Have you ever experienced a moment when you discovered something was more than it appeared? A goal in life was more than just a line drawn through an entry on a list?
Read Chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke and you’ll understand what I’m writing about. Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, verses 49 through 56, was a fraction of the chapter and it comes across as one angry outburst if read alone. In reading the chapter in its entirety, you see that it is a teaching moment for the crowds and the disciples following Jesus. It follows a dinner at the house of a Pharisee where Jesus is criticized for not observing the ritual of washing before dining. In usual form, Jesus turns the argument on its head and begins a lengthy criticism of Pharisees and lawyers and afterwards he leaves and we hear his teaching in parables. We are witness to profound ideas here: “…do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” Luke 12:22. Imagine being one of the thousand in that crowd and hearing this! Jesus is telling his audience that the very things we as workaday people are obsessed with are not as important as the bigger picture. God is important. Listening to God is important. Looking for and recognizing the signs of the Kingdom of Heaven is important. To drive this home, Jesus further explains his controversial ministry by saying that his message will tear families apart, using the words of the prophet Micah: “they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter…” Micah 7:6. This did happen in the early days of the Jesus Movement. Baptism into the faith was a death sentence for many and families and friends were divided. These words rang true during the author of Luke’s time when the Roman authorities persecuted Christians and there were quarrels within the Jewish community over the place of Christianity, quarrels among the leaders of the young Church.
Is it a surprise that nothing really has changed?
What I believe Jesus is saying is that as welcoming and loving as his message is, if you’re going to walk with him, don’t get comfortable. Don’t think it’s going to be easy, or that everyone will get your message and meaning and agree. Be prepared to have a defense for your faith, be it in actions, deeds or words. Be prepared to be rejected, mocked, attacked. Be prepared for a portrait painted with a wide, flat, brush of assumptions of who and what a Christian is, what it means to be Christian. Being Christian in today’s society can be difficult, especially when the criticism comes from someone who is Christian.
I stand against the racism, hatred, sexism, class discrimination and hypocrisy that are excused by some in the name of Christianity. If I remember scripture correctly, Jesus told us to love one another as he loves us. He made no distinction about who to love. Everyone. Loving is the easy part; agreeing with and accepting another’s point of view or interpretation can be like fingernails on the ancient chalkboard. Finding the common thread that joins us can be difficult at times, but not impossible. It takes reflection, grace, compromise, and being willing to admit to a mistake or being wrong.
I don’t agree with some members of the faith who cry out that they are being persecuted in today’s world. Our history is rife with moments where we were the villains using God as a weapon. The doctrinal debates of the third and fourth centuries come to mind, the injustices that came out of the Crusades, the deep divisions of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation come to mind. The fervent, radical, conservatism of all faiths that demand total obedience to the exclusion of independent thought and interpretation, destroys and fosters suspicion and hatred. Some of it is cast on those with faith who strive to live out The New Commandment with ears that listen and hearts and minds that endeavour to understand and do their best to share The Good News.
With God, it’s all about love and respect, with humans, it’s all about who has the most and who is in control. Jesus is asking us to change this mindset. There have been many, many, eras in Earthly time that were more violent, more frightening than ours, and how sad it is that we just don’t learn from the lessons, that Jesus of Nazareth’s words and mandate haven’t taken root in our hearts.
How revolutionary would it be if the next time we heard the Word twisted and bent, revised and edited, to suit a particular agenda, that we look the person in the eye and say, “I love you as Christ asks me to love you.”
That’s it. That’s all you have to say.
Watch for the response.
It may surprise you.