Last Sunday I told my congregation that I was feeling a real struggle with what I believe and have preached about being a disciple of Jesus, and what I believe we should do in light of the cruel and merciless attacks of ISIS in the world (particularly after the attacks on Paris a week ago.) I wonder what Jesus would tell his disciples to do? How do we respond, as Christ followers, to the very real threats against our way of life? What should we be doing to protect our children and grandchildren, our country and our freedom?
Since last Sunday we are also discussing whether or not we should allow refugees into our country. Considering Jesus’ teachings and our own country’s history, I have been an advocate of welcoming refugees, sincerely believing that is who we are as Christians and as a nation. Now, as we have learned that at least one of the attacker’s of Paris is believed to have gone into Europe as a Syrian refugee, there are many who are concerned about that being a way for ISIS to come into America.
Both of these issues are, of course, very political. But I want to try my best to ignore the politics (for now) and think about my own response to these issues as a person who tries (and fails, often) to model my life after the life and teachings of Jesus.
In all my studies of Jesus – as human, and as the Christ (the Messiah) – I can’t find a time when he responded to violence with more violence. In the gospels, the only time I can remember him getting angry enough to physically react was in the temple when he found it being defiled with people selling merchandise, and doves for sacrifice. He turned over the tables and he said, “Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11, Matthew 21, Luke 19)
In all other places we read of him responding the opposite of how we humans naturally want to respond to injustice and oppression.
“You have heard it said, ‘Eye for Eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Jesus said “You have heard that it was said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5)
And in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the beautiful Beatitudes in Matthew 5 – so opposite of what we think is powerful and right. And Jesus says (also in Matthew 5) he did not come to abolish the law, but he said, we are to be different – truly righteous – not like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but surpassing them. Many of them were rigid and unloving and bent on judgment. In fact, they were so afraid of losing authority and power, they had Jesus killed. Jesus, throughout the gospels shows us that is not the way.
And of course, we know that Jesus and his family were themselves refugees, escaping to Egypt when King Herod had all male babies killed, trying to get rid of the one whom people were referring to as the ‘King of the Jews.’ Mary and Joseph and Jesus were a homeless family, fleeing violence and in need of shelter, food and safety. (Matthew 2)
And I think of Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus – the ‘Suffering Servant.’ “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53)
So, this is the Jesus I have come to know. He was not the Messiah people were expecting, or hoping for. He did not rise up in power and form an army and overcome the enemy. At least he did not do it in the way they hoped and it made them furious and they arrested him and beat him and spat on him, and even then he did not do anything, though he could have, as the Son of God.
I may be interpreting all this completely wrong, but this is my own understanding of who Jesus is and if we, who claim to follow him, are to model our lives after him, then that is where I find the dilemma of what I personally WANT to do in response to ISIS and to welcoming refugees, and what I BELIEVE we should do, as Christians.
It is very important to me to wrestle with this, as a church leader, because I take my call to preach the gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – with authenticity and truth, as I understand it. Not that everyone should follow what I say, but that they would reflect on their own understanding of Jesus (if they are a follower of Jesus), and to pray, asking for guidance in their own response to these very difficult issues.
That is what I asked my congregation to do last Sunday – to reflect on who they know Jesus to be and to pray, and then to respond to my blog with their own thoughts. I value those opinions because I trust they are as much a faithful follower as I am.
And I know there are many others, some who see things differently than I do, who also have valuable opinions. I would be happy to hear from you. But first, would you please do the reflection and prayer before responding, and try to not be political.
In God’s love and grace!
(I want to clarify that I also value others who may be of a different faith tradition – who may not be a Christian, but who are faithful to God. As a Christian minister, I am writing out of my tradition because that it where my struggle is. Also, all quoted scripture is from the New International Version)
I am a woman with many interests, yet most of them flow into what is my source of life, my very breath, the reason I do what I do. I am Called. That means, for me, I have experienced a call on my life to serve as a pastor to God’s people. In that calling I love to write, to speak, to lead, and to teach. My deepest desire is to pass on to others what I have experienced in my own journey of grace. I am human, and in that humanity I have known passion and joy, sin and disgrace. Yet, in God’s love I have known nothing but love and redirection and total grace.