Shane Claiborne and I just co-authored a book entitled Red Letter Revolution: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said.
There is little doubt that if those who profess to be Christians took seriously the words of Jesus, as highlighted with red letters in many Bibles, there would be a major transformation in the life of the Church, as well as in the world. As a case in point, I think it is impossible to read through the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) and not come away as an anti-militarist, disavowing all forms of warfare. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” He probably meant that we shouldn’t kill them. I think that’s a fair assumption.
What Jesus has to say about wealth is another matter that most Christians are not about to heed. The Jesus who tells us that if anyone wants to be one of His disciples, that person must practice self-denial, told one young man that discipleship required that he sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. Jesus said that it would be harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
If we took the red letters of the Bible seriously, our prayer habits would change. We would shy away from those public prayers with fancy words and endless requests to a God who often is viewed as some kind of transcendental Santa Claus who delivers all kinds of good things if prayers are ended with the ‘magic’ formula, ‘in Jesus’ name’. Instead, we would go off by ourselves and meet a God who will reward such private prayer openly.
The red letters of the Bible could change our attitudes towards those in need. We would feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those who are in prison (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus said if anyone has two coats, one should be given away to a person who has none; and when anyone asks for help, we always would provide it.
We Americans are big on capital punishment, but the Jesus described in the red letters of the Bible told His followers to be merciful if they expected to receive mercy. Given that admonition, it’s hard to see how any Christian could be in favor of capital punishment. So many of my Evangelical brothers and sisters here in the States don’t seem to get this, even though Jesus made it clear that it was no longer “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but that we should love those who hurt us and overcome evil with good.
I recognize my own failure to live up to the red letters. I am an old guy now and for years I put away money for retirement even though Jesus made it clear that we should take no thought for the future concerning “what we should eat, or what we should drink, and wherewithal we should be clothed.”
Of course, the simple lifestyle prescribed by Jesus suggests that we live in community. Then when there was need, I could depend on the other members of the community to bear our burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). If I lived in Christian community, as was the case for many Christians in the first century as described in the second chapter of Acts, my confidence would be in God and in the community of faith that God created for me.
“The teachings of Jesus,” as Lord Chesterton once said, “have not been tried and failed. They have been tried and found difficult.” In most instances, I think I would add to Lord Chesterton’s comment, “They haven’t even been tried”.
Image by Constantin Jurcut, stock.xchng images.