Easter 3 – April 14, 2103 – What Would Jesus Do?
I was at a church meeting recently where a teenager asked a question about a certain issue — “What would Jesus do?” The answer can only be a guess. We can only imagine what Jesus might do when confronted with the ethical issues of today.
Where do we learn to make ethical decisions? I had to go to the best sources to get the answer. The other night I asked three young members of my family (in the 6th, 8th, and 10th grades) what were the big problems in their schools. They said — bullying, drug abuse and cheating. I also learned that PDA was short for “public display of affection” – another problem in schools. I thought it meant personal digital assistant!
I then asked how did they learned to know right from wrong. Andrew, Emily and Ryan agreed in this order: 1) parents, 2) common sense (or figuring it out for themselves), 3) maybe in church and 4) a commandment or two. Their response is interesting. We cannot identify ethics with religion only. Ethics is not only for people who are religious. Ethical issues are the responsibility of all people whether or not they practice a religion.  So what does the bible have to do with ethical decisions?
In today’s first reading we heard about the authorities prohibiting the disciples from teaching what Jesus taught. The neophyte Christians boldly answered they would be obedient to God and not to laws devised by humans. This was an important declaration. Creating a new identity was a struggle for the early church. What would rally them together? According to moral philosopher Dov Seidman — a set of “common beliefs or values” binds groups together. Religious belief systems prescribe that we act in a certain way toward one another  even though others may not agree .
Maybe this explains the polarization we observe in Congress, our nation and our religions. There is not much clear-across-the-board agreement about major moral issues: health care, birth control, gun control, war, same sex marriage, immigration, abortion. The fact is we human beings do not agree on everything. Frequently, to strengthen arguments, dissimilar groups will actually quote from the bible using different interpretations of the same texts! Learning to compromise is difficult. What would Jesus do?!
A group of Protestant churches recently released a Formula of Agreement. The report stated 1) scripture does not always shed direct light on contemporary questions, 2) every verse and passage stands in the entire wisdom of the bible and 3) science and other modern sources of wisdom illuminate our reading of scripture. Scripture shapes and forms our identity, our imagination, our language, and our moral development.”  That’s what the biblical texts can do for us.
But … the bible is not a moral handbook. You cannot go to the index and look up information on, e.g., pre-marital sex, and find an direct “yes or no” answer to a specific contemporary moral dilemma. “Biblical interpretation requires that we use our brains as well. Faithful interpretation asks about the biblical languages and cultures. It takes account of the historical and social settings in which biblical books were composed and developed.” 
Just last week, while addressing the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Pope Francis taught that the Word of God embraces and extends beyond Scripture. He said the presence of the holy Spirit is necessary to properly understand it. 
So, is it a fair question to ask “what would Jesus do?” The gospel today was a late addition to the text but still provides us with a lesson. After failing to catch any fish, the disciples who cowardly abandoned Jesus at his trial and execution, found Jesus, standing on the shore “ready to greet them with breakfast and total forgiveness.”  That’s what Jesus did. We might say then that making ethical decisions today requires respect for all human beings no matter who they are or what they may have done to us.
Why pursue this question about ethics? This afternoon our teenagers will be discussing how to make ethical decisions. Perhaps we adults could get together sometime in the future to have the same conversation — how do we make ethical decisions?
1 Manuel Velasquez, Claire Andre, Thomas Shanks, S.J., and Michael J. Meyer. “What is Ethics?” Markula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/whatisethics.html
2 Seidman, Dov. How: Why We Do Anything Means Everything (NY: Wiley) 2007, 72
3 Formula of Agreement, 01/07/13. Browse http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Office-of-the-Presiding-Bishop/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations.aspx
4 Carey, Greg. “The Bible and Our Moral Lives” in Huff Post, 01/14/13
5 Pope Francis to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Vatican Information Services, Vatican City, April 12, 2013
6 Judith, Walloon, Australia in catholica.com.au, 04/13/13