Following Jesus happens in the details of life—in the subtle and marginal experiences—not always in life-changing circumstances. Brennan Manning, in his book Ruthless Trust, says this, “It is through immersion in the ordinary—the apparently empty, trivial, and meaningless experiences of a routine day—that life is encountered and lived. Real living is not about words, concepts, and abstractions but about experience of who or what is immediately before us.”
I was reminded of this last week. It was at McDonald’s around 7 a.m. Not typically my first choice of places to be at 7 a.m., but it was a convenient place to meet a friend. On my way into the Golden Arches there were two women outside the door—visibly upset. I discovered why a few moments later.
I slid into a vinyl booth, and since I was early, I thought I would sneak out my Bible and read a little. I started reading the Sermon on the Mount—blessed are the poor in spirit … if someone asks for your tunic give them your cloak also … let your light shine … and love your enemies.
At the very same time, one of the women burst back on the scene like a football player running through a paper banner in a pre-game show. I looked up. She raced to the counter—bouncing with attitude—and yelled at everyone behind the registers. "I want my bagel, now! I’m not retarded—you gave me my same burnt bagel back.” The manager emerged from the back, and the two started a shouting match over a burnt bagel. A shouting match at 7 a.m., nonetheless.
Everyone in McDonald’s (me, and about 10 people from the retirement home) just sat there, almost pretending like we weren’t watching, but, of course, we were.
It was a loud and very short engagement, but eventually the young woman was verbally kicked out and banned from the restaurant. Even after being asked to leave, she kept yelling, "I want my bagel or I want my money!" Finally, I heard the cash register, and they gave her some money—just to get rid of her. She took the money and walked out the door with a smug sense of victory and a few choice words.
After the burnt-bagel debacle everyone went back to eating their Egg McMuffins and acted like this kind of thing happens every day, me included. I’m not sure if God was trying to tell me something through this living parable, but I think I got the picture. That’s not to say that I haven’t had those days, too—the kind that get ruined by a burnt bagel—but this short-lived exchange was a classic reminder that the small things count. Sometimes—no matter how trivial and obscure—if we feel our rights are violated, we naturally spring into fight-mode. It seems that Satan likes to convince us that these subtle accounts don’t matter. The Sermon on the Mount, however, reveals another way. Jesus wasn’t just concerned with the monumental decisions—he was concerned about the small and sometimes overlooked relationships in our lives. In a way, Jesus was saying, how we handle these details in life will reflect something greater.
For those who follow Christ, the sometimes irrelevant aspects of life become suddenly relevant. When we choose to live with others in mind—even in the smallest details—we paint a portrait that boldly contrasts the earthy paradigm of personal rights. It’s different, it’s bizarre—and in the absurdity people come to grips with an alternative way of living.
The way of Jesus.
To the world this way looks weak, but it’s the most passionate and powerful way of living known to man. Jesus’ way is not of this world, but in this world it’s revealed through the trivia of selfless living. Giving ourselves over to the kingdom of God takes place in the small stuff, the burnt-bagel stuff. In this broken world, the ordinary and sometimes subtle experiences are all opportunities to live out the love of Christ, even in the meaningless exchanges of a routine day.