As I’ve watched the events of the past several years, and especially the past ten months or so, I have been confused and frustrated. But after the events in Washington DC last week and seeing the responses from much of the Christian community, I am deeply disturbed. When we discuss political and social needs of human beings in our country (human beings created in God’s image, by the way) it appears to me that we have left Jesus out of the equation. “Left out” would be an omission. I fear we have intentionally removed Jesus from important discussions and, worse, have figured out how to justify such actions. That’s not just an omission but a commission, as in “the action of committing [an] offense.”
Ironically, there is a passage in scripture known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus to his disciples:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
A key element to this directive is disciple-making – inviting people to follow Jesus and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. I remember reading this early in my Christian journey, wondering exactly what those commands were. It drove me to read the Gospels several times over. I even made a list of all his commands (which was daunting, by the way). My second or third time through the Gospels, I suddenly realized that all his commands (and in fact, all of scripture) hinged on just two:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:36-40)
And who is my neighbor? That’s what the theologian asked Jesus in the narrative we know as the Good Samaritan story. In response to the question, Jesus told a story that didn’t fit the man’s ideology. Your neighbor, Jesus indicated, is likely the one you dislike (hate?) the most. It appears the guy didn’t decide to follow Jesus. Is there a chance our ideologies clash with Jesus?
Who is my neighbor? Former President Jimmy Carter tells the story of a Cuban immigrant pastor named Eloy Cruz, a man who focused his life and ministry on Puerto Rican immigrants to the United States, people who were among the poorest of the poor. President Carter asked this pastor about the secret of his success. Cruz responded in humility and with a certain measure of embarrassment. “Señor Jimmy, we only need to have two loves in life—for God and for the person who happens to be standing in front of us at any time” (Leif Anderson). My neighbor is whomever God places in my path even if I don’t like them, even if they are different than me.
How can people who claim to be Christ-followers be willing to set aside the tenets of Jesus? How can we, instead, seem to be okay with rhetoric that demonizes our neighbors and turns them into enemies (don’t miss the irony that Jesus also commanded us to love our enemies). Help me understand! To me, it appears we have been willing to set Jesus aside. (See also What the Right and Left Have in Common.)
How else can we explain the Christian community’s inability (and unwillingness?) to face, admit, and speak into the divisions and disparities so evident in our society?
As you can see, I’m mostly asking questions here. However, something is surely amiss and we, the Christian community, need to be willing to ask where we might have missed the mark. I am open to hearing your thoughts!