Friday, September 19, 2008

Challenging a False God

Some have a storybook image of Jesus in their minds as primarily a really nice guy, the kind of guy who would get along with anyone. Surely he would never get into arguments or say anything that might offend others. He was probably even ruggedly handsome and always clean, like in the paintings. But the Bible reveals this image could actually be considered an idol -- a false picture of God which keeps us from truly experiencing God as he truly is.

Two weeks later, I'm still thinking about the lectionary passages from September 7:
Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Two words have taken root in my mind as I've pondered these portions. The first is community. I saw a glimpse of this in Exodus 14:4, which is part of God's instructions to the Israelites as he prepared them for the Passover; that is, when he would liberate them from Egyptian slavery. Among the details was the command for each household to slaughter and eat a lamb, but "if any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are." In this way, everyone would have enough, nothing would be wasted, and nobody would be alone. They were to prepare together, to experience together, to have memories together.

The New Testament passages focus very much on community. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). It echoes what Jesus had said about all other commands being enveloped by the one to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40).

The teaching in Matthew 18 addresses conflict, particularly among Christians. And it's not just about being offended, which leaves open the question of whether or not there is adequate cause. Instead, Jesus is quite clear when he starts this teaching: "If your brother sins against you...." He knew that anytime people do life together -- in families, workplaces, churches, neighborhoods, or whatever -- they will sometimes get angry with each other, and sometimes for good reason. Thankfully, he also taught how to deal with these situations.

This brings me to the second word which has taken root in me as I've pondered these passages: revolutionary. Far from being a totally agreeable, gentle fellow who would go with the flow rather than make waves or ruffle feathers, Jesus challenged the customs and beliefs of the day. It was Jesus who made a scene in the temple when greedy people were taking advantage of the people there to make sacrifices. It was Jesus who hand-picked a tax collector -- a profession known in that day for extortion and for helping the oppressors -- as one of his disciples, and even went to a party with a whole bunch of such people. It was Jesus who questioned some of the religious customs of Sabbath observance and also supported his disciples in doing the same. It was Jesus who so lovingly corrected both a woman caught in adultery and her accusers.

The Jesus we serve turned the culture where he lived -- including the religious community -- on its head by teaching and modeling perfect love. To the extent that we recognize and follow him, we participate in his mission to transform our world!

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