One evening, as Terry Parker started closing up his gas station, a woman walked in and asked for help. Her car had broken down a couple blocks away.
When Terry towed her car to his station and inspected it, he quickly saw and explained the problem. That’s when she told him she didn’t have enough money to fix it. Could she barter her services for the repair? As a prostitute, she would give him two hours anytime he wanted.
He accepted her offer and said he would pick her up at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning. So Terry and his wife showed up at her house and took her to their church, where she found a path to life’s higher ground.
Although I knew Terry for the last 50 years of his life, I never heard him tell that story, publicly or privately. A mutual friend told me (I did, however, verify it with Terry). I was not surprised; he was a genuinely humble man.
I was also not surprised he so quickly gave up income to help someone he did not know. Or that he freely accepted the risks of weaving her into his life. Did he even consider the chance that one of her customers may have been a fellow church member?
I’m sure it may surprise some that a devout Christian didn’t first study the scriptures, consult guides about ethics or deportment, or confer with a pastor on how to respond to her offer. I’m not surprised. He merely moved by instinct.
Before the age of experts, most people lived in that kind of straight-ahead confidence. Sure, they prayed, studied the Bible, and sought counsel. But out on the front lines of life, they did not hesitate to act. They lived out what the Bible says about Christ being formed in people (Galatians 4:19). As that formation becomes more real, they have less need for a crash course in ethics.
Among His other roles and attributes, Christians recognize Jesus as the Eternal Pattern of human life. They see that He turned away from the grandeur of His throne and stepped down into the mud-ruts of earth. He quietly slipped into earth through a side door, born as a baby in a barn.
And throughout His earth life, He only did what He saw His Father do (John 5:19). Imagine living full-throttle, unplugged from the cramped, arid, legalistic, suffocating cages of culture, religion, politics, and other boxes.
I don’t think Jesus lived as the Exemplar of “Law and Order” or “Rules for Radicals.” Good grief, He was the Maestro of life! Those who stood near Him probably didn’t see a man who strained to obey the rules or affirm societal patterns. I imagine He walked through His patch of earth in freedom and boldness. His demeanor and manners must have revealed a certain elegance, a sense of style that came from The Other Side.
Jesus probably saw and loved what Terry Parker did. Just as He must have enjoyed seeing men rip the roof off a crowded home meeting so they could lower a paralytic man down to Him (Mark 2). Both stories featured people moving in confidence and instinct, just living on earth in the style of their heavenly homeland! (Hebrews 11:16)
Going in Style
Theologian and author David Bentley Hart understands that. Consider his description of Jesus’ conduct toward the adulterous woman (John 7:53–8:11):
…Christ’s every gesture in the tale is resplendent with any number of delicately calibrated and richly attractive qualities: calm reserve, authority, ironic detachment, but also tenderness, a kind of cavalier gallantry, moral generosity, graciousness, but then also alacrity of wit, even a kind of sober levity (“Let him among you who is without sin . . .”). All of it has about it the grand character of the effortless beau geste [Note: French for “beautiful gesture”], a nonchalant display of the special privilege belonging to those blessed few who can insouciantly, confidently violate any given convention simply because they know how to do it with consummate and ineffably accomplished artistry…
Then, Hart cuts to the larger truth:
…if we truly love others, we don’t need to follow any moral rules, code, or law. Love, on its own, will create a good moral outcome. As Paul famously wrote, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”1
Or, as The Message interprets that verse: “You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” (Romans 12:10)
- David Bentley Hart, Theological Territories (Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press, 2020) ↩︎