Our area recently has been deluged with bumper stickers, T-shirts and billboards asking the same esoteric question: "WWJD?" An important query: "What would Jesus do?"

Since all followers of Jesus are other Christs, we must have some idea of Jesus' mentality or we're not very good disciples. Ideally, both Christians and non-Christians should be able to discover the risen Jesus in our actions. Yet, how can we be certain that, in any given set of circumstance, we're actually doing what Jesus would do?

The early Christian community faced the same problem. As the seer of the Book of Revelation teaches, Jesus' followers believed they were continuing a process of discipleship and revelation which had started with the faith-filled patriarchs of the Hebrew Scriptures (Rev 21:10-14, 22-23). Entry into the "new Jerusalem" is channeled through gates emblazoned with "the names of the twelve tribes of Israel." Yet the twelve stones which support the city's walls are inscribed with "the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." Thus, the God whose glory gives the city its light -- the Lamb who is its lamp -- can be understood only by combining the old with the new.

Christ's recipe

Yet, beautiful metaphors such as these don't always give us a practical way of discerning what mixture of old and new embodies Jesus' recipe for our lives. The Evangelist John, whose community was doing and believing things which other churches found unacceptable, presents us with the classic expression of the problem (Jn 14: 23-29). "I go away for a while," Jesus tells His disciples at the Last Supper, "and I come back to you." What's to be done and believed during that "while"?

John defends his community's actions and beliefs with one statement from Jesus: "This much have I told you while I was still with you; the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct you in everything and remind you of all that I told you." We must couple those words with Jesus' comment two chapters later: "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth."

The fourth evangelist believes revelation is ongoing. God's word and will don't stop after Jesus' death, Resurrection and Ascension. The risen Jesus, living among us, keeps His community abreast of His present word and will through the working of the Holy Spirit.

But only in the first reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) do we hear about one practical way which the early Christian community employed to surface the voice of the Spirit. The abridged version of the event which comprises our liturgical passage not only omits 20 verses from Luke's account; it also gives the impression that the process of determining the Spirit's will is cut and dried.

Debate

The question is presented: "What's to be demanded of Gentile converts?" Then the response is quickly given: "It was resolved by the apostles and the whole Jerusalem church, that..." Those who selected our reading conveniently left out the fact that the same "dissention and controversy" which surrounded the issue in Antioch continued as the question was being heard and discussed in Jerusalem. As Luke narrates, Only "after much debate" did the community reach a consensus on how to solve the problem.

"The problem" had enormous implications for first- and second-generation Christianity. Yet it was a problem the historical Jesus never addressed. If those debating the issue had a video of Jesus' entire public ministry, they still would have had no word of Jesus on the topic. The Spirit alone had to answer the question, "Can only Jews be disciples of Jesus?" And the will of the Spirit surfaced only after the issue was opened up to the whole community, discussed, argued over and debated.

Two thousand years later, it's difficult for us to imagine that the community could have reached any other conclusion. But at the time, the "conservatives" must have been confident that their recourse to the practice of the historical Jesus would carry the day.

It's still difficult for some modern disciples of Jesus to admit that the Spirit of Jesus lives in the dissension and controversy of the whole community. Perhaps we should change the question to "WWRJD?"

"What would the risen Jesus do?"

(05-14-98)