“The Politics of Jesus” has been one of the most influential books in my life. While I could glean ten different life lessons from it to discuss right now, one in particular has surfaced in my mind as of late. In the book, John Howard Yoder, the author, points out several aspects of what it means to bear our cross. Two of these observations had never crossed my mind before. First, Yoder tells us that bearing our cross is not a random event or hardship in our lives, like cancer or a difficult boss. Instead, cross is what is borne as a direct result of the lives we lead as lived in Christ, like moving to a leper colony to serve and contracting leprosy or having your boss fire you for refusing to alter information in a report. Cross is first and foremost something borne as a direct result of living a life directed towards Calvary.
Christians, like any other group of humans, have their pet peeves. For me and my group of Christians, one of those pet peeves is the objectification of others. We recognizes that the objectification of others leads to deeper and more numerous sins, and therefore, we call it out as evil. When we elevate individualism to godhood and diminish a baby in the womb to the status of non-human - when we objectify babies - a baby who gets in our way can be killed. When sexuality and pleasure is elevated to godhood and another's body becomes a mere tool - when we objectify fellow humans for sexual gratification - then we end up with the highly exploitative and damaging pornography, sex worker, and sex-trafficking industries. Christians rightly identify Jesus's teaching that objectification is at the heart of much evil in the world. In Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, he declares that it isn't only murder and adultery which are evil, but the objectification of others in our hatred, anger, and lust - the latter vices being the seeds of the former. Jesus is a wise man, and we are wise to follow in his footsteps.
But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
I've always heard that it becomes much easier to understand our relationship with God after becoming a parent. I continue to find a great deal of truth in this. Right now Catalina and I have a hectic life. We have four kids under six, with two boys who are at peak craziness, and a five year old teenager. The big word running around in my mind the past few months has been obedience, because it is very clear to me that my children's obedience could significantly change how life runs right now. How do I develop obedience in my kids? If I could figure that out, it would make my life a whole lot easier. I have been thinking long and hard about how to handle my relationship with my kids, which has also begun to get me thinking about how my obedience (or disobedience) to God may have a similar appearance and patterns.
Obedience had always seemed like a cut and dry thing to me. If someone is in authority, you obey them because they said so. It's just the way it is. But as a parent, the anger which wells up inside me when my children disobey indicates to me that there is a lot more to obedience than some simple mathematical equation. When my kids straight-up look me in the eyes and disobey, I am infuriated. I have done a lot of soul searching on that, because the way I feel anger inside me is very clearly not good. It's not a righteous anger. It's a selfish anger. I recognize that in disobedience, my kids didn't merely fail a moral math equation, they offended me. Obedience is personal. Why is that?
It is easy to live in fear these days. Perhaps it's always been that way. Maybe the times aren't any more fearful today, but rather humans are beings always prone to fear. Regardless of fear's source, whether in circumstances or in human nature, it's easy for those of us living in the present to see the fears which the modern world stirs up in our neighbors and in ourselves. But all this fear seems so odd in our enlightened age. One would have thought (or at least I would have thought) that a world which proclaimed itself as more "scientific," more "objective," and less "mystical" would be one in which fears would dissipate. In a world where malicious demons and capricious gods don't exist, we only have the rational world to fear. And what is there to fear in that which can be understood and controlled? The problems of modernity can be measured, assessed, and converted into probabilities. In a world where cause and effect are better understood than ever before, it seems like we should have a handle on most of our fears. Yet we find that in the Western world - the part of the world who thinks of themselves as the most advanced and scientific - fear reigns supreme. Whether you watch the news and take the temperature of the nation, whether you gather anecdotes from those in your community, or whether you simply look at rates of psychological/emotional issues and prescription drug use and drug abuse, you'll find that our world is one which is steeped in fear.
We Christians think we have the Apostle Peter pegged. Of all Jesus's disciples we seem to have the most insight into Peter's thoughts and actions. He was clearly a very eccentric individual, prone to speaking before thinking and prone to ideas of grandeur. He is the disciple who first proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. He is the disciple who walked on water. He is one of two disciples who raced to Christ's tomb on Easter morning. Peter was always caught up in the action. And while he so apparently loved Jesus, Peter is most well known for his betrayal of our savior during Jesus's greatest hour of need. That act of betrayal seems to fit Peter's character pretty well. He is always so close to good, but ends up falling short. Peter's betrayal was just the last example in a string of near successes, but ultimate failures. Right after being the first disciple to declare Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus told Peter to "get behind me Satan," as Peter tempted Jesus to avoid the cross. Right after being the only disciple to walk on water, he began to sink because he focused on his circumstances rather than Jesus. And right after Peter declared that he would stand by Christ, he denied him three times. Peter's story is largely a story of "almosts." He almost got it right, but always messed things up somehow.
