I took my aisle seat on a flight destined for Orlando. Sitting next to me was a couple, probably in their mid-40s, the wife being in the center position next to me while her husband occupied the seat by the window. I was intently reading my book while the plane taxied to the runway. After a brief pause the aircraft began its rapid acceleration.
The woman turned to me and asked, “Will you hold my hand?” I’ve got to admit that’s something a stranger has never before requested of me on a flight. I looked at her rather puzzled and she responded, “I’m scared to death of flying and this is the worst part.” I looked over by the window and noticed her husband was holding her left hand and nodding to indicate there was no problem if I did as she asked. So, feeling a bit awkward, I gave her my hand as she shut her eyes and began to hyperventilate. Her face lost all color, she crushed my fingers with her grasp and it was very apparent she was indeed terrified.
I don’t write this in order to recommend you take hold of a stranger’s hand the next time you fly; rather I’d like to use the hand-holding of another as a metaphor for Christian living.
We all seem to run the danger of treating our faith as though it was a private relationship between ourselves and God only. We treat our faith as a possession strictly for our own benefit, providing us with a means of dodging the devil at death. We tend to believe our churches exist for our personal benefit: we attend so that we might leave feeling good, to protect ourselves from the evils of the outside world and to provide a buffer against all unpleasant realities.
Yet Jesus called us not so that we might escape from the world, but so that we might engage it. Mission and ministry are the tasks of disciples. Our risen Lord had to encounter his terrified followers in a locked room so he might send them out in lives of service.
Here’s where my metaphor comes in. We have been sent to hold the hand of the terrified, to wipe away the tear and to reach out to the sick and the dying. Jesus told us to feed his sheep and lambs, to comfort all who mourn, to release those in bondage, to bring good news to the poor and to care for the widows and orphans. In his own life he embraced the lepers, fed the multitudes, healed the blind and the deaf, crossed boundaries and barriers so that he might be the friend of outcasts and sinners.
A faith turned inward is a faith that misses the whole sense of discipleship. In his last words to his followers on the mountaintop Jesus said “Go.” We no longer live for ourselves; we have been freed to be the joyful servants of others.
My oblivious attitude on an airplane was interrupted by a simple request. Similar requests and pleas bombard us every day, yet we seldom hear. It’s time to step out of ourselves and take the hands of the hurting, so we might join with them on their journey and be for them the presence of Christ.