Sunday, February 24, 2013

Choosing Heroes

I have a list of heroes.  Not superheroes, but people I deeply admire and want to emulate as much as possible.  The list is a number of radical followers of Jesus who not only spoke about the gospel, but lived it out to such an extreme that they changed the world because of it.  My short list would include:

Francis of Assisi-- Who surrendered all he had to the poor, and began a movement of service and devotion

Peter Waldo-- Who took Jesus' words seriously and taught others to do the same

Archbishop Desmond Tutu-- Who prophetically lived out the gospel and also forgave his enemies

Dorothy Day-- Who began a movement of service to the poor.

Elisabeth Elliot-- Who loved those who killed her husband that she devoted her life to them

John Wycliffe-- Who did all he could to make the gospel accessible to everyone

Paul the Apostle-- Who worked on bringing the gospel to all the world, not just a narrow group

Anthony the Desert Father-- Who saw clearly the corruption of the church and lived a life of costly purity

Frankly, there are many others, but these stand out.

What I'd really like to talk about is three individuals that I truly admire deeply, but they each have a quality I cannot admire, and almost ruin their biographies, in my mind. Here are the three:

Martin Luther--  While he gave the world a new focus on the word of God, he ended his life promoting hatred against the Jews and against those who disagreed with his interpretation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer-- Who clearly taught the path of discipleship and church life, but then rejected his own (and Jesus') teaching when he worked to assassinate Hitler.

Martin Luther King Jr.-- Who brought freedom and justice at the cost of his own life to many people in the name of Jesus, but also regularly broke his faithfulness with his wife.

Mind you, I only mention these three because I admire them so much.  They were bold for the gospel.  They didn't just talk the talk, but did great things in the name of Jesus.  They fought against oppression and taught the word of God in the face of persecution.  They have every quality I love, but each had a quality I have to distance myself from.

I cannot judge these men.  God alone is their judge and I fully expect to see them in God's kingdom.  Perhaps the real issue is that I know too much about them.  Perhaps if I knew more about Elisabeth Elliot I might not admire her so much, or Patrick of Ireland.  Certainly Augustine and Calvin are on my negative list because of the persecution of followers of Jesus they were actively, and unrepentedly, involved in.

We need to choose what we admire carefully.  Jesus was the only perfect person, and we must recognize and admit our heroes' shortcomings.  But let us love our heroes freely and imitate what we can.

Paul the Apostle said, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ".  I assume that also means that we should not imitate Paul in the ways he does not imitate Jesus.  I guess that goes with all our leaders.  But in the end, we need to make a decision whether our leaders imitate Jesus enough that they are worthy of emulation.

No comments: