Monday, September 26, 2011

What if Jesus was serious?

What if Jesus really meant what he said when he answered that young man's question about what he needed to do to be saved?

Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments." 

Rachel Held Evans followed that passage with: "Love. It's that simple and that profound. It's that easy and that hard. Taking on the yoke of Jesus is not about signing a doctrinal statement or making an intellectual commitment to a set of propositions. It isn't about being right or getting our facts straight. It is about loving God and loving other people. The yoke is hard because the teachings of Jesus are radical: enemy love, unconditional forgiveness, extreme generosity.

"How ironic that the most important fundamental element of the Christian faith is something that is relative, something that cannot be measured with science, systematized with theology, or managed with rules. How fitting and how strange that God should hide his biggest secret in that present yet elusive thing that poets and artists and musicians and theologians and philosophers have spent centuries trying to capture in some form but that we all know the minute we experience it. How lovely and how terrible that absolute truth exists in something that cannot really be named." (209-210, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a girl who knew all the answers learned to ask the questions)

What if that's what Jesus really expected us to do - love God and love other people? What would that look like in my life?

To love the Lord with my thoughts, my desires, my words, my actions.
To love my husband and children the same way.
To love my neighbors, friends, extended family members the way I love myself.

If Jesus was serious about that, then I've got a whole lot of work to do to put that into practice. I think what I'm gonna do first is go back to the stories written about Jesus and look for the many ways in which he did that when he was here on earth. Then I will try to follow his example.

Loving God comes easier than loving people. God is invisible, untouchable, and perfect. I don't have to smell God's morning breath, clean up the dishes God leaves around the house, or wash God's sweaty workout clothes. I don't have to listen to God ramble on Sunday mornings about issues that have nothing to do with me or forgive God for cutting me off in traffic or teach God how to write essays. I can just shut my eyes, think about the good stuff, and be grateful. I can read the poems, the accounts of miracles, and plunge myself into the stories of the ways Jesus spoke to, listened to, and healed the women who followed him while he was on earth. Loving God, loving Jesus, even loving the Holy Spirit is easy.

It's easy to love my neighbors as myself when my neighbors look like me, think like I do, live like I live, and believe the same things that I believe. But when their political, religious, moral, relational, sexual, ethical values, standards, and lifestyles differ vastly from mine, do I love them like I love myself even then? Or do I come up with excuses for letting myself off the hook on that particular command?

It's fairly easy to show love, respect, honor with my actions. I can speak kind words and think hateful thoughts. I can say, "Sure, I'll pray for you. I'll help. I'll clean up the mess" - but know that I won't pray, I don't want to help, and I have no intention of cleaning up after anybody but myself.

It is not easy to love others in my thoughts. My thoughts can get mean, insulting, judgmental, lusty, angry and greedy. In a hurry. Bringing them back in line, that's a whole lot harder.

My countenance may never change. My mouth may continue to overflow with Scripture, words of encouragement, and politically correct statements, depending on whose company I am in. But my heart and mind are often far removed from what my mouth and my body are doing.

If Jesus was serious about all that, then all I can say is,
"Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

I continue to be enormously grateful for this book. As the subtitle suggests, I am learning to release my earlier tendency towards knowing or pretending I knew all the answers. I am enjoying the process of asking more questions than I used to, and I am glad to say that I am also learning to live with the questions, to not rush to answer them myself, and to not even rush to find the answers. Sitting with the questions, marinating in them, writing down dozens and dozens more of them, and allowing them to change me and challenge me to think, to wonder, and not be ashamed to admit that I do not know it all - this is some of the most painful and rewarding stuff I've done since I began my faith journey. 

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