Last night our Bible study group was considering a passage including this familiar section: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
[Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)]
Or as Eugene Peterson renders it: Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how.
Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
[Matthew 16:24-25 (The Message)]
When we considered this, we had not heard that the body of Tom Fox, the Virginia Quaker serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams
who had been held hostage for more than three months, had been found in Baghdad. But perhaps we should consider the life and death of Tom Fox in the light of Jesus' words.
Tom left his job as a grocery store manager and all the comforts of life in the USA because he felt a call on his life to be a witness for peace. He served with Christian Peacemaker Teams both in Palestine and in Iraq. He was fully aware of the risks of this work in Baghdad. But he took up his cross, and let Christ show him the way to live where he was called to go.
On the day before he was abducted, Tom wrote the following:The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Iraq team went through a discernment process, seeking to identify aspects of our work here in Iraq that are compelling enough to continue the project and comparing them with the costs (financial, psychological, physical) that are also aspects of the project. It was a healthy exercise, but it led me to a somewhat larger question: Why are we here?
If I understand the message of God, his response to that question is that we are to take part in the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God. Again, if I understand the message of God, how we take part in the creation of this realm is to love God with all our heart, our mind and our strength and to love our neighbors and enemies as we love God and ourselves. In its essential form, different aspects of love bring about the creation of the realm.
The reports indicate that Tom lived this out in Baghdad. He and his colleagues in CPT lived in an ordinary part of the city, not in the Green Zone. He played with the children in the neighborhood, treated his neighbors with love and respect, and engaged in public witness for the human rights of the Iraqi people. Following the example and spirit of Jesus, he daily showed compassion and love for those around him.
Jesus died a very humiliating and painful death. It probably looked to most people at the time as if he had been a failure. But his life and death have given hope to billions.
Christian at its root means “little Christ.” We are to follow the example of Jesus in how we live our lives. And if, in doing so, we meet a humiliating death as did Tom Fox, it does not mean that we have failed. It does not even mean that we have lost our life in the ultimate sense but rather that we have found it. The example of Tom Fox speaks eloquently to people of how to love God and our neighbors.
May we each look at the example of Tom Fox, and consider prayerfully how we are led to live out our love for God and our neighbors. If we do that, and are obedient to our leadings, that will be an appropriate memorial for Tom Fox.