“My criticism of the church is that you [study] the Gospels and then you go out and you don’t fight for them… If you define the anti-Christ as that movement which essentially defies everything Christ stood for, then, to me, the Christian right is the anti-Christ. It promotes greed, it’s the gospel of prosperity — Jesus comes to fulfill your material wants — it’s chauvinistic, it demonizes the other, all of which, I think, are absolutely contrary to the fundamental message of the Gospels.
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46
Jesus asks this question following his most radical sermon. The Sermon on the Plain. What stuck out to me after seeing this question, was why it was being asked in the first place. It is clear Christ was concerned with those who called upon his name, yet denied his message.
My last blog post was a personal modern rendition of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor.” In this passage from the Sermon on the Plain, we are given the full revelation of the truth in Dostoevsky’s poem. A truth taken straight from the mouth of Jesus.
The message that Christ gives in the Sermon on the Plain is the message that nobody of my background wants to hear. Someone of my background is more interested in Romans where Paul explains the triumph of the elect. Or in Genesis, at Sodom and Gomorrah where the wicked are destroyed. Or possibly in Joshua where the Israelites conquer the evil Canaanites. We like the Bible when it makes us the victors. We like the Bible when God destroys the “bad” people, and honors the “good” people. This is one of the reasons why we are so obsessed with the idea of heaven and hell. We can’t wait for all these evil people on the earth to receive their rightful punishment. And while there is little we can do on this sinful earth, someday we know God will allow us to triumph.
But what happens when Jesus brings a new perspective? Unfortunately for someone like me, the message of Christ doesn’t seem to relate very well. Christ says blessed are the poor – My wife and I have a television in our apartment. When we want something else for our apartment, we go out and get it with little concern. If I wanted to, I could wear a different shirt every day for three or four weeks. If my shoes aren’t comfortable enough, I get new ones… Christ says blessed are the hungry – I eat three meals every day. When Carrie and I want to go out to eat to get a better fill, we do it. During Thanksgiving… well I’ll just stop there… Christ said blessed are you who weep – I do little weeping, and if I do it’s usually because I’m laughing so hard… Christ said blessed are those who are hated, excluded, and reviled – I am a white, straight, male in America. In other words, I am the member of a people that have willingly conquered those who were less powerful for the sake of riches, resources, religion, and empire.
I am not poor. I am not hungry. I am not weeping. I am not hated, excluded or reviled. I am rich. I have a full belly. Most of the time I’m happy. I am not part of any group that has been labeled deviant in our society. Yet, I did not do anything special to be where I am. I was born into a family that showed me how to work hard. I was born into a family that had money, food, resources, and entertainment. I have always been part of the in-group. I did not have parents in jail. I have parents that love me.
My point is, I have been set up to succeed in this world. I have always been loved and treated properly. For those of us who are in the same position that I am in, the most difficult thing is to recognize this. We don’t want to say that we are privileged. That would be offensive to all the hard work I have done my whole life. We don’t want to say that we are part of some in-group. That would make it more difficult to define someone outside of the in-group as being, “bad,” “wicked,” or “sinful.” We don’t want any outsiders coming near our homeland because that would be a threat to our safety and our success.
One thing I’ve realized is that people like me are incredibly afraid. We are so afraid that we might lose our positions as “successful” people. We are afraid someone else might take our spot. We tremble at the thought of being revealed as someone who didn’t actually earn everything they got.
And so we discriminate. We label “sinners,” and “right-and-wrongers.” We make everything about competition because if it is a competition, we know the winners will always be the people with lots of money. People who fit the in-group. People who have the most resources. People that the system was built for. We seek as much as possible to maintain the existing structures and systems that keep us in power. And we wage war against any threats to that.
But what is so startling about this reality is how contradictory it is to the message of Christ. I have come to realize that Christians like Paul better than Christ. Christ’s message is just a little too radical for us. We love the idea of Christ and we love to label ourselves as Christ-followers, but when it comes to the messages that say “woe to the rich,” and “blessed are the poor and excluded,” we only care about those enough to put a check in the offering plate at church that will send some missionaries over to another country. And to love our enemies? Yeah Jesus is love, we like to say that. But we don’t want to love those who disagree with our political agenda. We don’t want to love those who practice Islam. Christ critiques the rich a little too much for our liking. He sides with the poor a little too much. He’s a little too involved in the lives of the sinners. Really, he seems to like sinners too much for us.
As long as Christ is a threat to our status in society, the church will continue to ignore his radical message. The church will not ignore the figure of Christ. There will always be a cross, and there will also always be Christians attempting to coerce others into believing in Jesus so that person will be saved and not condemned forever in hell. The name “Jesus” will never fade away from the church. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t ignoring what Christ told us to do.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?”