The Words of Jesus We Ignore

 
Imagine a person praying at bedtime. He is confused. Unsure of what to do in life. What are his next steps, he wonders? He prays fervently to God for direction.

Amazingly enough, God answers!

Love God
Love one another

The person praying listens. Stops. “Okay, God, I still have no idea what you want me to do…”

Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, look after the sick

“God, I beg you… please give me some direction, anything…”

Do good to those who hurt you
Love your enemies
Forgive over and over again
Turn the other cheek 

“Anything, God…”

Hunger for righteousness, don’t be afraid to mourn, be a peacemaker, 
Be merciful, meek and pure of heart
Always look to the poor, prefer them and celebrate those persecuted for justice…

The person stops praying and shakes his head, frustrated by the emptiness he feels. He rolls over and falls asleep, hoping that by some miracle God might provide some kind of answer in the future.

You can laugh, but this is how many Christians actually respond to Jesus’s words to us.

Let’s break it down:

Most Christians believe that Jesus is God—and not just in some metaphorical way, but literally God in actual flesh and bones.

Many of Jesus’s words are recorded in the Bible. Most Christians believe that the Bible itself is the Word of God.

Going further, many of Jesus’s words in the Bible are actual commands to us.

Some Christians take the Bible literally. All followers should take it seriously.

What I find so puzzling is that so few Christians seem to pay much attention to what Jesus said at all. That’s a very strange reaction to a guy most Christians claim is actually God who walked among us in flesh and bones. I mean, here’s God actually coming down to our level and talking to us. He lays out the path. He tells us what to do. He even helps us prioritize:

Jesus replied: “‘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.” 

 (Matthew 22:37-40)

I don’t know how to be more clear. Jesus himself—you know, God—directly says it is a command. On top of that, he makes it clear that it is the greatest of all the commands. And then going further, to erase any possible doubt, he describes that everything else hangs on it. Love comes first and then all other considerations are not only secondary but dependent on it. So any other command, rule or doctrine you find in the Bible must be viewed through the lens of the Greatest Commandment.

Did I mention that this was a command? By God. A command by God.

After that comes the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. It begins with the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Then there’s the The Works of Mercy (Matthew 25: 31-46):

Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, look after the sick

The Bible is full of commands, advice and assorted lessons of all types. It has profound understandings that only open up to us as we pray deeply, do our Christian work and grow in our discipleship. It speaks in riddles, parables and paradoxes. It speaks out of a context that is thousands of years old. Even with a lifetime of constant study you will never mine all the depths of its teachings.

But some things are clear! Especially when Jesus himself is quite direct about it.

Even with those commands, life can still be extremely difficult to navigate. Jesus tell us to love doesn’t tell us how to do it. He does not micromanage but rather gives the blueprint. That can be frustrating, but I think that’s the point: Jesus probably doesn’t want us to passively check activities off a list but rather put our whole heart, soul, mind and hands into what we do. We are to struggle with the question. With every step we take, every decision we make, we should be constantly asking ourselves—am I serving the Greatest Commandment in this action or not? Do my actions reflect the Beatitudes? How can I apply the Works of Mercy right now in this situation? Those should be our first considerations always and never an afterthought. We are never without some advice from God as to what to do next.

***

So how do we apply these teachings to important issues today?

Many Christians are worried about refugees and undocumented immigrants coming into the U.S. I assume that Christians bring these concerns openly to prayer before coming to a conclusion: “God, what shall we do?”

Love one another. Be merciful. Welcome the stranger. Be a peacemaker.

“But God, what about securing our borders?”

Love one another. Be merciful. Welcome the stranger. Be a peacemaker.

The Christian tradition acknowledges some value in securing borders, but it’s certainly not mentioned as a direct command of Jesus. His commands were more about expanding borders to find ways to make room for all. Securing borders should never be our first concern! First: Welcome, show mercy, be a peacemaker, look to and prefer the poor! Then later, much, much later, there is some value in having a border and having some kind of regulations for crossing it but only if that border allows us to love abundantly and show mercy.

You don’t get to talk about securing borders until you have done the other things! Only after you have welcomed and loved and shown mercy abundantly are you in any position at all to talk about what a “secure border” can and should look like given the circumstances and the people involved. And that “secure border” must serve love and mercy, not the other way around. A secure border can only be legitimate if it serves the God who commands us to love, show mercy, make peace and look after one another. If a border allow us to do that, then it is just. If it doesn’t, it is not of God.

Love of God and neighbor is the greatest commandment and all else hangs on it, as Jesus says above. Let’s imagine that the Greatest Commandment is a tree. We hang “secure borders” on that tree as an ornament. Those secure borders are not just a secondary consideration, but they are also dependent on the tree for structure and support. We can only hang them on the tree if they do not break or disrupt the tree on which they hang. It is in this way that love is primary and all else is not only secondary, but in a dependent position to love.

Visit Frank Lesko’s website here.

Review & Commentary