When Jesus becomes a slogan

Ugly protest by "christian"

Jesus told a little parable against the Jewish religious leaders that I don’t recall ever hearing anyone preach on.

It’s in Matthew and Luke, and it tells of two sons.

The father says to the first: “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” “I won’t” he says, but later he changes his mind and goes out and does the work.

The father then goes to the other son and asks him to work in the vineyard. This son answers, “I will, sir” but he doesn’t end up going at all.

In Matthew’s telling, Jesus draws the obvious conclusion. The second son said all the right things, but didn’t obey. And Jesus says this is like the behaviour of the Jewish leaders who have been questioning him and trying to trap him.

They knew their scriptures very well. They followed the rules they had developed. They said all the right things. But, Jesus said, they weren’t actually doing what God had intended them to do.

I’ve been thinking about that parable lately

And I think many of us in first world countries are being addressed.

Wealth and capitalism

Modern western churches generally don’t emphasise it, but Jesus and the apostles taught a lot about the perils of wealth and our responsibility to care for the poor.

This is seen in many passages (you can see the text of these passages at the end):

  • Matthew 6:19-21, 24, Luke 12:13-21 and James 5:1-6 make it clear that amassing wealth is a trap that can easily lead us away from God’s ways, and
  • Luke 4:17-19, 1 John 3:17, James 1:27 and Matthew 25:31-46 show that caring for the poor and suffering is desperately important, for them, but even more for us.

It’s not as if these passages are subtle or unclear. Yet somehow many christians ignore these teachings. Instead they are willing to support capitalism as if it is christian, and unwilling to support social security, universal health care and steps to reduce income inequality.

As if Jesus didn’t warn us (Luke 16:13): “You cannot serve both God and money.”

The kingdom of God and patriotism

The dawning kingdom of God was the centre of Jesus’ mission and teaching. Nothing else was as important (Matthew 6:33). Everything and anything takes second place to the priorities of the kingdom (Matthew 13:44-46). Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t (Mark 2:28, Acts 2:36).

Yet somehow Jesus has become enmeshed in patriotism, especially in the USA. The nation has become confused with the kingdom of God.

As if Jesus didn’t tell us the two are different (Mark12:17): “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” 

Hate speech

Jesus was a radical rabbi. Some of his teachings echoed other contemporary rabbis, but he also injected radical perspectives.

Notable was his acceptance of women, lepers, tax collectors and other outcasts. He offered them acceptance and God’s grace. His strong words of condemnation were aimed almost exclusively at the rich and privileged, especially the religious leaders who he said were missing the point of the Torah.

Yet somehow we too often have forgotten. In some christian circles, gays are the subject of hate speech. For too long, abuse, paternalism and patriarchy have been tolerated in too many churches.

Sometimes it seems that christians hate non-believers rather than loving them, and seem to be glad they will (in their view) be punished by God.

I guess it is worst online, where I’ve seen apparent christians insulting non-believers, and calling their fellow christians names.

As if Jesus didn’t warn us (Matthew 5:22): “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. …. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

And as if Jesus didn’t show us an example. He was notorious for eating and associating with outcasts. And they flocked to him and listened to him (Luke 15:1). And many of them turned and followed him.

Marxism?

A particular case of name calling seems to have become prevalent recently.

Calling christians “Marxist”. Or saying with unswerving conviction that to support movements like “Black Lives Matter”, climate change action or economic justice for the poor is to support Marxism. And thus, it is said, christians are unwittingly supporting the total breakup of western society and the family. (I’ve seen that alleged!)

Supporting the poor, those discriminated against and the suffering was christian long before it was Marxist. (Perhaps those Marxist radicals are really closet christians?? 🙂 )

And caring for God’s creation was God’s idea, reported way back in Genesis 1 & 2.

I suppose these “Marxism” accusations would make sense if your religion was capitalism. But they make no sense if the accusers are actually following Jesus.

(This article in Christianity Today is worth reading on this.)

Has Jesus become a slogan?

What is a christian?

It would be a brave (and possibly foolish) person who would attempt to identify who is a “true” christian and who isn’t. I’m certainly not that brave (and I hope not that foolish).

But I can’t help wondering if the name of Jesus has become a political slogan. “Christian” may no longer mean someone who gives ultimate allegiance to Jesus and tries to follow his teachings …. even the hard parts.

For many it seems to mean someone in my political tribe. Someone who supports the status quo, possibly because they are one of the beneficiaries of inequality and injustice.

The name of Jesus has too often become a tribal rallying cry by people who don’t accept his teachings!

But Jesus has a word for all of us:

Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?

Luke 6:46

I, as much as anyone else, need to heed that warning. As Jesus’ brother said: “What good is it …. if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14).


Jesus (and his apostles) on wealth and poverty

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. …. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers …. are crying out against you. …. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” (James 5:1-5)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:17-19)

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …..” (James 1:27)

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)


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Photo: ugly protest at a gay pride event (morten f on Flickr via Compfight cc).

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