After witnessing the people of Maycomb convict an innocent man (Tom Robinson) simply because of his color, young Jem Finch voices his confusion about his town to his trusted neighbor, Miss Maudie. The narrator, Scout, recounts her brother’s lament, “I always thought that Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like.” In one of the more enlightening lines of the novel, Maudie responds to Jem, “We’re the safest folks in the world… We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.”
At first glance, Miss Maudie’s words to Jem can seem a little offensive. The reality is the two are talking about the despicable illness of racism that permeates life in their small southern town. Maudie is thankful that there is at least one man in the community who will stand against it. With a bit of reflection, I think these lines hit us exactly where we live. We so often paint the sins, illness, poverty and dysfunction of our neighborhood with huge brushstrokes, as if they are problems we cannot own — issues that are too large for us to impact. We tell ourselves that we cannot possibly make a difference. But the truth is that we are too often busy, like the majority of Maycomb, playing it safe. I’m sure there were others in town that saw the injustice of what was happening to Tom Robinson, but standing with Atticus Finch wasn’t the safest thing to do — and they oriented their lives around safety. Maudie is pointing out that theessence of being Christian — is an action. Her lines remind us that our faith requires a response, and it usually isn’t the safe choice.
We do people a disservice when we equate the expression of our faith with security or happiness. Jesus calls out to his disciples, “pick up your cross and follow Me.” Safety is not part of the formula. If I am ordering my life around safety — am I even following Christ? I have been looking around at my own life lately and asking this question — it’s uncomfortable — and I think it should be. What would it look like for us to take up our cross and walk away from “safe?” It maybe profound, like owning up to dishonesty at work and putting your job at risk. Maybe it is giving up some financial security to help fund a ministry. Maybe it is simply stepping out of your comfort-zone to reconcile with a co-worker. None of these issues are as dire or as ugly a task as facing racism, but I believe our faith dies a little with each small decision we make to “play it safe.” Each time we choose “safe,” we move farther and farther away from practicing a faith that will impact the larger issues in our neighborhood. This week, spend a moment looking around your own life, and consider the ways you choose safety over following Jesus.