We can call ourselves Christian and go to church, but are we living the Gospel of Jesus Christ? or are we using the Gospel for our own purposes? Are we living Christ’s Word or our own watered-down version? The Gospel has been used over the centuries for many nefarious purposes—to convert the “infidels” during the Crusades which started in 1095 AD, to justify slavery in our country, to force conversion of the “heathen” all over the world and of the Jews in Counter-Reformation Spain, in the US doctrine of Manifest Destiny which killed off thousands of Native Peoples and took their land, to oppose anything we disagree with like abortion or homosexuality. The Gospel has been used to justify wars, land grabs, forced conversions—things Jesus never would have done or advocated.
The Pharisees of 1st century Palestine paraded how well they followed all the laws of the Old Testament, but failed to love. The Pharisees are not confined to the 1st Century Palestine. They are everywhere, in every time. Anyone can misuse the Gospel. Anyone can take a verse or two out of context and make it look like Jesus would agree. Anyone can perfectly follow “the rules” and have a heart of steel, not of compassion or love. Anyone can use the Gospel to serve his/her own agenda. “Hypocrites!” Jesus called the Pharisees and Scribes. Here is a list of Jesus’ complaints about the Pharisees from Matthew 23:
- They “do not practice what the preach.” v.3
- “Everything they do is done for people to see.” v.5
- They “shut the door of heaven in people’s faces.” v.13
- They “travel over land and sea to win a single convert,” but convert them into “children of hell.” v.15
- They set up ridiculous standards: “if anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing, but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.” v.16
- They tithe their spices, but have “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness…[they]strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” v. 23-24
- They “clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” v.25 They are like “whitewashed tombs…beautiful on the outside but…full of bones of the dead and everything unclean.” v. 27
Jesus was a radical teacher in his times and in ours. If we look at how he was with people—all different kinds of people, Romans, Samaritans, the blind and lame—he was always gracious, wanting to know what they wanted, helpful, healing. The only people he railed at were the Pharisees and Scribes(Matthew 23:13(and the moneychangers and sellers of doves at the temple Matthew 21:12), mostly because what they did was ego-driven, looking good on the outside but having no love in their hearts, seeking to seem more pious than others, leading others into their own “hellish ways,” not the ways of the Law.
Jesus served others where they were. He didn’t preach at them. He invited them to a different way of living. He offered up the real basis for the Law which is love. He told us to go the extra mile, give more than was asked, turn the other cheek. He asked us to serve the hungry, the thirsty, to invite in those who are strangers, to visit the sick and those in prison, to clothe those who needed it.(Matthew 25:34ff) He offered up a vision of living in God’s kingdom with trust, loving God with all of who we are, not just the good in us, in just being our most natural selves (lilies of the field Matthew 6:28), in trusting that our needs would be met, in helping others(Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:25ff).
“Follow me” was his frequent call(Matthew 4:19, 16:24): do as I do; love as I love; be in relationship with the Father just as I am. He calls us to live the Gospel, to be his hands and feet in this world, following his words and resting in God. We are called to be congruent—inside and out, not just looking good on the outside. We are called to integrity, to truth, to love. This is living and serving the Gospel, not ourselves.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I really following Jesus’ teachings? Am I watering them down so they are palatable? Or taking verses out of context to prove what I choose to emphasize? Am I following Jesus’ example? Am I really serving others?
If you’d like to see more of By the Waters, check these out:
–There’s a new video up on YouTube: “Jesus’ Two Great Commandments.” youtu.be/81EgwwVGW2E
–Check out my twitter feed at twitter.com/BTWwithPatAdams