By Keegan Flaherty
“I appreciate your take on religion and Christianity. It seems to care for the real world. That feels different.”
I’ve been recently reflecting on this statement from a friend, and it breaks my heart a little more every time it comes back into my mind. What should be a compliment seems more like an insult to the Jesus I have come to know (and to many of my faithful brothers and sisters in Christ). But is my friend wrong? There seems to be a unified disgruntledness amongst many members of society. “Why isn’t the church speaking on this, standing for this, doing that?” Why does it feel that the ‘hospital for humanity’ has closed its doors and bolted it shut? Aren’t we supposed to become ‘fishers of men’? Why is the “too modest for society but too radical for Christianity’ become the all too familiar anthem for so many individuals pursuing the heart of Jesus? Where have we gone wrong?
A word I have always loved using to describe Jesus is scandalous. Really, the dude did some wild stuff. Perhaps what makes so many stories of Jesus the most risqué is his complete disregard for the social norms of his time. He would strip down and wash the feet of his disciples (the filthiest thing he could have done), he would heal on the sabbath, touch the unclean, uplift women and honestly just say a bunch of things that still confuses scholars to this day. The Pharisees and many teachers of the law tried to trap Jesus inside these moments, with that same “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mindset. Still, this never stops Jesus from acting, and he never sacrifices holiness for grace. So why are we?
Let’s consider the story of the woman at the well. Jesus had many reasons not to interact with her – she was a Samaritan, she had not one but five ‘husbands’ and was a woman – talk about a triple threat. Interestingly, it is Jesus who initiates the conversation with her. Much to her shock, he asks for a drink. Jesus is able to share about our heavenly Father and the days to come. She then herself becomes an evangelist in returning to her own town and proclaiming that the Messiah has come. If Jesus is our model to follow, why does my pessimism say we would gossip and leave that women in the dust? Because that’s not what Jesus does. Jesus asks, he listens, and he offers her the living water. Although surprised, not even his disciples question why Jesus was talking with her. And yet, aren’t today’s Christians often found whispering behind each others backs, trying to qualify and quantify who could receive such a beautiful gift?
But why are we doing this? Why are we experiencing such disconnect?
I have a few ideas but there is one that sticks out above the rest – fear.
We fear losing our reputation. We fear inadequacy. We fear getting stuck in a situation we don’t actually want to be in. We fear embarrassing ourselves. We fear being wrong.
We fear being wrong. We would much rather live in a world of black and white then get our hands dirty in a place that might actually be gray.
But we cannot let this idol of rightness stop us from actually being righteous.
And I’m so struck by how often God Himself doesn’t care about being “right” because He is love and righteousness itself. Let’s look at Isaiah 30 for another example. In short summary, the Israelites have failed once again and turned away from the Lord their God. Instead of leaving them to deal with the mess they created for themselves, God speaks out;
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; Therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of Justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” (Isaiah 30:18, NIV)
Divine justice and heavenly righteousness cannot be separated from the element of grace. And righteousness cannot be removed from the context of being in right relationship with God and right relationship with one another.
We have set ourselves up for failure in a society that no longer believes Jesus and justice are inseparable. I am currently reading a book called Underground Church: A Living Example of the Church in Its Most Potent Form by Brian Sanders. He talks about his own personal discontent with some church experiences in that many modern churches fail to actually mobilize its leaders who are willing to act. He warns that when those who are trying to engage in the call of Jesus do not have the support, accountability and/or resources of the church, it is then that this disconnect occurs. Brian goes on to say;
“In time, that disconnect becomes a fatal flaw for the church. Because these leaders, without full identity and support of the church, either burn out from the work of mission or evolve into something more secular. After all, if the church will not recognize and honor the work they are doing as the work of the church, why should they not look for self-definition and validation elsewhere?” (184).
And here it is that so many organizations and movements have landed – spurred on by righteous anger but acting without the true hope that is found in Jesus Christ and in him alone. Without this hope, losses seem unbearable, the grief too terrible and the fight too impossible.
But there is good news – it’s not too late. Jesus is calling new people into the good fight every minute. We have access to the Father through repentance and confession in which He has already bore our shame. Romans 8 declares “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (verses 38 & 39). Not even being wrong or our own personal fears can separate us from the love of God.
This good fight isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty and it certainly isn’t black and white. It will probably even be scandalous.
I leave you with Matthew 25:42-46. May we heed this very real warning about the Son of Man coming back in glory.
“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”