Will Willimon told the story of a Youth Event he attended once when he was the United Methodist Bishop in Alabama. The leader of the service called several young people up to the stage. He designated one of them as Mother Theresa and told her to stand at one far end of the stage. He designated another as Judas and asked him to stand at the other end. Then he named a few people from history (some good, some not so good) and positioned them between the young people on the extreme ends. He then said to the remaining youth in the audience: “I want all of you to come up to the stage now. Take your place where you think you ought to be. On one end is a person who seemed just about perfect. On the other is someone we consider almost totally evil. Along the scale in the middle it goes from good to pretty good to average to not-so-good to pretty bad. Just take your place where you think you ought to be.” The young people migrated to the stage and began positioning themselves. No one went all the way to either end (Mother Theresa or Judas). Most stood with the symbols of “good to pretty good to average.” Hardly anyone went to the symbols of “not-so-good” or “pretty bad.” Once everyone was in place, the youth leader asked the question: “Now, where do you think Jesus would stand?” Quickly most of the kids rushed to be with Mother Theresa, whereupon the youth leader said, “But didn’t Jesus come to die for sinners?”
It was an intriguing illustration, replete with Lenten meaning. Jesus said: “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) Atonement theologians say that was the purpose of the Cross. And yet, most of us are better at judging than we are at compassion, better at identifying with (and standing with) those whom we consider “good” than in seeking out and trying to understand those who offend us. I do not blame social media with that phenomenon, but I do think it exacerbates it. When I read through daily Tweets, for example, I find them to be alarming sources of vitriol and negativism more than expressions of hope or attempts to build bridges between people. Why is it that we who claim to follow the Prince of Peace are more excited about anger than about love, more energized by combativeness than by community? In a fellowship biblically defined by the word “Grace,” how can anyone choose to be ungracious?
Who do we stand with? Who do we stand against? Who would Jesus have stood beside? And, why? Those are significant questions with which to wrestle during a season underscoring His commitment “to seek and to save those that are lost.” (Luke 19:10)