solution on the next page and be satisfied knowing the answer. However, you can’t do that with a weekday Jumble because the solution isn’t printed in the paper until the next day. You’ve just got to sit there and wrestle with it if you want the answer to the puzzle. “He Gets Us” and “What would Jesus do?” are like the Sunday Jumble. Prayer, real honest prayer, is like the weekday Jumble. It may take longer to do, but it is much more satisfying than a ready-made superficial answer or a surface feeling. Jesus does indeed “get” us, but it still requires time, intention, and attention on our part to “get” Jesus.
When we pray the familiar words, “thy will be done,” we are saying that it is a matter of God’s will and not our own. We don’t pray to God to change God’s mind or influence God’s will. We pray to open our own minds and hearts to accepting God’s will in our lives. And that is what Jesus did.
WWJD? He would pray.
Father Louis Phillips is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook