My kind of man

In conversations about life in Zimbabwean society I often find that my friends or colleagues are in agreement that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in our thinking, acting and teaching.

Opinion with Thembe Khumalo

In a society where 85% of the population identifies itself as Christian this is rather disturbing. It seems that our desire to match the Christian ideal is so great that we become approval addicts, forsaking the authentic in favour of the admiration and validation of our communities, and of course our churchmates.

How ironic that we do this under the umbrella of a faith that teaches the exact opposite, and a leader who demonstrated a contempt for social sanction, a disdain for toeing the line and an absolute commitment to single-minded pursuit of truth, regardless of the disapproval of those in power at the time.

I am not sure who perpetrated the myth of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” that we have come to associate with the man who founded the largest faith movement in the world, which today commands 2,2 billion followers. I am pretty sure that person was not a hot-blooded Ndebele with a sharp tongue and a keen sense of social justice. Because in my reckoning, that is actually more the personality profile I would pin on Jesus. I am not being blasphemous when I say that Jesus was my kind of guy!
He was a powerful, bold, controversial and disruptive leader. He said the most outrageous things, and made no apology for them. He acted in ways that were controversial at best, and at worst totally unacceptable in polite society. His teachings confounded the learned scholars of the day and his common sense practicality often left his audiences speechless in its simplicity. A bona fide game-changer, Jesus took thought leadership to another level.

Quite apart from the context of the times that he lived in and the assumptions that an entire nation had made about who the Messiah might be and how they were expecting him to come to them, the words that Jesus spoke were so radical, and so multi-layered that even in this day, two thousand years later, we struggle to unpack the multi-layered, nuanced messages he delivered; and in every generation, new revelations about their meaning abound.

The most outstanding thing about Jesus of course, was his compassion; his capacity to put love into action. And I don’t mean this in a trite “goodie-goodie-two-shoes” kind of way. Jesus extended compassion over and over again. But he didn’t do it by continuously making nice or setting out not to hurt people’s feelings. On the contrary he often made people deeply uncomfortable. He was confrontational and he was tough; but he was loving with it.

Think about his conversation with the woman at the well, where he began by asking her what I think was a bit of a sideway question about her husband. If that had been me asking while knowing what I knew about her life, you would have said: “Thembe, that’s mean!” but look how the story ended: he liberated her from the burden of pretence and still charged her to “sin no more”. And she walked away singing his praises. Her moment of discomfort was a small price to pay for her new outlook on life.

The key thing about Jesus’s approach is that compassion was in the foundation of his conversations and his engagements with people. He came at things with compassion already underwritten in the contract; so that even when it seemed he was being brusque and defiant, it was okay, because love was already understood. Compassion was a given, so he didn’t need to cloak it in platitudes and feel good words so as not to wound anyone’s feelings.

The trouble with the rest of us is that we come at the flaws in one another without the foundation of compassion.

We come at them with the harsh judgment that we place on ourselves and we apply that harsh judgment to one another with the intention to condemn; and the result is an endless spiral of guilt and shame — our own, and that of those we convict.

If we approached our own flaws with compassion (Jesus didn’t have any so he can’t model that for us) and extend forgiveness for our own trespasses, then accommodating others would simply be a repetition of a process applied at home daily. You don’t need platitudes when unconditional love infuses everything else. But the unconditional love has to be there and be real in the first place.

The Bible speaks of “satan the accuser” and often we think of that accuser as a person outside ourselves, who accuses us. In fact, the greatest accuser is internal. It is ourselves, judging not only ourselves, but extending the accusations to those around us. So yeah, that satan is actually you!

Paul charges us to “speak the truth with love” which is not the same as not speaking the truth at all. Yet in our society we regularly choose silence over truth, covering our cowardice with a veil of piety that is simply insufficient and unworthy of those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. We shouldn’t be afraid of correction—– of either giving or receiving it.

But that fear can only be eliminated if our interactions are infused with love.

In the meantime can we really aim to be the kind of man that Jesus was? Do we have the level of courage and commitment that it takes? If not, should we continue to call ourselves his followers?