Asses & Dust, Moth & Rust
“One of the greatest dangers for Christian mission is that we become forgetful in the practice of the cross and create a comfortable type of Christian who wants the cross as an ornament, but who often prefers to crucify others than to be crucified himself.”
– Archbishop Anastasios
During Holy Week in the Orthodox Christian church, we hear all of the Gospel readings where Jesus derides the religious leaders of the day, for their strict adherence to their traditions, laws, and practices, while having cold and closed hearts and unable to have mercy on those they lead. Every year, hearing these, I can’t help but wonder, often, are we Christians the modern day Pharisees or are we still followers of the gentle Man from Nazareth? What would the Christ have to say to us if He came back today? I read Matthew 23 and substitute “Christians” every time Jesus says “Scribes & Pharisees”, and then I meditate on that…and I lament and ask for mercy and help because I see parallels everywhere and am convicted in my own heart that truly, often we are they, as “they” were the “us” of their day. I fear that, as Dostoyevsky wrote in “The Grand Inquisitor”, if our Lord returned today, we may not recognize Him, or worse, denounce Him because He’s not acting “Christian” and is interfering with the mission of our Church, and we no longer have need of Him or His miracles and mercy.
Continuing on from my last post, I’ll say again, that I’ve noticed a lack of genuine dialogue amongst people of differing beliefs.
It seems to be all or none from all sides, and unless one is willing to subscribe to one group’s set of beliefs, then simple dialogue is seemingly impossible. I’m not sure how we got here, although I’d argue that most likely the partisan system of politics in this country has not helped. Red vs. Blue, Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Liberal, etc. Labels. Labels help no one. It is precisely labels that have helped divide this country and perhaps the world into so many factions. Assumptions and judgment without dialogue combined with a firmly held belief in one’s own interpretation of one’s personal “holy book” make for dangerous times. What happened to dialogue? What happened to civil debate? What happened to the ability to disagree with someone without writing them off as a friend? All of these things seem to have vanished in the wake of political divisiveness and religious rage.
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States on the constitutional right of same-sex couples to enjoy the same State benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy, has highlighted once again the absolute inability of many modern day Christians to separate their faith and beliefs from politics and the rule of the empire.
“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Before I took a 7 week hiatus/fast from social media, I watched with a broken heart as my “Ragebook” news feed lit up with post after post of outraged status updates, “statements” by clergy of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions, shared articles and news clippings filled with poorly researched or outright fabricated “facts”, and blatant fear-mongering and dramatic rage-filled language suggesting that we’ve reached the end of days and the persecution of Christians is coming to America…all because the empire says that Adam & Steve can legally marry one another and are entitled to the same constitutional benefits others enjoy. I developed what has been dubbed as “outrage fatigue” and thus had to stay away from social media for some time. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed by the amount of unwarranted “outrage” I see on social media, and the deep grief I feel in my heart at the way many of my Christian brothers and sisters are behaving at the moment. I find myself wanting to apologize to all of my LGBT friends, most of whom are already convinced that Christians hate them, but are being given even more reason to believe this is true, despite the fact that the very person these same Christians claim as their “Lord and Savior” was not in the business of condemnation and judgment, and certainly did not preach this to His followers. Having said things like…
“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” – John 12:46-47
…Jesus reminds us that while we are not of this world, we are also here to help heal the world, not by our condemnation of what we believe to be wrong, but by living in a way that is compelling to others, because The Way in which we love everyone is undeniable and overcomes the world. Every one of us will stand judgment one day, but that judgment belongs to God and will be between Him and the person that stands before Him…that is all. We must answer for OUR OWN actions, including, how did we love others? How did we treat them?
We live in interesting times to be sure, and Christians of all traditions have come to different conclusions on some of the most prevalent issues of our day, but the important thing to remember is that no matter what your particular position is on any of these things, if you call yourself a Christian, you are COMMANDED to love your neighbor. This is not suggested and is also not some abstract thing that means to “love” someone by hitting them with some “truth”, to ensure that they know that what they’re doing is wrong. We love people regardless of whether or not they live in a way in which we agree with or not, because they are our brothers and sisters and fellow children of the Creator, and we don’t start with, “Don’t you know that what you’re doing is wrong?”
