Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and rich. He sought to see who Jesus was, but could not on account of the crowd. ~ Luke 19:1-3
“The thing that Zacchaeus wanted to do more than anything else that day was to see Jesus. He failed, partly because he was small of stature but mainly because the people around Jesus prevented his coming near.” (JWRilling)
I am walking through the darkening streets of Williamsburg, VA which is swimming with thousands of people who’ve come to celebrate the season’s Grand Illumination. The periphery of the street is punctuated by torches set ablaze, and each has people gathered around to warm their hands and faces as the temperatures drop. A friend and I make our way down the middle of DOG (Duke of Gloucester) street. We are strolling down memory lane, having been roommates here at the college some years back, and have agreed to watch for horse droppings that were liberally distributed earlier in the day which are becoming increasingly hard to avoid in the dim light.
But one thing people do avoid are the “street preachers.” These, as did those in colonial days, stand elevated above the crowd by stools or steps, proclaiming scripture verses and Bible teaching. Not offensive. Not, you’re gonna rot in hell. Not, repent or die. Compared to John the Baptist at the Jordan, these guys are tame! They just speak words of the truth as they know it. And all the people give them wide berth.
Who, on this festive night, amid the splendid decorations and colonial costumes and fabulous fireworks, wants to listen to all that?!
My companion and I take note of this. In a sea of people crowding the street, there is a broad empty space left for these voices to have their say without ringing in the ears. She and I, both of short stature, did not have any difficulty seeing or hearing. We sped on by.
Full of hot cider and good cheer and with the booms of fireworks ringing in our ears, we retrace our steps along DOG street, retreating to the car parked several blocks away. Most of the other visitors are doing the same, some pushing wheelchairs, some holding the hands, some wheeling wagons, some are very, very merry. Many, it seems to me, are likely students at the college, taking a break from their studies before final exams.
As the crowd starts to thin we see a lone figure ahead, clad in long sleeve t-shirt and loose fitting, lightweight pants. “He looks cold,” says my friend. And that does make us both take notice. A very tall, lean, young man is standing, still and silent in the center of the road at the barricade to street traffic. He stares straight ahead. Is he looking for someone? waiting to meet a companion? Is he stationed there as security? None of these guesses seems quite right.
We draw closer, but his expression doesn’t change. The look on his face is neither bored nor amused. He doesn’t smile or frown. He does not pull out a cell phone. That, in itself, distinguishes him from nearly every other pedestrian. When I get close enough, I see that his t-shirt has handwritten letters across the front.
is scrawled in all caps on the front of his plain white t-shirt. He, as a silent sentry has drawn my attention and piqued my curiosity. How, on a very cold nearly winter’s night, could he be standing there like that? Stock still. Expressionless. I can’t help glancing back in mute amazement at the figure as we pass. On the back, in the same handwriting, the shirt reads:
What do we do, in the name of Jesus, that prevents others’ coming near?
What might we do, in His name, to draw them near so they might truly live?
Grand Illumination, indeed.
What if we forget? What if we don’t get around to it? What if we’re afraid?…to tell them…until it’s too late.
I live among the self-sufficient. Everybody’s “got this.” “I’m good,” they say. They don’t need my help, don’t entertain my suggestion, don’t want my advice. In fact, accepting help taints their ‘I can do this myself’ capacity, the capability we pride ourselves with here in America, land of the free, home of the brave. Independence is where we stake our claim.
So, if I want them to know that there may be another approach or a new way, I am told I should ‘lead by example.’ That is acceptable, inoffensive and safe. If they notice, good. If not, well I’ve shown them. It’s not my job to turn them around.
But what if what I do is “not do”? That is, what if I choose to withhold my words or resist action? This really leaves the door open to all sorts of supposition. People may surmise, “Oh, she’s such a wimp.” Or, “She lets them get away with everything.” Or even accuse, “Why doesn’t she come to their defense?”
Here, I credit the Positive Coaching Alliance who suggests that we be sure to ‘tell them why you did what you did.’ This is especially true when our actions are silent. Speaking dispels misunderstanding. We don’t do it to tout what we did or draw attention to ourselves, but rather to be clear. And, to open the door for conversation and discussion. Why? What were you thinking? How did you decide this? What will you do now? Would you do that again? All valid questions. All essential so they can consider it for themselves. What would they have done if they were in my shoes?
And if, as has happened all too often, my actions were not what I wish to have conveyed, now I have a forum to talk about that, too. “I shouldn’t have said that and next time I will do this…”
So many of us, though, shy away from this conversation. We want to let our actions speak so we don’t have. We like to quote the old standard of St. Francis “Preach the gospel at all times, and when absolutely necessary, use words.” Certainly yes. We don’t want to invade someone with overbearing expressions. Too many have used fear and force to do this. We would do well to be gentler, but we are challenged to go and tell.
Is it cowardly just to witness with my ways and let them draw their own conclusions? Am I hiding in plain sight, choosing to keep quiet about my faith lest someone might catch me doing something unChristian and call me out? Are we people who hide behind our good deeds and figure that’s good enough for God? Or are we meant to risk letting the Jesus show so that when we explain the why behind what we did or the why not behind what we didn’t, we testify to the truth.
I just love people who get creative about it. In fact, I am grateful because they give me ammunition and impetus to challenge myself to speak faith in a way that those who might not yet know the Lord will be tempted to consider Him. Now here’s someone who speaks it in style. 370Z style.
How about this guy? He drives around with the message on his plate. I posted it to my Facebook page. Why not? Easter is coming. A harmless question … for the win. But I had better “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (me) to give the reason for the hope that (I) have.” (1 Peter 3:15) I have found that the right word is rarely as important as the timely word.