One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 35-40 NIV)
There’s been a lot of banter going on in America lately about Christianity and Jesus, like, more than usual. It kind of kicked off a couple of weeks ago when a certain Republican presidential candidate managed to “convince” a number of “evangelical” “leaders” that he really loves Jesus a whole lot, loves the Bible a whole lot, and tries to live by it a whole lot. This prompted Conservative Evangelical Blow-hard in chief James Dobson to proclaim this candidate a “baby Christian” and say that he had found Jesus.
Look, it’s not for me to judge somebody else’s faith, but since then the candidate has advocated for torture and war crimes, issued a blatantly anti-Semitic attack on his opponent, and openly praised Saddam Hussein. Huh. Well, if one demonstrates their faith by the fruit they bear, what does that say about this “baby Christian?”
It’s really all there in black and white, this Christian thing. It comes right from the mouth of Jesus himself. If you have one of those fancy-schmancy red letter Bibles you’ll see that the words that I quoted above are written in red, denoting that they are actual words of Jesus. He makes it simple really. One of the teachers of the law asked Jesus which commandment was the most important in the law. So keep in mind that you’ve got not only the Ten Commandments, but all those other 600+ regulations as outlined in the law of Moses as well.
Jesus boils it all down to two commandments. First, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” Second, which he says is like it, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He says that all the law and all of the prophets, everything that came before him, hangs on these two commandments.
Simple. Little. Equation.
Or is it that simple? After all, we Christians have spent the last 2,000 years developing these complex theological theories and systems. These are then used to judge important topics like “What’s a sin and what isn’t?” and “Who goes to heaven and who goes to HELL?”
Did you ever notice that the people your congregation, group, or denomination says are going to HELL are the people that are different than your group? Also, where in those two commandments does Jesus say that we are to judge the sin of others?
For me, Christianity in America is about defining who isn’t our neighbor so we don’t have to love them. Then we can conveniently banish them to HELL. Everybody has their own little group that they decide are different or sinful so they can get out of that second commandment that Jesus said. For some Christians it’s LGBTQI people. For others, it’s women who have had an abortion or a doctor that performs an abortion. For some it’s people of another faith whether Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, whatever. For some it’s atheists and agnostics. For others it’s refugees that are fleeing war and violence or immigrants trying to build a better life for them and their family. There’s always a villain. always an “other.”
Thing is, the “others” are our neighbors as well. Jesus isn’t just talking about the people next door to you, or just the people in your group. News flash: he’s talking about EVERYBODY. Earlier in Matthew he even says you have to love your ENEMIES, not just people who have mild disagreements with you. Ponder that for a minute. Jesus calls not only to love those who agree with us (which is easy) but also people who don’t agree with us (which starts to get uncomfortable) and even people who might be actively trying to hurt us (which is really hard to swallow.)
Over the years we’ve come up with a ton of little ways to make it seem like Jesus doesn’t really mean what he said, but what if he did? That would certainly be a radical kind of love not found anywhere else on Earth. What if we as Christians actually practiced that? What if instead of judging others and finding excuses not to love them, we actually came alongside others and found reasons TO LOVE THEM? I’d dare say that would change the world.
I’m sorry, but what people like Trump and Dobson are peddling isn’t really Christianity. It’s some civil “religion” that hybridizes the most fundamentalist, conservative Christian ideologies with a radical right wing political agenda. How can it be considered Christian when it tramples on the very people Jesus sought to reach: the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the outcast?
Years ago, issues like this caused me to leave the church and write Jesus off. But you know what? Jesus didn’t give up on me even though I gave up on him. I don’t think he’s ready to give up on us here in the USA either. What is commonly called Christianity here is dying, and that’s unmistakable. However, there are movements afoot to go back to these core teachings of Christ. I see it in the eyes of my adult Sunday school class every Sunday morning. I see it in the wealth of Christian books and blogs that are calling attention to these issues. I see it in the eyes of my friends and coworkers who aren’t Christian when they realize that not all of us are uberjudgmental pricks.
Jesus made it easy for us in his own words: Love God, Love neighbor. If we stick to those keys, we just might see something new and beautiful rise from the ugly ashes of the anger, rancor, and hate that “Christians” seem to spew everyday.
It’s a big undertaking, but nothing is too big for God. I pray that He will work in each one of us to make it so.