I often bike to my job in downtown Indianapolis, as my wife and I live about 10 minutes away, and the city’s trails run nearly to our home. In order to get to the River Trail, I take a path that brings me past a small church building every day. Recently I noticed something that, again, just broke my heart, and immediately I felt a wave shame wash over me that THIS is what is being presented as the “Christianity” that I claim to believe! In this picture, you can see that the pastor and his wife have specially marked and reserved parking spots right by the door to the church building, complete with specially marked parking blocks! The best parking spots, as it were. If one reads the Gospels and reads what Jesus actually said, there is no possible way to come to the conclusion that the pastor and his wife should be treated differently than anyone else, nor should they receive the best spots at the table or in the parking lot. The opposite is what we are called to, and yet, it is precisely the thing that we do not do! We are all fallen short of the glory of God and of Paradise, and the way back is wrought with trials and tribulations, but having gay friends or neighbors is not one of them. Living in an empire that kills its children and sanctions unmanned flying death machines to kill people in other nations while we sit idly by, consuming far more than our share of the natural resources of our shared planet, gorging ourselves on products made by human slaves and child labor in poorer nations, and having the audacity to proclaim that we are righteous and being persecuted because that same empire has given state benefits to a group whose bedroom practices we seemingly disagree with…as a wise rap master once said, “You better check yourself…”
Matthew 23 is precisely what this post is all about. I won’t post the entire chapter here, but I have included the video from the film “Jesus of Nazareth” below that illustrates that particular chapter of Matthew quite well. As the scriptures tell us, Jesus raised a man from the dead…RAISED A MAN FROM THE DEAD…in the presence of many people, and upon entering Jerusalem, instead of entering triumphantly on a majestic steed, he rode on the foal of an ass…he rode a humble and small donkey. The historical significance of this cannot be understated. In those days, Caesar was “god” and the Roman Empire was THE empire. There was no other king or god but Caesar, who was believed to be the “son of the gods” by the Romans. When Caesar came, there was a great entrance, with majestic steeds and chariots and fanfare…this was the Emperor himself…the “god” whom all must bow down to or be killed! When the real and true God actually enters, he rides in on the child of an ass…not even the ass itself…and people wave and lay palm branches at His feet. It was pure mockery of the empire, dangerous or bold, however you count it, but it showed the humility and humor of the true King. Of course, despite the pep rally that Jesus received, many of the same people who proclaimed “Hosanna!” also called for his crucifixion not much later when he said things they did not like, such as,
“Woe to you, Scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites all!” or “Do not place treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moths and corrosion disfigure and where thieves break in and steal. But place treasures for yourselves in Heaven, where neither moths nor corrosion disfigure and where thieves neither break in nor steal. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also...” – Matthew 23:13-14 & 6:19-21
Humans are fickle it would seem, and so is life itself. It is fleeting and fading and is gone in a flash. We are but asses and dust, storing up treasures for moth and rust to destroy. Perhaps we all should be listening to the words of the man we claim to be our Savior, and store up treasures in Heaven instead…and the only way to do that, at least by His command, is to love everyone as much as you love yourself and leave the judging to God. If your treasure is in feeling safe and secure and a part of the religious elite here and now, then your heart will be there also, and it can’t help but be corrupted by those things. If, however, your treasure is in a world that surpasses pain and labels and the feeling of superiority over one another, and rejoices in love and mercy, then you will already see that it is something worth working towards here and now, and you need no more faith than the tiniest bit contained in the mustard seed to see that “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is already possible if you yourself start to make it so yourself. What say you? Will you be asses and dust trusting in moth and rust, or will you choose the Cross and crucify your own self-righteousness to truly become the answer to the prayers others pray; for mercy, for justice, for peace, for faith, and above all for friendship and for love?