How much easier my life would be if I wasn’t worried that I hadn’t yet sold all my possessions and given the money to the poor, if I didn’t regret every single time I’d walked past a homeless person without stopping to ask if they were ok and if I didn’t give a toss about everyone else’s daily bread. That would be a religion I would find a lot easier to follow. I could lie in on a Sunday, hate my enemies and my heart would be a lot lighter every time I went to buy something and didn’t have to worry about whether my money was ending up in some dodgy tax haven, funding corruption instead of hospitals.
So I was glad to read, under the first ‘Can you be a Christian and…’ blog, someone telling me to shut up. You can be a Christian and do anything! Being a Christian doesn’t have anything to do with what you do!
Seriously? I don’t have to do anything?
I can’t help but feel Jesus might be slightly despairing of us all. Yes, I know God loves us all but there must the odd bit of despair, or at least minor exasperation. We’ve taken some fairly radical guidelines about how to live well together, and gone and made it all about ourselves. Me and God, that’s all that matters. I can do, or not do, whatever I like just as long as me and God have got it sorted.
Have I been reading the wrong Bible? I don’t come across those bits to tell me just to keep trundling along as I am, hoping something good will happen when I’m dead.
Ok ok, so I’m being facetious. I think what the person meant (as well as for me to shut up) was that it doesn’t matter what you do, you can still be a Christian because we can’t save ourselves, only God can do that – and he’s done it anyway. But save us from what? Sin? Sin just represents our brokenness and separation from God and from each other. And the best way to fix that is to do something about it. To repent for our sins – but repent doesn’t mean apologising and carrying on as before, but literally to turn away; to change your mind and therefore, to change your ways. To start doing things differently.
Fairly often in the Bible when people ask Jesus a question about the law, he answers with another question. Or a story.
“Who do you say that I am?”, “What is written?”, “How do you read it?”, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers….”
In this, what’s become probably the world’s most famous parable, someone asked what they need to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus doesn’t say anything about what we need to believe, he tells a story retold so many times we sometimes forget its clout. A story about the most radical generosity by a stranger to someone from a different community. And Jesus deliberately points out that the people who would have known the rules; who were held in high regard for their religious knowledge, got it wrong by doing nothing. The Samaritan is the neighbour; hugely unexpectedly for everyone who would have been listening. The point? Go and do likewise.
What is it that makes us Christian, that means we can be recognised as followers of Christ? Jesus says it should be easy to pick us out from the crowd: “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognise that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
Just before he’s killed, this is the thing he wants them to know. This is the new command he chooses to give to his mates. Not to go and talk to others about heaven and hell, or even about him. But to get out there and start loving people.
And I think love without works – just like faith – is dead.
(Photo via Creation Swap)