Blessed Are the Unoffended
The question above is the topic I was asked to address at the Global Faith Forum, held at NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, last week. It was not a little ironic that the author of Jesus Mean and Wild, not to mention this often controversial column, should be asked to address the topic. But I accepted before the conference organizers could change their mind, because I thought maybe I could stir things up!
Seriously, the following is my attempt explore this, yes, serious question, especially in the context of Christians' relationship to Muslims and Jews, a relationship too often characterized by insults and anger, not to mention death and destruction in many parts of the world.
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Those of us who are Christians, whenever we ponder how to act or speak, naturally wonder, "What would Jesus do?" In this case, how did the Prince of Peace communicate with those with whom he had deep differences? How did the one who described himself as "gentle and lowly of heart" speak to his co-religionists in an Abrahamic faith when they found themselves divided over fundamental issues? Maybe Jesus can give us guidance in these days when Muslims and Christians often look at each other in terror and fear.
Naturally, one's mind immediately travels to passages like Matthew 23, where Jesus, speaking to co-religionists, said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in" (ESV).
And this: "Woe to you, blind guides," which he later changed to "blind fools," then moved on to call them "hypocrites"—not once, not twice, but four times!—before winding up with, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"
Or take another passage that jumps to mind: Jesus' reaction when he thought his co-religionists were desecrating the temple, the supreme house of worship in Judaism:
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. [John, in his Gospel, notes that Jesus also made a whip and drove people from the temple area.] And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."
The reaction he got is not surprising: "And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him" (Mark 11:15-18).
This is not the Jesus we want to talk about. But unfortunately, we cannot NOT note these incidents if we want to think about how Christians should share their faith with others.
But there are other examples from Jesus, no less disturbing to our hopes for peaceful co-existence, that are maybe even more disturbing, because they show that Jesus seemed indifferent to many of our ideas about peacemaking. Take another, lesser known, incident from Mark's gospel:
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here." And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:1-5)
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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