There are some tough passages in the gospels – tough in terms of what they demand of us, force us to consider or what they have to say to us about the expectations that God has for us as followers of Jesus.
Can you think of a gospel passage that really gets to you, a parable that just doesn’t leave you alone? How about something Jesus said that just pricks at your conscience whenever you hear it?
What about Luke 6:27-36? In these few verses we are told to love our enemies, pray for folks who hurt us and allow ourselves to be struck again after being hit once already. Furthermore, we are told to lend without expecting repayment and to give not only our cloak but our shirt as well to the one who needs it, and then, to sum it all up, all we have to do is be merciful like our heavenly Father! That’s a tall order!
Maybe Matthew 25: 31-46 can offer us some perspective. In this passage we’re told that in order to encounter the Christ, we need to find him in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting those who are ill or in prison and welcoming the stranger. Jesus says, “As often as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me.” So far so good, but then keep reading. If we don’t do these things… well, there are consequences.
In the climate of many of our churches, and I am referring not only to Episcopal parishes but to Christian churches in general, there are many conversations about how to understand the meaning, mandate and authority of Scripture. The Bible has been used, and still is, to justify, condemn and further various agendas. Such use is not always wrong or bad. Many people have stood up to injustice, helped the poor, made policy, fought for freedom and even laid down their lives because of the mandates of Scripture. The problem can and sometimes does come in when we try to make the focus too narrow, when we search and build a case around a specific issue that we feel is the primary concern, but fail to put that issue in context in terms of the rest of the Scriptures as we seek the truth and try to live our faith.
What am I talking about? It’s the tension that arises when we take a stand on one issue, like being pro-life as far as abortion is concerned, but then we are not-so-pro-life when it comes to caring for the poor, capital punishment, or compassion to those with whom we disagree. It’s what happens when a certain group is condemned with the self-righteousness that comes from God being “our side” but we fail to see and embrace the humanity, the child-of-God-identity, in those with whom we are in conflict. It’s what occurs when in our churches we make proclamations about our own special market on the truth, and then we exclude others of good will who are also seeking the truth. When Scripture is used in this way, it is abused. It can lead to lack of integrity and a narrow approach to faith that puts God in the socio-political-ideological-theological box of our own choosing.
When we view the bigger picture of what the Scriptures tell us, it’s interesting to note that the Bible speaks far more forcefully, eloquently and powerfully about caring for the orphan, widow and the poor than it does about homosexuality. There are far more passages in the Bible about right relationship with wealth and its proper use than there are about the correct gender of those leading worship or presiding at the Eucharist. Love is mentioned again and again… and when judging others is mentioned, it’s not raised as a virtue, but rather is noted as something that is in God’s job description, not ours. Our Scriptures are filled with the commandment to protect, care for and nurture life at all stages, in all people, including the sacred life in the womb. Do we all have certain areas we feel passionate about and that get us energized in terms of ministry and our call to change the world? Absolutely. This is how God works in and through us, putting our own gifts and talents at God’s disposal to build God’s kingdom here-and-now. In fact, this, too, is discussed in Scripture!
So let us approach these sacred words of Scripture with open hearts They are given to us that we can have life in abundance in Jesus Christ. Those words are God’s gift to us and are given for our conversion, edification, education and guidance.
Professor, teacher and evangelist Tony Campolo got at this idea of being challenged by Scriptures and letting them be what they are when he spoke at a Southern Baptist convention. His words could have easily been spoken to any number of religious denominational gatherings: “I don’t know why you’re worrying about the inerrancy of Scripture; after you prove that it’s inerrant, you’re not going to do what it says anyway. It’s true. If you’re supposed to love your enemies, if you’re supposed to give your money to the poor- you’re not going to do all this stuff. Wouldn’t it be better if you agreed that the Bible didn’t speak the truth all the time, and then maybe you could get out of some of these obligations?”