Epiphany on the subject of Sisyphean tasks and the miracles of Jesus Christ

I was reading a book last night, Shane Claiborne’s (Irresistable Revolution) and came across a passage that abruptly and radically shifted my view of reality.

On the subject of the frustration of working with the sick, the poor and other people in need and being unable to work any lasting change, specifically working with lepers who were not ever going to be healed, and comparing it to the miracles that Jesus wrought (and reflecting on his own desire to be able to do so), the author notes:

[Referring to John 14:12, where Jesus says that followers will do works like Him and greater things…] “But I began to discover ‘the greater things.’ It was not just miracles. I started to see that the miracles were an expression, not so much of Jesus’ mighty power as of his love. In fact, the power of miraculous spectacle was the temptaion he faced in the desert – to turn stones into bread or to fling himself from the temple. But what had lasting significance were not the miracles themselves but Jesus’ love. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and a few years later, Lazarus died again. Jesus healed the sick, but they eventually caught some other disease. He fed the thousands, and the next day they were hungry again. But we remember His love. It wasn’t that Jesus healed a leper but that he touched a leper, because no one touched lepers.” (emphasis mine)

I realize now that this has to be true. But it simply never occured to me that even the Great Radical Activist himself, despite all of His abilities to perform miracles of healing and nurturance, was working against the same implacable tide of entropy all of us would-be world changers fight upstream against. He healed people, and they got sick again. He fed them, but it only lasted the day. He raised people from the dead, but they’re not still around doing book tours on Oprah about their memoirs of walking with the Savior. Basic common sense, really. But profoundly earthshaking to me at the same time.

Now, personally, I’m not a Christian. I have, as one person referenced in the book quipped, “given up Christianity to follow Jesus.” Or, to paraphrase the mystic poet Rumi, I belong to the Beloved Himself and not to any of His fanclubs specifically. Which is a harder row to hoe than it sounds, because it’s far easier to just “be a Christian” (or Buddhist, or Muslim, or whatever) than to simply forge ahead trying to live life as modeled by the founders of those religions.

And I struggle to hold myself to that standard of belief and action every day (failing miserably most of the time). But one of the biggest, most disillusioning and frustrating barriers to doing so is to know everyday when I wake up that everything I do will just get undone tomorrow.

Funding is cut for a project that is just starting to show results. Kids who made great choices yesterday are back to fighting today. People you fed and assisted last week are starving again and no closer to being able to raise themself above their poverty than they ever were. The sick get sicker and even if they get well, more will inevitably get sick. The dying continue to die, often in pain, fear and alone, no matter how hard you try.

To be blunt, it sucks like a Hoover hooked up to the engines of a 747. There’s just this feeling that you should be able to actually make a real difference, a permanent change in the way things are. And instead, you’re basically stacking ping-pong balls until they reach critical mass and fall over (or someone comes along and knocks them down). Then starting over again. All for the greater good of ping-pong-ball stacking.

But it’s a whole new ballgame when you realize, internalize and accept the reality that everything that even the Son of God Himself, with all His powers and Higher Connections, did was undone the next day – by fickle government and even more fickle human nature, by random microbes, by lingering poverty, by the implacability of mortality itself – and that He did it anyway, knowing that the expression of love in doing so was the point, not the healing or feeding, nor the long-term results of either.

As the Qur’an and other works note, we can only claim title to the work itself and not the results of the work, since the results rest solely in the hands and will of God. And I get that, and try to accept it. But knowing that even Jesus Himself labored under the same limits as even the least of us does is, frankly, a bit of a relief. Because knowing that the love inherent in the action is more important the the action’s results, even for Christ Himself, brings the possibility of living a Christ-like life that much closer to being within the reach of mere mortals like myself.

And I can use all the help in that direction I can get.

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