There was this one time when Jesus said:
“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from one who takes your things, don’t ask for them back.Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36
The other day a friend of mine, and new Christian, asked me if I was keeping up with national politics. He then said, “They keep talking about ‘Evangelical Christians.’ First off, what is that? That isn’t who we are, is it? And second, why is that the people they introduce and interview as Evangelical Christians talk more like the way I used to think, and still struggle to think, than the way Jesus talks?” He went on to name names.
Our conversation left me heavy hearted. He’s right, you know. Texts like Luke 6 should be put on display in today’s Church. It should be described in the conversations the Church has when they gather. But my friend is right. The teachings of Jesus he has come to know as found in the gospels seem so foreign to what’s often put on display by the Church. It’s like the stories of the gospels have been replaced with alternative facts that create alternative narratives. Here’s what I mean.
In Mark 8, the story goes:
“In those days there was again a large crowd, and they had nothing to eat. He summoned the disciples and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat.If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a long distance.”
The way some of us talk you might think it goes something like this:
“In those days there was again a large crowd, and they had nothing to eat. He summoned the disciples and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat.But they should have made better plans, so just send them away. They can fend for themselves.”
The alternative narrative reminds me of the type of things we say when hearing about people in need of financial help.
In Matthew 9:26-28, the story goes:
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, shouting, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When He entered the house, the blind men approached Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” Then he touched them…and their eyes were opened.
But you might think it goes something like this:
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, shouting “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When He entered the house, the blind men approached Him, and Jesus said to them, “What have you done for yourself? I need to be sure you’re not taking advantage of me.” They responded, “I —” Jesus interrupted and said, “And if you weren’t born blind, could you have done something to avoid it? If so, that’s on you.” And He shut the door.
This reminds me of the type of things we think when encountering people living through homelessness, or even through addictions.
In Matthew 8:5-7, the story goes:
When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony!” Jesus told him, “I will come and heal him.”
But you might think it goes something like this:
When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony!” Jesus told him, “I could but since you’re not one of my countrymen I can’t. Besides, he’s your servant anyhow. Sorry.”
This reminds me of the type of things we do when hearing about refugees, immigrants or people living in impoverished conditions in other parts of the world.
My work as pastor and president of a non-profit often leads me to Christians who offer the kind of push back that reflects these alternative narratives rather than the actual ones. I could offer reasons as to why I think this is the case, but I’ll just settle to say that it seems to be a predominant way of thinking for a particularly influential brand of Christianity in the U.S.
How else can I explain to my new christian bro the Evangelical Christians he’s seen that openly support people claiming allegiance to Jesus while their character and witness seems anti-Jesus? It’s one thing to quote a stanza from the Psalms, and quite another to live the verses found in the one of the gospels.
Here is what we concluded. Thanks be to God whose faithful love is driven by a stubborn refusal to give up on us and to treat us better than we treat one another.
But that’s not all.
We also concluded that in a society seduced by power, position and privilege, taking Jesus seriously enough to do what he says is a heroic act of resistance. In a society dominated by fear, indifference and violence, taking Jesus seriously enough to do what he says is a heroic act of defiance. In a society determined to push aside the weak, marginalize the vulnerable, and exclude the stranger, taking Jesus seriously enough to do what he says is a heroic act of protest. And in a society that makes it permissible to profess an understanding of Christianity that allows it’s adherents to belittle others because of their religion, sexually harass women (or explain it away or dismiss it), downplay or deny racial tension or white supremacy, let fear drive out christian love (along with refugees and immigrants), taking Jesus seriously enough to do what he says is what the Scriptures call faithfulness.
There aren’t enough ‘amens’. Thank you. Love and forgiveness are very hard messages and taking up that cross and following Jesus is a bigger ask, it seems, than pursuing personal holiness. Great piece — very challenging.
Thank you for reading Peter. Maybe learning to take up that cross and follow Jesus is the path to personal holiness as love purifies us. Grace and peace to you, bro.