What Does a Christian Look Like?
Show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor . . . Zechariah 7:9-10
Growing up in a small town, I knew where the bars and churches were. I knew that those who went to church were Christians and those who went the bar weren’t. I didn’t know what AA was, but if I had, I’d have believed that those guys probably weren’t Christians either. Christians dressed up, went to church, and took communion. They certainly didn’t need recovery meetings.
Recently, I was contemplating my childhood misconceptions, which led me to wonder what I would do if one of the inmates I met at jail Bible study showed up in my life. I didn’t have to wonder very long, when I ran into one at the store. I’m ashamed to say that I was tempted to pretend I hadn’t noticed him. I didn’t. We had a nice but brief conversation.
As I was patting myself on the back a few days later, I learned that another inmate, also recently released, had been employed by a local business man. I don’t know much about this business man, but I’ve never seen him in church. Honestly, he’s a little rough around the edges. I know nothing about his faith, but I realized how judgmental I’d been, as I grasped that he’d done far more for his inmate friend than I was willing to do for mine.
This is the hypocrisy for which Zechariah confronted his people in today’s passage. In the story, the Israelites planned to fast for God. Unimpressed, God told them he didn’t want an empty sacrifice. He wanted them to love each other. I don’t want your false offerings. I just want you to share my love with your neighbor. I want you to care for those struggling next to you.
Passages like this terrify me a little as they expose my persistent childhood misconceptions of faith. Frankly, it’s easier to dress up and go to church than it is to give of my time and love to an ex-convict. Zechariah though, insists that make-believe faith is no faith at all. If I truly am a Christian, you will be able to tell, not by my church attendance, but by how I treat those in need.