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Archive for February, 2015

Jesus warned his followers that there would be many false teachers who would claim to be speaking for him but would actually be denying the core truths of his message. He told his followers that people should be able to tell the difference by the “fruits” they produce. Of course, we learn later in the scriptures that the fruits of the Spirit of God are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self control. Perhaps, the true signs of someone being “right” is not by having the superior moral argument or the “correct theology,” but by their spirit, the essence of who they are..

There are a lot of people speaking for Christianity that have fruits of fear and hatred. Fear is what drives their message. Of course, fear is often intertwined with hatred, hatred of the other. In our modern context this might mean undocumented immigrants, Muslims, conservatives, liberals, blacks, whites, Hispanics etc.. When any ministry or minister is obsessed with hatred and fear towards another, they have lost their way and are no longer living in the path of Jesus.

In contrast, the fruits of the spirit are defined not by being right or better than your enemy, but by intangible characteristics such as love, joy, and peace. When Christianity becomes based on fear and hatred of the other, it loses its way. It is in fact, no longer Christianity. As St. Paul said, true love drives out fear. The defining characteristics of true Christianity and the leaders and thinkers that Christians should follow should be love, joy, and peace. Those filled with anxiety, fear, and hatred can never actually produce good fruit, no matter how “lofty” their goals are. It is possible to become extremely caustic even while working towards something noble. On the other hand, those who focus on being filled up with the peace and love of God will do radical and amazing things as the life of the universe fills their every movement.

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Jesus told his followers in Matthew 7 that the road to life is very narrow and few find it, while the road to destruction is very broad and the majority of the people stay on this more certain, traditional path. These verses could be applied to any number of areas that Jesus talks about during the Sermon on the Mount, lust, anger, forgiveness, faithfulness, or embracing Jesus and the Kingdom of God. However, since one of the main emphases of Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is the issue of violence and loving our enemies, these verses also should be seen in light of the teachings on non-violence.

When we feel threatened or someone or something is standing in the way of what we want, violence is a natural response. It has been that way since the beginning of time. People fight other peoples. Countries fight other countries for more land, more natural resources, or to protect “national or security interests.” The path towards violence and war is the traditional “wide” path of humanity, and very few have risen above it in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression and fear. The ones that have the world reveres as saints. Men such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King have showed humanity a different way to confront injustice that does not involve more violence and bloodshed. The ultimate example of this path of non-violence and love for enemies was Jesus himself who refused to fight back against those who were out to kill him and asked for their forgiveness as he was being crucified.

When Jesus taught about loving our enemies and being peacemakers, it was not just for individuals to be more “righteous.” Perhaps he was teaching us that the only path towards a restored humanity and brotherhood was refusing to follow the wide path of retribution and cyclical violence and actually follow the difficult and narrow path of peace and non-violence. Many of those who followed this narrow path were eventually killed. However, unlike those who died in the cycle of hate and violence, their lives have shown a vision to humanity of a greater way to live. That only through the narrow path can there be true life…

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It is easy to read the Bible outside of its historical context and over-spiritualize a text so it is has little impact on our modern lives or society. One of the examples of this is when Jesus told his followers that the peacemakers will be blessed. It is tempting to look at the text and see it as simply pertaining to personal relationships, being nice to one another and trying to avoid relational conflict. However, we have to realize that Jesus was saying this to a group of people who had been under strong oppression of the Roman government. This was a government that would have mass crucifixions for anyone who tried to threaten their rule. There were many in the crowd who were most likely uninterested in peace. They wanted revenge. They wanted justice.

Jesus offered another way, another vision of the world. One where the truly blessed, the ones who will be called children of God are the ones who lay down their swords. The ones who lay down their guns, their tanks and actually choose to do the arduous work of peace. Though war and violence may seem like the most difficult and courageous route. Working for peace is actually more challenging. The early Christians showed this in their refusal to fight, and this often cost them their lives. However, their ultimate goal was not personal safety nor national security, it was representing the radical message of the Kingdom of God, which largely because of their non-violence and desire to be peacemakers was spread throughout the world. There was something so attractive about this upside down Kingdom where the last are first and enemies are to be loved like friends.

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This is probably a Bible verse that has been quoted or misquoted more than any other in the scriptures. It is an easy passage for someone to throw out when they feel like someone is confronting them or pointing out a problem in their life. While it may have been abused as a passage by those who do not want to be held to account for actions, it nonetheless is a verse that is at the center of the message of Jesus.

What does it mean, judge not less you be judged? Does it mean that we can’t distinguish good from evil actions, justice from injustice, oppressors from oppressed? Does it mean we cannot stand for justice and truth in the world, less we come off as judgmental? It is a thin and often very tedious line which we straddle. On one hand, following in the path of Jesus we should always confront injustice, greed, and hatred. However, we have to do so out of the spirit of looking at other people as equals, not as greater than us, and certainly not less than us. Judging others means looking at them as less than what they are, beautiful and sacred beings created in the image of God. When we are judging others we are debasing them, robbing them of the beauty of their humanity. We have to learn to separate the evil that is within everyone from the good that has been placed there. We cannot simply define people by their most egregious characteristic or action. As we look at people primarily as children of God and our equals our judgments start to fade away as we join into the bonds of our common humanity.

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