I was offered a tract the other week, by someone I passed in the street; when I refused, he pointed out that it would tell me how to be saved. (My response was that I am saved). Whatever you think of the appropriateness of handing out tracts, or whatever the theology behind it, there is no doubt that Jesus came to save. He tells us so in John’s gospel: read the end verses of chapter 12. He also specifically says that he didn’t come to be our judge (see verse 47). He came to save the world, not to judge it. This is a message that I wonder if we – and the Church – sometimes get the wrong way round. Imagine a world in which Jesus says that he didn’t come to save the world but to judge it. Which therefore would mean that his followers are able to judge the actions of those around them, and pronounce on their rightness or otherwise; which would presumably also mean that his followers would be able to tell people that they might (or, possibly, would) end up in hell. A world in which we have to keep Jesus happy, we have to meet his standards, to get everything right, before we meet the Jesus, who will judge us. Does that sound at all familiar?
But Jesus says here that he didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. A completely different attitude; a completely different way of following him. Jesus came to save the world; verse 46: he came into the world as light, so that people don’t need to stay in the dark anymore. So completely different to the way the we might follow Jesus the judge. To follow Jesus the light-bringer, Jesus the one who came to save, the one who came to seek and search out the lost, the lonely, the afraid; to save those who dwell in darkness, to save those who judge themselves, and those who judge others; to save those of us who are mean, nasty, selfish, power-hungry, greedy, proud and whatever else we need saving from. It speaks to me of a Jesus of compassion, who reaches out to all those he loves, who reaches out to the world he loves, to bring light to its darkness, to save those who need saving (which is, let’s be honest, all of us). It means a world in which we cannot save ourselves; however much we try, there are always going to bits of us that need changing, as there will always be bits of our neighbours that need changing. But those of us who follow Jesus are presumably called to follow him in saving the world, not judging it; as he saves us, not judges us.
Of course, that can complicate things even more. Rather than just quietly sitting in judgement or disapproval or irritation, we need to save them: so, we might rush in with all sorts of solutions, and mechanisms to ensure they know they are loved and saved … and possibly have the opposite effect, and only convince them, either of their own lack, or of ours (or both). We are not called to save the world; Jesus comes to save it, and only he can do it. We are called to follow him, to make disciples (see the end of Matthew’s gospel). How we do that is more complicated. But at its base, I think we need to remind ourselves daily (or even more often) that Jesus came to save the world, not to judge it.; he comes with compassion not condemnation.
It’s the attitude that strikes me; the attitude of someone who comes to save rather than judge. (This is not a theology about saving and judgement; it is about Jesus’ attitude as one who comes to save). Imagine you come across someone in a river who is drowning: you can either save them or judge them (of course, in reality, it is possible to save them while judging them, which rather confuses the example). But, anyway: you can either stand on the banks of the river telling them everything they’ve done wrong to get themselves in such a mess, and how wrong they are to be drowning in the first place; or you can try and save them, which may involve different actions depending on the circumstances. A strong swimmer who has done a life-saving course might well jump in and pull them out; someone who is a weak swimmer, or who can’t swim at all might just confuse the situation if they got in the river, but may be able to help from the bank, or call for help. You may not succeed in saving, but you can try.
We cannot save the world; the church cannot save the world; only Jesus can save the world; only Jesus can save us. We cannot save ourselves, however much we might like to try; we cannot save our neighbour, however much we might like to try. Only Jesus can save us. Neither are we called to judge the world; John’s gospel makes it quite clear that those who reject his word have a judge: the word which he spoke will judge them on the last day. (see verse 48). But do we truly follow the Jesus who comes to save the world? Have we truly realised who it is we follow? In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, and then asks whether they know what he has done for them (verse 12). So, I ask, do we truly realise what Jesus has done – and is doing – for us? For if we truly realised that, would we not have little choice but to go out and spread the good news everywhere?
Do we truly realise what Jesus has done for us? That is only a question we can answer for ourselves; and, possibly, it is a question only Jesus can answer for us. Does the church truly recognise who it is she follows? I am not called upon to judge. But there are times when we get it very wrong; and there are times when we get it very right. But Jesus, who came to save the world; who came as light-bringer; who came to seek and to save the lost; that Jesus has not given up on us yet, and continues to bring light, to find us, and to save us.