One of my brothers is fond of saying, “If you want to be like Jesus, then you’d better be prepared to do what Jesus did. And if you’re going to do what Jesus did, then you’d better be prepared to get what Jesus got. Otherwise, you’re not prepared to call yourself a Christian.”
Never a truer word was spoken.
Jesus came to establish a new reign among human beings. A reign that was characterized not by power but by humility; a reign that rejected empire and violence but was characterized instead by a family of humble followers — the children of God — united by peacemaking, love, mercy, and forgiveness.
This new “Kingdom” was not delivered from the top down but is raised up from the lowly and outcast to model what God’s forgiveness and loving-kindness look like. And Jesus plainly expects us to work for the establishment of that reign on earth — as in heaven.
Jesus didn’t do lazy. He didn’t call us to sit back and expect God to do all the heavy lifting. Jesus teachings and the example of his life were intended to show just how far we were expected to go in acts of loving, forgiving, and offering ourselves for the good of all. And Jesus made clear that we should expect to lose everything if we want to gain the world that God wants for all of us.
Jesus’ teachings were really not hard to understand. We wouldn’t know that from the way his followers act today. I mean, the teaching is really clear!
Love your neighbor *as yourself*.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Turn the other cheek.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Forgive seventy time seventy times seven. (In other words…keep forgiving.)
Your sins have been forgiven.
The first shall be last.
The humble shall be exalted.
Do. Not. Judge.
Care for the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner.
The rich will have a hard time entering the Kingdom. (Not because they’re rich, but because they have a harder time letting go of their possessions.)
Treat others as you want to be treated.
And Jesus further affirms…”Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”
But Jesus also knew that while the teaching would be hard…harder yet would be the way the world fights against the principles of the Reign of God. And the way the world treats those who follow his teaching. They crucified him. Many of his followers were martyred. And many of his followers have been persecuted the world over for following the Way. The narrow Way.
But those who claim to follow Jesus don’t get to lay claim to being persecuted if we aren’t following his teachings. If we don’t follow the Way. If we fight against peace, if we judge, if we do not love…if we fight for power in the public sphere, or strive for riches and reject the poor, the outcast and the stranger - then we don’t get to claim to be a follower of Jesus, nor do we get to claim we’re being persecuted for doing the very things that Jesus said not to do, or not doing the things Jesus commanded we *should* do! Nor, as Jesus made clear, do we get to claim that we love him.
The road is narrow precisely because it is hard to lay down all of our selfish ambitions, our judgments, and our hurts in order to follow the teachings of Jesus. Because, if we fight for the poor, love everyone regardless of their faults, forgive hurts, fight for peace, lay aside judgment, right wrongs and seek justice and mercy for all — the world will hate us. As it did Jesus. The world will persecute us. Jesus said so, and they persecuted him.
So, we who claim to follow Jesus…what’s it gonna be? The Christian Way is not a spectator sport. But it is also not an agenda to validate our personal hatreds, ambitions, and judgments.
Following Jesus is not easy. But there are only two choices, really. Follow him and be prepared to lose everything, or don’t follow him and stop claiming that we do. We don’t need to be Christian. There are other paths to follow in the world. But, if we choose to follow the Way, be prepared to do what Jesus did. And to get what Jesus got. Otherwise, we’re just fooling ourselves. And in the process, dishonoring both his life and his death. For Jesus demonstrated even on the cross how great and how far our love and forgiveness and mercy are supposed to extend…
“Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.”