I have to give credit for this post to my brother. In a recent conversation, he asked “How did we get from the message of Christ to being a bunch of Pharisees?” It kind of caught me off guard and I said “Okay, where did that come from?” He related an incident at work that involved a Baptist minister and someone of an undetermined faith. The minister and the other person both sell at a local farmer’s market in another county that my brother supports as a county agricultural extension agent. There was a misunderstanding involving these people and the minister felt slighted and was very upset. When my brother spoke to him and said “Why don’t you just forgive her?”, the minister basically refused. Now, he didn’t come out and say “I’m not doing that”. Instead, he kept insisting he wasn’t wrong. My brother said he felt that the only way any forgiveness would be forthcoming was if the other person apologized and admitted fault. Now, some might say if a man of God can’t get a grip on this forgiveness thing, what chance does a normal schlub have?
Plenty, that’s how much. Just because someone is a pastor, a theologian, a scholar or any other authority figure in the church or religious community doesn’t make them sinless. No matter how much education or supposed piety someone has, they’re still human and subject to the same frailties the rest of us are. Holding them to a higher standard is counter-productive. It sets them to fail and you to be disappointed. And, both are bound to happen; failure is a part of human nature. Sadly, the story I just told you isn’t a one-off, the situation and characters come up all the time. In fact, I’m willing to bet you’ve done something similar yourself; I know I have, more than once and probably will again. I excel at screwing up.
So, how did we end up like this? How did we go from forgiving 70 times 7 to acting like Pharisees? I think we started going wrong about 1700 years ago. In 313 in the Common Era, the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, declaring religious tolerance throughout the empire and successive emperors moved closer to Christianity and Christians until Theodosius I declared Christianity the official religion of the empire in 380 CE. And, as Shane Claiborne said “Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.” We’re human and don’t do power very well. It takes only a cursory glance at Christian history to see that. Now that I’ve said how I think we got here, what do we do about it?
Love is the answer to that question. It’s not easy, though. In fact, it’s way harder than the Pharisee thing; that fits right in with human nature. But, Jesus came to raise us above that nature and show us a new way of doing things. In the past, I’ve talked about what it means to be a Christian. Put simply, a Christian is a follower of Christ, someone who has chosen Christ as their rabbi. So if we’re going to be Christians, it would probably be a good idea to follow his example. And, that example is love; unconditional, unreserved love. Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear me say that; I realize I sound like a broken record when it comes to love. But, if we love the way Jesus taught, forgiveness isn’t a problem. If we love the way Jesus taught, we won’t exclude people from our circle. If we love the way Jesus taught, sectarian violence will be a thing of the past. If we love the way Jesus taught, we won’t withhold the means of grace from someone because we don’t like the way they’re living. If we love the Jesus taught…, I think you see where I’m going with this. I’ve said this before in different ways, but I’m going to say it again: I’m tired of being a Pharisee. I want to try a different way of doing this Christian thing because what I’ve been doing isn’t working.