“If the Son has set you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
The question came quickly and directly from the Middle Eastern man who had just sat across from us on the DC Metro. We were in Washington for a Spring Break trip in March of 2007. After touring the moving Holocaust Museum, we hopped on the Metro at the Smithsonian and headed south to our car, parked in Arlington. We had been on the Metro for only a few minutes when this gentleman boarded the train at the Pentagon and sat down. He was in his 40s, dressed in casual American clothes, not appearing to be poor but also without any of the trappings of affluence found on the other commuters on the same train. He had no cell phone, no briefcase, no shopping bags — nothing was in his hands. He boarded the Metro alone.
I immediately noticed that his attention was fixed on our family as he sat. After all, a couple with four kids aged 17 to 11 was likely to stick out like a sore thumb among the power suits and military uniforms on the Metro at that particular spot. And yet, it was the small piece of jewelry around my wife’s neck that prompted this gentleman to speak.
In easy American English, the man said, “I see you wear a cross on your necklace. Is that a fashion statement, or is it a statement of faith?” My wife responded that it was most definitely a statement of her faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. With a smile, the gentleman replied, “Oh, that Jesus, we don’t like him too much, do we? He keeps us from doing the things that we want to.” We then explained how our obedience to Jesus comes out of our love for him, how God’s commandments are for our benefit, and how our obedience to God’s commandments frees us rather than restrains us. Even though the gentleman’s comments suggested that he probably didn’t share our faith, he never once became argumentative, and he listened with a smile the entire time. He rode with us until the next stop, when without so much as a goodbye, he abruptly stood up and walked off the Metro.
We spent the rest of the ride in a stunned, “what-just-happened” kind of silence. Was this man simply making small talk with a family of tourists? Or was he seeking the truth, taking a few steps closer to surrendering his life to the one true King? Was his heart already hardened to the point where he couldn’t hear the Gospel? We won’t know the answer to these questions until we get to heaven. But, we were grateful to have the opportunity to share our faith, and to show our kids that it’s OK to do so, even in strange and unfamiliar surroundings.
Sadly, we didn’t talk with the man about the most liberating aspect of faith in Jesus: Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his resurrection that set us free from our sins. In John 10:10, Jesus himself said that he came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. That doesn’t sound like restriction to me. In fact, during his ministry Jesus saved some of his harshest words for the Jewish leaders who placed religious requirements on God’s people, while he showed kindness, compassion, and caring to the sinners he interacted with, which was, you know, everyone. So, knowing how Jesus felt as reflected in the New Testament, why would Christians ever show the world that being Christian is more about judgment of others’ sins than about Christ’s love and his redemption of our souls? If our goal is to make disciples, and that should be our goal, then we’re better served by following Jesus’ example.
If you’re a Christian and you wear a cross on a chain around your neck, you’re wearing a reminder of your redemption and the freedom your soul enjoys because of it. And, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you may get to explain what that cross means to an inquisitive fellow traveler.