*I know that I have quite a few readers who don’t subscribe to the Christian faith. That’s ok. This next series of blogs deals with my return to the things that Jesus said in a new unfettered way. If these posts aren’t to your taste, that’s fine. I’ve got some others in the pipeline you may enjoy. In the meantime, here is the first look at how I, as a Christian, completely ignore some of the things Jesus actually said. I do this series, hoping to grow a certain degree of honesty in all of us.*
Let’s be honest for a minute. Ok, I know that Christians are already a pretty honest lot, so I’ll put it this way: Let’s be more honest than usual. Here it is: Most of the time we interpret the Bible with personal bias. I know, you are probably the exception to that, but as for me, I have a hard time “understanding” verses that conflict with my existing theology… or even worse with verses that just conflict with the way I want to live. There are certain ideas about God that I have built, brick by brick, into my view of the universe. These ideas color everything I do, even when I don’t realize it. But they also rewrite the Bible in my own words, often under my nose, whenever there is something written in there that conflicts with my world. Dare I say it, my comfort.
Examples are good. Here’s one:
When Jesus talks to a certain young ruler, he tells him to sell everything he has and give it the poor and follow Jesus, if he wants to be perfect. What’s funny is that the guy asked him about eternal life, not perfection. According to Jesus the two are connected. (For more clarity on that random thought, check out what Jesus said in Matthew 5:48) Now, I have heard this preached so many times to know that Jesus did NOT actually mean those words literally. Obviously, It was more of a heart issue. The rich ruler– totally unlike us– had a greed problem that was so bad that Jesus thought the only solution would be to have him purge himself of all his earthly stuff. But we aren’t that bad. The Jesus in that story is absolutely cool with us having a bunch of expensive toys to play angry birds on, or more guns in our homes than an iraqi militant just so we can make some noise, or a car that is more expensive than a medium sized village, while our neighbors have substandard living. Obviously, I’m being sarcastic. But honestly, that is what most of us think. I know it’s what I’ve thought.
The funny thing about that story is the absurd amount of time a preacher will spending back-pedaling Jesus’ words to the ruler just to make it more palatable with our lifestyle. We say, “But he wasn’t really concerned about how much stuff the man had.” or ” the real issue here doesn’t have to do with money.” The thing that makes none of those interpretations work though is this:
Jesus let’s the man walk away
He doesn’t chase him down and say, “Hey man, don’t take it so seriously. I didn’t really mean to actually sell your stuff. Just try to be a little more generous, alright?” No, he let’s the man walk away. And when we water down those red words of Jesus in the story. We do the same thing and don’t even realize it.
We walk away.
We walk in opposite direction of Jesus, pretending that he is still right beside us. And as we walk away, we turn to the Jesus that isn’t there and say, “Whew, you say the craziest stuff! I’m so glad I was able to figure out what you really meant though!” And we wonder why he doesn’t speak back. God is always silent when you speak to a god who isn’t there.
Before you call me an atheist for that last statement, I don’t think that God isn’t able to hear us. I just think that the god that we make up in our image and pass off to ourselves as the genuine article isn’t real. And doesn’t listen. Sorry. If you wonder where the real God is, then may I suggest looking where he always said he would be: with the poor, the immigrant, the naked, the hungry, the prisoner. That’s right. God hangs out in prisons and under bridges, not in temples made by men. Not even really shiny temples like the Apple Store or Best Buy of Pier One, or Room-to-go. If you’re house is full of stuff that you would rather walk away with than sell to follow Jesus, it’s a temple. And it was made by you.
Please don’t take any of this as arrogance, like I have actually succeeded in figuring any of this out yet. I’m not some guy saying all this from a mountaintop, wearing toga and sandals… ok maybe sandals. I struggle with all of this. I have tons of stuff that I don’t need. Stuff that is just so convenient. I am just starting to get honest about it. I no longer say that God is fine with it all because I “use it for God” or because it “helps me be more effective”. Some things do benefit God’s kingdom when I use them, but I’m not as sure of what those things are as I used to be. Is it a better Idea to go out and eat like a king, than to save that money to use to provide micro-loans to African startups. I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. So, let’s just start by being honest and, If we do nothing else, start looking at Jesus’ words with a little less filter.
(To be continued next week)