APRIL 29, 2015
I recently read Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow.
It’s the story told by an old man as he looks back on his life. When he was a young man, Jayber had studied for the ministry, but gave it up because of his doubts. However, looking back on his life, God is very much a part of his memories and Jayber often says that it feels like he was “led.”
The great thing about Jayber is that he is just a “normal” guy who lives in the small Kentucky town of Port William. He writes his memories after he has retired to a small house down on the river where he can fish and think. For thirty years, Jayber has been the town barber. He bought the small, one-chair barbershop in the town with a room upstairs where he lived. In order to make some extra money, Jayber becomes the janitor at the small Methodist church as well as the town gravedigger.
I loved this novel. I’m not sure why. There isn’t any sex or violence, and the plot (when there is one) moves slowly. But reading the novel was like going to a “normal” and quiet place. Throughout the book, Jayber’s insights are profound. Barbers, church janitors and gravediggers, I suppose, have a unique place from which to observe life.
One of the most moving memories in the book is one evening when Jayber is cleaning the church. He was tired and, as he often did, Jayber lay down on one of the pews and took a nap. On this occasion, he has a dream (or maybe a vision) where everybody in the town comes into the small church…the good and the bad, the adulterers, the faithful, the cheaters, the kind folks and the mean ones, the liars and the church folks.
When Jayber wakes up, to his surprise, he finds himself weeping.
That reminded me of Jesus.
Most things do.
Do you remember when Jesus came to Jerusalem to die? Luke says this about the incident: “And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41).
As you know, I’m sort of political. Well, that’s an understatement. I’m really political. Okay?
The problem with being political is the problem of divided loyalties. It’s this dual citizenship that can drive one nuts. I’m a citizen of the United States and I love my country. I’m also a citizen of the kingdom of God and I love that country too.
For instance, how does one (like me) who rejoices in the death of terrorists who bomb, kidnap and behead, deal with the kingdom teaching of love and forgiveness? How do I deal with my anger about the abortion mills, the rise of pornography, and the silly, simplistic politics of the liberals without demeaning them and violating the clear teaching of the kingdom about valuing and respecting people? (If you’re a liberal, feel free to insert “conservative” where I use “liberal”!)
I’m torn between my love for (and particular views on) America and my love for and Jesus’ views on the kingdom. Where do my belief in and my promotion of capitalism cross the place in which the clerk where I get my cleaning done has $50,000 in medical bills and no health insurance? Where do I draw the line between being an “in-your-face,” angry patriot and being a weenie? What about racism? What about compassion? What about caring for the poor?
It goes on and on; and as you can imagine, I have particular views on all of those issues and a thousand like them. I’m not talking here about particulars, but the attitude of a Christian—regardless of political persuasion—to the dual citizenship we all have.
I think I’ve found the key. The key is in the tears.
Jesus never compromised; he clearly spoke hard truth and even rose up with righteous indignation at the con artists in the temple. You will note in that Luke passage, immediately after the weeping over Jerusalem, Jesus spoke hard truth about the destruction of Jerusalem and then went to the temple to kick posteriors.
It’s the tears that make the difference.
Jesus spoke harsh truth—even harsher than anything we will ever speak. He granted grace to the most sinful and angry of sinners. He then gave himself in love and compassion in ways that we would never give ourselves. And all of that with tears.
When we speak truth without tears, it’s just condemnation and judgment. When we grant grace and mercy without tears, it’s just self-righteousness. When we give compassion without tears, it’s just moralistic “do-goodism.” The great danger for those of us who have dual citizenship in two kingdoms is to bring from one kingdom nothing but condemnation, self-righteousness and do-goodism. We owe our earthly kingdom more than that.
So I’ve asked God to give me tears before anything else.
I want to see things through the eyes of Jesus, to love the way he loved and to show compassion the way he showed compassion. I also want to be clear where he was clear and to never back off from the truth he has asked me to speak. I don’t ever want to shilly-shally. But it’s the attitude that is important…the sorrow seen in the tears.
And one other thing. Jesus wept for us from a position of purity, holiness and righteousness. Our tears can never be like that. We are too sinful, too confused and too needy ourselves. Our tears are for them…and for ourselves.