"Woe to you when all men speak well of you..."
How deep does my arrogance run? Put it this way: you didn't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway. You see, the biggest reason I've not yet written the book I've got jangling around in my brain is that deep down I still actually believe a complete impossibility: that hidden between my mind and my keyboard are the magic, just-right words that will get everyone to agree. On everything. Or at least, on everything as I have interpreted it. The words that will cause the Forgiven to treat the Unrepentant as themselves, and the Unrepentant to repent. Phrases that will be so beautifully turned that neither liberal nor conservative will have aught to say about them. A book that will bring everyone together, and that, most importantly, will not cause anyone to write me nasty letters, claim I am deluded, or call me an idiot.
The irony, of course, is that my goal is already shot. The ideal itself is delusional, and pure idiocy. And as the saying goes, if you want everyone to like you, nobody will.
So what should be the goal? Well, truth, sure. And being obedient to simply be the vehicle through which God wants to impart a particular take on His Truth.
But why is that so hard? Why does it tempt me to hide behind the excuse of unoriginality?
I think it's because we continually re-invent Jesus, who is paradoxically uncomplicated and difficult to parse. Who already lived here before me, whose words are already recorded for anyone to read. The Lord called Himself 'the Truth' while giving us a version of how to walk on this planet that is so contrary, so impractical, so frustratingly (if I hope to be honest about it) radical.
Jesus (vs. 26): Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.
Me: Ew. Cut to the chase about what I’m going through, why don't you? So I've set myself on the path of the false prophet, have I? Swell; I knew I couldn't trust myself. But Lord, anything else I say or write or do is going to lead to having enemies, people who are upset with me. What do I do about that?
Jesus (vs. 27-28): Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Me: Oh... so it's an action thing instead of an avoidance thing. Pretty mind-boggling concepts. I can't help but notice you didn't say, "bash those jerks' heads in with rightness." Because that feels more natural, Lord. But assuming you're on to something, what does that look like in practice?
Jesus (vs. 29-30): Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
Me: Ooh, yeah, ya see, the thing is, Lord... there's a lot of people who might take advantage of that. And what in the world are you saying: there might be people who want to hit me in the face?! Is that what I signed up for in following you? I gotta be honest, it doesn't sound like a very comfortable, or practical, way of living in this day and age, this country, this world. Can't you simplify it for me?
Jesus (vs. 31-33): Just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
Me: Wow, that just blows my mind, Lord. Of course you're right... what is there to separate me at all from anyone else, even the most vile of unrepentant sinners, except how I react to situations and treat people? But don't you know how hard this would be? What am I saying... of course you do..., but... please forgive me for saying so, it just feels like giving some bully my coat, shirt, or other cheek is somehow crazier, tougher, more insane in 21st-century America than first-century Jerusalem. I hate asking, but if I'm gonna commit to this, I gotta know... what's in it for me?
Jesus (vs. 35, 37-38): Love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men... Do not judge and you will not be judged... pardon, and you will be pardoned... Give, and it will be given to you.
Me: Man... and here I was thinking that I was the one who needed to come up with the words that helped us treat sinners as ourselves, and to what ends. You truly have covered all things and lived all things, Lord. Now, I just wonder if I can really do this, Lord, even for the rewards you promise.
Jesus (vs. 46): Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord" and do not do what I say?
Me: Because it's so contrary, upside-down, and radical that it's seriously hard to trust... even to trust you, Lord. Although, if it were easy I guess it wouldn’t be called ‘trust.’ It just seems like there's so much to lose. Help me to be free. Help me to take this risk, to think not of myself, my safety, my comfort first, to love people as you love them. If I may be so bold, it's almost like you were… blessed to be unattached and to have no place to lay your head? Still, despite my handicaps, I want to try, Lord... I want to try.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Now here's a challenge -- but it's straight from the mouth of Christ: the next time you are wronged, hurt, or had something taken from you... can you give the person responsible even more of what they took? And believe you'll somehow be blessed for it? And if not, why not?