Our oldest son Andrew turned thirty this year. We’ve walked a long and winding, often unexpected, road together. And I am the better for it.
Once, when he was still in diapers, I lay with him in bed for an afternoon nap. As I watched his chest lightly rising and falling, my chest tightened with the thought that we are connected by an unbreakable thread.
Wherever he goes I go, at least in heart and soul. The sobering awareness gripped me that I have no idea where our road will lead. There is no way I can foresee what choices he will make and not make. The breaks the world will toss him or the raw deals that same world will dish out. The moments of delight and the unexpected injuries.
Most ghastly and wonderful of all, I realized that my life is forever vulnerable to, and will be irrevocably shaped by, the changes and chances of his life. With my whole being—not just my mind or my will—I was saying, “I’m in this with you, Dude! No matter what.” At the time, I didn’t realize that I had received an insight into the way of Jesus. The way of love.
Jesus taught his friends what it means to follow him by predicting his suffering, death, and resurrection. Next, he tells them to take up their cross. To lose their life to receive life.
They famously struggled to get it. Honestly, so do I. So I’m grateful that he goes on to explain what he means in a variety of ways. For instance, he says this:
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)
In other words, following Jesus means modeling our relationships with others on his relationship with us. Our Baptismal Rite sums it up. After the clergy person pours water over the the candidate, she or he uses chrism (oil blessed by a bishop for this purpose) to make the sign of the cross on the newly baptized with these words:
You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
Whether we are baptizing an infant, a ten-year-old, or an octogenarian, the message is precisely the same. In Christ God has initiated relationship with us. With everyone. We all belong to Christ.
We don’t belong to Christ like a car or a refrigerator or a pair of shoes might belong to someone. We are not his possession. Instead, we are forever bound by cords of affection and deep commitment. Jesus is in this with us, no matter what.
Lots of people insist on saying that God sees our whole lives in advance. God has a plan. Nothing happens by accident. Well, maybe. But I suggest another—or perhaps an additional—way of looking at it.
Jesus enters fully into the mystery and uncertainty that is our real lives. Knowing that he will be vulnerable to our joys and injuries, our knuckleheaded choices and our flashes of insight, Jesus takes up with us along the varied paths we will walk.
That’s comforting. It is to me, at least. But then I catch my breath when I realize that Jesus urges me to follow his example. With everybody.
Rich or poor. Black, brown, or white. Gay or straight. No matter the language they speak of the country of their birth.
People who haven’t lived long enough to have a record at all. People with impressive resumes. And people with serious rap sheets and stints in rehab. All of them.
Wherever they’re going next, Jesus is going with them for the sake of making them whole. And Jesus intends to do that through you and me.
In Jesus, we hear God saying, “I’m in this with you, Dude! No matter what.” And we hear Jesus urging us to be that very message for everyone we met. To greet all God’s children in his name.