I am what my mother calls a “belt-and-suspenders” person. By that, I mean someone who, when wanting to secure their pants, doesn’t trust either a belt or suspenders alone, but uses both, just to make sure. It is not enough to have a “plan A,” I also like to have a “plan B” and even a “plan C,” just in case. I’m not the only one of my kind out there—you others know who you are!
What this means is that as I have been planning for my trip to India, now just one week away, I have been making multiple lists and checking them twice; I have emailed and re-emailed [“remailed”?] my hotels, making sure that they have a record of my booking and also that transportation has been arranged from airports. I have checked my flights, my luggage, my contact information; I have my water purifier and my anti-diarrhea medication [hard to envision with my ace digestive system, but again—belt and suspenders]; I have hard copies of my passport—at this point, I really do think I am about as ready as I can be.
So, perhaps my heightened state of “readiness” is what made the following bumper sticker catch my eye: “Jesus is coming. Are you ready?” Now, I have seen this particular bumper sticker before, and I’m sure you have, too, but, like I said, I think because of everything that is going on right now it struck me this time in a way it hadn’t before.
What does that mean, exactly: “am I ready?” Have I done laundry? Have I eaten all the perishable food in the fridge and thrown out the rest? Have I paid my bills? Flossed my teeth? Turned down the heat in the house? Stopped my mail?
Oh, I know—the people who take that question seriously aren’t talking about any of that. Instead, they want to know whether or not I am “right with Jesus”: Have I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior? Have I repented of my sin? Have I cleaned up my life? Am I praying, going to church, reading the Bible? You see, you need to be “right with Jesus,” so that when he comes, you will be saved—maybe even raptured [and those foolish nay-sayers will get theirs—I always feel like that is implied in this theology, don’t you?]—and isn’t that the point of one’s faith, after all?
Well, I think not, actually. Instead, I want to counter with another way of envisioning how to spend one’s time in between Easter and the Kingdom, a way that has much less to do with self-preservation, and much more to do with the love of neighbor. It is inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, healing the world, which, in Reformed and Conservative Judaism is used as a justification and impetus for social action. In Judaism in general, there is much less emphasis placed on securing knowledge of [time of/means of/etc.] one’s own salvation, and instead, more emphasis placed on making the world ready for the Messiah. It’s outwardly focused, instead of inwardly focused. I like that. It’s a reminder that the gift of our faith in particular—and the gift of Christ’s life, death and resurrection in general—is not meant to be guarded as one’s personal possession, but instead, it is meant to be shared, spent, even wasted for the sake of the neighbor, the sake of the whole world.
This whole idea is summed up really nicely in a Jewish proverb that reads:
“If you will always assume
The person sitting next to you
Is the messiah
Waiting for some human kindness,
You will soon learn to weigh your words and watch your hands.
And if he so chooses
Not to reveal himself
In your time,
It will not matter.”
Less looking to the heavens, and more looking around right here, seeing what needs to be done and being ready to do it. That’s the kind of readiness even a belt-and-suspenders person like myself can appreciate.