Monday, April 28, 2008

Mike: Reply to Rami's 4/27

Whatever else might be said about them, our online conversations are seldom predictable. Just when we think we're ready to move on to another topic, one of us pushes the other's hot button, and we strike off in an unexpected direction. I'll try to respond to the matters you raised.

(1) "Jesus is paradigmatic." Yes. I would add, though, he is something more. He indeed shows what it is to live under the rule of God. In some way beyond certain definition, he may also grant us his kind of life. The nature of this kind of life is captured in the cross and the resurrection. We lay down our lives that we may be raised to a different sort of life. Few of us exhibit the new life to the degree of those you mention. Yet we also are not the people we would have been had we not received this new life.

I think of a certain aged man I've known a long time. He is a bit crabby, harbors more than a dallop of racism in his heart, and hates to turn loose of money. Sometimes I look at him and think how little he resembles Jesus. But I've known him a long time, and I remember what he was like before he died to his old self and rose to the new life God gave him. He now has a conscience, for one thing. He aches over his sin. He now gives money to help the poor, though he still struggles with his miserly tendencies. My friend has actually spoken to his friends at a local cafe, challenging their racist jokes. Something new is taking hold in him. He is changing.

Certainly, Jesus is the example to whom he looks, but something more than example is at work here.

(2) Christianity has an awful track record with regard to the Jews. Both of us have read Constantine's Sword. While thin in spots, and colored by the author's own resentments, it nonetheless lays out the ways in which Christians have hurt Jews. Bad theology coupled with an unholy union between church and state usually fueled persecution. This subject alone demands another book.

Christian exclusivism, as often understood and practiced, springs from a misreading of Jesus (in my opinion). Jesus commanded his disciples, then and now, to bear witness, receive new disciples, and build his kind of community. Insofar as I can tell, he did not authorize his disciples to persecute or even annoy those who chose not to embrace Christianity. Jesus seems to have believed he had "other followers" of which his disciples were not aware. He eschewed coercion. In short, he envisioned a community given to self-sacrifice, worship and good works. We Christians have often failed to catch, let alone actualize, his vision. The vision, though, remains.

(3) Luke 14:26 and 9:60 continue to shock us, especially if understood to refer to the emotion of hatred or the literal practice of burying the dead. Insofar as I can determine, Jesus had something else in mind. I think these sayings track back to "you shall have no other gods before me." Put positively, these sayings should be read in light of "Seek you first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." Even good things and great obligations may sometimes function as idols, especially when used to excuse us from submitting to the rule of God.

If you want a contemporary example, consider patriotism. Love of country is often a natural good. When love of country trumps submission to the rule God, it becomes an idol.

I'm going to stop now, lest this posting become too long read! I'm interested to hear your take on "the land."

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