Thursday, September 26, 2013

If You Love Jesus...

There are an awful lot of "Christians" on Facebook who seem not to have read Jesus' words in today's gospel passage. He warns his followers, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them." Of course a certain amount of judgment is required here. After all, Jesus also talks about not hiding your light under a basket. But when it comes to such judgments, it seems to me that we often get them exactly backwards. Trivial displays like those on Facebook are commonplace, but sharing the light of Jesus by living as he did is more of a rarity.

In reading the gospels, one thing I never observe Jesus doing is manipulating people. He is much more straightforward than that. He speaks hard truths that many do not want to hear, but these truths are not about the things religious folks tend to find important. Jesus is much more concerned about healing the sick and proclaiming good news to the poor than he is with religious observance. I have to think that Jesus would get very tired of folks who post on Facebook about how much they love him, right next to their posts about cutting food stamps or how they have a gun and aren't afraid to use it. Along with today's verses on public practices of piety, they might want to also recall Jesus words about loving enemies. Even more, recall these words. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."

And lest this seem to be a rant against more conservative Christians, I should add that Christians right and left tend to find something about Jesus that is easy for them to do. For some this might be more overt language about loving a personal savior, but for others it might be about loving everybody. Many liberal Christians reduce Jesus to a message of tolerance and charity because those are things they already like doing.  Our public piety -- or light on a lamp stand if you prefer -- is almost always something that is easy and comfortable for us and our group. Christians on the right and the left often find it impossible to leave their camp even if following Jesus seems to require it. All too often we are virtually indistinguishable from the political company we keep, and loving Jesus rarely calls us to risk anything, to step out and deny ourselves for the sake of God's new day, what Jesus labeled the kingdom.

If you love Jesus... What does loving Jesus really require of us? And before we answer with the stock phrases of our particular group, we would all do well to take a long hard look at what Jesus says, paying special attention to those words we like to ignore or explain away.

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