Monday, October 17, 2011

The Toughest Teaching...

In my class lately, we have been covering what I have termed to be Jesus' "Controversial Teachings", with the notion that in its own time and context the teachings were incredibly contentious.  Two-thousand years later, and only a couple of those are now not quite as controversial as they were to the primarily Jewish audience in the time of Christ.  The ones we covered are the following....

1) The Bread of Life (John 6)
2) Jesus forgiving sins (Mark 2, Luke 7)
3) Jesus using the name of God (YHWH) for himself (John 8)
4) The Good Samaritan (Luke 10)
5) Renunciation of Riches (Matthew 19)
6) Marriage and Divorce (Matthew 19)
7) Forgiving your fellow man (Matthew 18)

At first glance, probably #1-4 are less controversial now than they were in Jesus' time.  Many Christian denominations and churches celebrate some form of the Eucharist (correctly or not is a whole 'nother topic) and no Christian disputes that Christ forgives our sins or that he is the second person of the Blessed Trinity.  The parable of the Good Samaritan may only be controversial now because of the current laws that are named after the hero of that parable, though ironically, it is arguable that the current crop of "Good Samaritan" laws are actually antithetical to the spirit of what the Good Samaritan represents, but again, another topic for another day!  

So we are left with #5-7. 

In our day and age, at least on the surface, having to follow Jesus' command to 'sell all you have and give it to the poor' (Matthew 19:21) is very much against our borderline Mammon-worshipping society.  Wealth in ancient Jewish society was seen as a sign of one's own sinlessness, and today, it is seen as a testament to either a) blind luck or b) hard work.  Either way, there was and is a tendency to hoard for its own sake and to forget that it is only due to God's graciousness and providence that it is even possible.  

It hasn't been difficult for me, because through my life, I have never been wealthy in any pecuniary sense - most of life has been scraping by in some way, which is fine.  Sure, it's always nice to have more, but I will never begrudge others their earnings.  (One commandment that many tend to forget these days is the 10th - Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions. Unfortunately, we have an entire cottage industry that predicates their entire existence on envy.)

The issues surrounding marriage and divorce are way too numerous to recount here, but let's just say that there are hardly any people that haven't been affected by especially the latter in some way, shape, or form - whether directly or indirectly.  

This leaves us with #7, and what I consider to be the toughest teaching of Jesus to put into practice - forgiving one who sins against you.  It's interesting, because when we pray the Our Father, we recite the words 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' without any real regard as to what it means.  Jesus said that forgiveness is a constant, on-going process (hence we must forgive seventy-seven times, rather than merely seven).  

Quite honestly, there are many times when people just don't want to forgive.  We tend to concentrate on 'getting back' or 'evening the score', which was the essence of the Old Covenant's 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' admonition.  True forgiveness takes courage; a courage that not many of us possess for any length of time.  Grudges are held easily and our fallen nature makes it easy to do all these things except for what Christ called us to do. I do not exclude myself here.  I have gotten better in the past few years, but there was a time when grudges were very much a part of the deal.  I was wrong then, but I still have a ways to go. 

It's the on-going process of forgiveness that can be a deal-breaker for many, especially when you hear a lot of people mindlessly repeat the mantra 'forgive and forget'.  First of all, the default position for fallen man is to do neither of those things.  Secondly, Jesus' teaching doesn't permit forgetting; remembrance is necessary for the continued forgiveness.  However, we can stumble on that because remembering might make us angry all over again concerning the way we were wronged.   

It's never easy, of course, but as Christians, we are called to 'be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect'.  We get there, one step at a time.  It always reminds me of that one saying...

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

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