We love our loving Jesus. We do, thank goodness. But sometimes I think we like to keep Jesus in a nice tidy little box that reflects what we think loving means. That can be warm and comfortable, as well as comforting, and while it can reflect the love we might want for each other and the world, it can also reflect the love that we’re willing to bring to the world. And that can mean the love doesn’t always get out of the box.
We’re certainly okay with the Jesus who loves and heals, loves and performs miracles, loves and preaches kindness and peace, even the Jesus that loves and dies for us, especially when we can just listen and enjoy, even be inspired by them. But then there are those other stories. The stories where Jesus challenges us. Those are a little harder to love. But still, we will love them and we will love.
And then there’s those stories we don’t want to hear. The tough ones, when we want to just shake our heads and say “well, that’s not the Jesus I know.” We might still struggle with them, but we might also want to try and explain our way out or suggest that’s not the voice of Jesus but of the writer of the story and that was a different time. Or we might simply want to ignore them. But we can’t.
It’s when Jesus says things like, well, this: “do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And he goes on to talk about dividing families and picking up the cross and following him. And this: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:34-49)
That doesn’t sound like the Jesus I know.
But it is. It’s the Jesus who knows he’ll have to get down in the dirt with the broken, stand up to the powerful and engage the hateful and the hated in order to make change happen. That’s the kind of peace Jesus brings. It’s not about the absence of conflict, it’s about the engagement of it. Everyone from Jesus to Gandhi to Martin Luther King to Ronald Reagan has something to say about that, just Google it. One of my favourites is the Dalai Lama: “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” That’s a struggle for us, because it means challenging those who want to hold power over others, it means challenging those who see themselves as better or “more equal” than others, it means challenging our own perceptions of ourselves and each other and it means engaging the hurt, loss and grief we might experience with that on our way to a more loving world.
And that sword? Well, that’s for cutting away all the crap that gets in between us and the truth. That includes all the structures that we, as a society, have created that bind us rather than free us. The very same structures, institutions, customs and practices we keep in place between us and what we feel threatens us, what we have and what we believe. But Jesus challenges that because it’s the very thing that divides us. We are not all the same and we can acknowledge that, learn from that and embrace that as the family of creation. That’s where our unity lies. In giving up that life that divides us, we find the one that’s true and life-giving. And that’s a struggle.
In fact, it’s The struggle. I think Jesus knows – and we should, too – that God loves us all equally because God knows where we come from: we all come from God. But when we live God’s love in the world, we need to share it equitably, with fairness, because we don’t all start from the same place here. And right now, we need to recognize that, historically, we’ve ensured that. That’s why Jesus spent so much time with the marginalized, the outcasts, the poor, the broken, the sinners. It’s not just because they needed the most love, it’s because we needed to be shown it. We needed to be shown how blind we’d been, how comfortable with our own selfishness, with keeping God’s love to ourselves.
We need to be in this struggle. Please don’t sit back and be thankful that “it doesn’t affect me” or “I just don’t see it.” We need to engage our differences, the inequities and the brokenness with, as the Dalai Lama suggests, “dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” As Jesus says, with love.