Everyone has heard the popular phrase, “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD?). It gained popularity in the Evangelical world in the 1990′s as a way to encourage Christians to consider what Jesus would do before making moral decisions. In many ways this is a great idea, and Catholic tradition has always called on disciples of Christ to live in a Christ-like manner. In fact, St. Paul goes so far as to say that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in him (Galatians 2:20).
However, there is a danger in WWJD? in that it can blur the distinction between Christ and us. Namely, that he is God and we are not. Just looking at the Gospel of Matthew, here are a few instances in which what Jesus did is NOT what we should do:
“You have heard it said…but I say to you” (Matthew 5:20-48)
In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, he often stated an Old Testament command, but then followed it by stating, “But I say to you”, thus making himself above the Law. In fact, in some cases – such as with marriage – he even changes the Law as it was originally received by Moses! None of us ever have the ability to change the law as it has been received by God.
“Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:1-8)
Christ startled those around him by forgiving the sins of people who came to him. As the scribes correctly noted, this is blasphemy if you are not God. We can – and should – forgive the sins that are committed against us, but we have no ability to forgive sins committed against others. (Of course, priests have been given the ability to forgive sins, but most of us are not priests, and they are only able to do it through the ministry of the Church).
“Follow me” (Matthew 9:9, 9:37-39, 19:21)
Christ often calls people to unconditionally follow him – and he makes grand promises (and dire predictions) to those who take up his call. He made it clear that he should be the center of each person’s life if they want true joy and happiness – and he predicts persecution to those who take him up on his offer. We, on the other hand, should always point people to Christ and never to ourselves. If anyone is following you, you better give them a new map.
“On the third day [I] will be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 20:19)
If anyone you knew predicted that three days after his death he would be walking the earth again, you would rightly think he was crazy. Jesus, however, did just that – and backed it up by defeating death. None of us, however, should go around predicting our bodily resurrection (at least not until the Last Day).
“You have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11)
Christianity has always been clear that we have a duty to care for the poor. In fact, we recognize that when we serve the poor, we serve Christ (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). However, when the disciples were indignant that a woman “wasted” an expensive bottle of ointment on Jesus instead of selling it to help the poor, Jesus made the startling statement that the woman’s action was superior to helping the poor. If any of us were to think that service to us was more important than serving the poor, we would be deluding ourselves.
These are just a few examples (and if I had picked John’s Gospel, I could multiply them even more; after all, who of us can say “I am the way, the truth and the life”?), but they should serve to remind us that although we are to be molded into the image of Christ, we must always remember that Jesus Christ is the unique and divine Son of God, and none of us should ever act exactly as he did on this earth. We sometimes become so familiar with the words and actions of Christ found in the Gospels that we forget how inappropriate – and even blasphemous – they would be coming from ordinary men and women like us.
So instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” we should ask ourselves, “What would Jesus have me do?”