Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, that seems to be the Church’s job. (Popular Joke)
Who made you God’s referee? Who made your church God’s referee? No really, that’s an honest question. Inquiring minds want to know.
Since the US Supreme Court legalized marriage equality last week, the number of self-appointed religious referees seem to have hit an all-time high. Chances are your own Facebook feed features a troll or two talking about how God is going to smite us for allowing the evil of gay marriage. I have at least two that I’ve noticed on mine. Of course God didn’t smite us for slaughtering Native Americans or enslaving an entire race of people, but apparently two dudes getting married is going to do the trick. There were actually people on both my Facebook and Twitter feeds who were glowing in anticipation of some catastrophe they could attribute to God cracking down on us because of gay marriage.
No, seriously. People were actually waiting to rejoice in the suffering of others so they could say it proved their point. Pardon my french, but what the hell is wrong with us? How can someone actually root for the suffering of fellow human beings just so they could claim God was on their side about some secondary theological issue? I just don’t understand.
We love to be God’s referees though, don’t we? Guess what, I’m not just calling out conservative Christians here either. Liberal, or perhaps better defined as “progressive” Christians have their litmus tests too. Sometimes we are just as gleeful for an opportunity to seek to point out that we are right and someone else is wrong. I guess it’s human nature.
I’m a huge soccer fan. My best friend and I have season tickets to Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer. Often when I get home from church on Sunday, my afternoons are spent catching up on the soccer action from MLS and from around the world. Soccer referees have an enormous amount of power. With a flick of a red card, they can eject a player from a match, and the team cannot bring someone on to replace him. In MLS, getting a red card not only kicks you out of the current match, but you have to miss the next one too. Referees can call a penalty kick for a foul committed in the 18 yard box around the goal. This gives an opposing player a one on one shot against the goalkeeper, and results in a goal more than 70 percent of the time. Some of the best goalkeepers in the world save less than 20 penalty kicks over the course of their careers. Red cards and penalty kicks change matches and often go a long ways toward determining the outcome.
It’s that power that we seek for ourselves isn’t it? We are armed not with the Laws of the Game as in soccer, but with what we think is inerrant doctrine straight from God himself in the Bible. The fact that the Bible was written thousands of years ago and actually contains conflicting information seems to be beside the point.
We act as if our interpretation of the Bible allows us to knock about issuing red cards and penalty kicks against others in our lives, our countries, and even in our churches. We act as though the job of deciding who is right and wrong in the sight of God has been delegated to us. We seek to use our perceived power to influence others, often in a negative fashion.
There’s a couple of problems with that though. First off, Jesus explicitly tells us not do it. The above verses from the Sermon on the Mount don’t leave us much wiggle room. Earlier this spring I was attending a Bible study on Matthew, and when we got to these verses, pretty much everybody in the room wanted to make an exception to them. “Well, I know that’s what Jesus seems to say here, but I think we have to able to judge _____.” Pastor Gary sat calmly and fielded these perceived exceptions one by one by simply saying “Well what does the text say? Does it say that you can judge that in the text here?” Of course the text here doesn’t allow for exceptions. Watching that conversation unfold was a powerful testament to just how much we love the power to be God’s referee, and just how hard it is to let that power go.
And why does Jesus explicitly tell us not to judge? Well, probably because we’d be wrong more often than not. It’s a favorite past-time of soccer fans to sit in the stands or watch a match on TV and nitpick at the referee for missing a call. Sometimes, even though they are professional referees, even though they are paid to exercise their judgement, they get it wrong. Sometimes when they get it wrong it costs a team a shot at winning a match.
Really, how wrong would we be in exercising God’s judgement? We are fallen creatures in our own right, blind to the issues in our own lives. How can we possibly expect to able to correctly judge others when clearly only God knows all the facts and the entire situation? Yet we do it anyway, and often our judgement does more damage than costing a team a soccer match. Often our judgement hurts and destroys other people, other people who are made in God’s image just like us.
Is that really our job? Is that really what God calls us to do?
This past Sunday, Pastor Gary offered an answer to that question, and that answer was no. He pointed out what Jesus said was the Greatest Commandment. From the Gospel of Mark:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 28-31)
Love the Lord your God.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
The first deals with our relationship with God. The second deals with our relationships with others. Both require love, neither requires judging others. For Jesus, the entirety of the law and prophets rested on these commandments (Matthew 22:40).
For Christians, our call from Christ is to love others, and love them without condition. We are even called to love our enemies and people who might try to harm us. This “law of love” is part of the great, subversive message of the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom we’re called not to distribute judgement and exercise power over others. We’re called to model the love of Christ and serve others. We’re not meant to be referees, but humble servants bearing the image of Christ.
So I invite you, next time you’re set to judge someone, stop and think, “How could I respond better with love?”
God is Love.
If we have not love, we have nothing.
Faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.
Let us mirror the love of Christ to one another, A-men.