Being a confirmed Doubter, I don’t know whether Jesus was/is God or not. What I do know is that Jesus said many things that people then and now have chosen to ignore. Love your enemy? I don’t think so! I’d rather drop bombs on him! My church is a den of thieves? Can’t deal with that right now since I’m late for bingo!
Richard Rohr once wrote that Jesus is too much for us. I believe he’s right. What Jesus asks of people is too much. We instead want an easy path, one that does not challenge us to struggle or be uncomfortable, We want what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace”, the kind of good feeling we can get from attending church without having to change in any way. I’m as guilty of wanting cheap grace as anyone.
But suppose the point of what Jesus was saying was to make us uncomfortable, to stir us up, and especially to make us think. Suppose his intent was to stir up trouble not only then but now. He says he came with a sword, something some people refer to when justifying war. But suppose what he meant was to tell us his sword would threaten us, would threaten our comfort level, would challenge us in ways we’d just as soon avoid.
Take this business of loving one’s enemy. Are there limits to that line of thought? Am I supposed to love Hitler? Saddam Hussein? That old grouch down the street? Bonhoeffer struggled with this very issue as he tried to decide whether to participate in a plot to kill Hitler. And what indeed does it mean to love my enemy? Most of us don’t bother to think about such things, saying “Surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to love the rapist, the child abuser, the pedophile, the dictator?” If not, then what did he mean? Think about it. If you get uncomfortable, maybe you’re getting somewhere.
Remember that all great religious leaders came to stir up trouble. From Jesus to Mohammed to Buddha to Martin Luther right down to modern-day troublemakers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan, and others, they all invite us to wrestle with thorny spiritual and moral issues. They all come bearing swords.
Reflection: 1. What spiritual issues make me uncomfortable? What ones to I avoid?
Further reading: Richard Rohr The Art of Living
Further viewing: Romero. This film portrays the struggles of Oscar Romero to come to grips with the essence of the Gospels and to live that message, not merely pay lip service to it.