Saturday, January 30, 2016

Faith Asks: How Far Will You Go?

Behind the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, a movement of strict reform in the Judaism of the day, there lay an issue more important than whether to pick grain on the Sabbath or wash hands before eating.  Some have seen the issue as the Pharisee’s belief that obeying rules was the central religious obligation while Jesus placed love first.  But every knowledgable Jew understood that love was the most important principle of the Law.  Something more crucial was at stake.

Because peace and justice didn’t break out during Jesus’ lifetime and the world didn’t end, we forget that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.  Jesus knew that God’s love for humankind was total and unconquerable.  He was certain that divine love was about to conquer the world of hate, greed and indifference.  Jesus preached his hope wherever he went.  It was the soil in which his followers were to root their very lives. 

Jesus’ unshakable belief that God was about to transform the world gave rise to his radical morality.  Matthew’s gospel summarizes Jesus’ moral compass in the “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .” passages. (Matthew 5) 

When the authorities executed Jesus and even after his disciples experienced his resurrection, they were left with the obvious fact that God hadn’t yet transformed the world.  The Monday after Easter looked the same as the Friday before Easter.  The challenge for the early Church was to live the sweeping hope Jesus preached and the unflinching life Jesus lived without knowing when the new world he promised would arrive.

How could they give love as though their hearts couldn’t break?  How could they share as though their purses had no bottom?  How could they risk their lives for peace and justice as though they were immortal?  The issue was never whether to love, share and risk (every Jew agreed about that); the issue was how totally to embrace these behaviors. 

That’s decision is still the most important one that we have to make.  It’s the meaning of the question: Do you believe in Jesus?

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