There are many directions I'd like to go with Peter's story. I think it's awfully sad that the disciple who trusted Jesus enough to recognize him as the Messiah and to trust him to walk on water gets such a bad reputation. But what I really want to focus on is how I think the whole denial story paints Peter as something he absolutely wasn't - a coward. I want to make a case for Peter's bravery, but even more than that, I want to make the case that the underlying issue with Peter's betrayal was much deeper than momentary fear. While there may have been some fear involved in Peter's denial of Christ, I think it's fairly clear that fear for his own wellbeing was not Peter's primary problem. So why do most of us think Peter was filled with fear? I think the fear narrative is easy for us to latch on to for a number of reasons, but most of all because if we say Peter's problem was fear, we in the West can subsequently disassociate ourselves from being in Peter's shoes. How often have we felt genuine fear for our lives because of our Christian beliefs? Almost every one of us would have to say "never." And so we never have to identify with a traitorous Peter who feared for his life. But as I will argue, Peter's reason for denying Christ should make us much more introspective about the ways we are constantly tempted to deny Christ in like manner. So let me make my case now for why I don't think Peter was a coward who feared for his life.
There are quite a few characters you can criticize when it comes to the story of Jesus's crucifixion. The disciples were cowards and ran, with Peter even openly denying Christ numerous times. The religious leaders hounded Jesus and held a kangaroo court to convict him. The fickle crowds who were praising Jesus only a week before, now yelled out for his blood. In Luke's account, we even see Satan come into play as he enters Judas and has his hands in the mix. But for as cowardly, evil, or lost as some of these agents were, there is one character we often overlook. Pilate.
I think Pilate gets passed by so often because we can empathize with his position. Whereas the disciples were committed to Jesus and should have been loyal, and whereas the religious leaders were malicious and pursued Christ's blood, Pilate was caught in the middle of something he didn't want to be a part of. He had no loyalty to Jesus, but neither did he hold any malice. He was as impartial a judge as we could hope for in overseeing Jesus's trial. In fact, as we progress through the story, we see Pilate recognize Christ's innocence and attempt to free him using the various means he had at his disposal. To most, it seems like Pilate is a fairly decent guy who is trying to do the right thing, but ends up having to make a difficult decision in order to do his job by maintaining order.
Most Christians, and those who live in "Christian societies" are familiar with the ten commandments. Don't steal, don't murder, don't covet, etcetera. But the ten commandments are just a small representation of the Bible's laws. You may not know that the Old Testament actually contains over 600 laws for the people of God to follow. In the New Testament, Jesus does us a favor and condenses all of the laws to two: love God and love your neighbor (Mt. 22:34-40). If we simply do those two things, then we'll never break any of the other 600 commandments. If we loved others, how could we murder them? If we loved, how could we covet what another has instead of being happy for them? If we loved God, how could we choose to avoid Him by not gathering together with other Christians to worship Him? Love is absolutely central to the Bible and to followers of Christ. In fact, Jesus tells us that it is a Christian's love which will distinguish them as a true follower of God (Jn. 13:35).
Ice age upon catastrophic ice age of selection
And only one result has trickled in
The house wins, oh, the house always wins
If evil were a lesser breed than justice after all these years
The righteous would have freed the world of sin
The house wins, oh, the house always wins
You don't have to be alone to be lonely
You might as well give in
You don't have to be sick to be dying
You might as well give in
You don't have to have lost to be lost
Oh, give in
"*Jean Claude! *Fran!" I yelled through the cold, morning air. I was yelling because my voice needed to travel through the haze from the still smoldering campfires and all the way through the slats in the small, wooden shanty to the seven occupants who resided inside. Without a door on the shack and with only blankets for windows, I didn't need to yell all that loudly for them to hear me. But my voice was the "doorbell" to make my presence known, and I wanted to ensure that I was heard. I didn't want any of my future visits to end up like my first, unannounced visit, when *Sam, Jean Claude's older brother, took me into the shack while the rest of the family were all still huddled in the same bed trying to keep warm.
The story of "The Prodigal Son" is a seemingly familiar story for most of us. However, as our men's group goes through this story again, guided by Tim Keller's book, "The Prodigal God," I am finding it more beautiful and convicting than ever before. In the first place, simply reading this story in Romanian has illuminated the passage. In our culture, the notion of "prodigal" has always (at least in my mind) meant "wayward." A prodigal is someone who has lost their way. However, in Romanian, the story is of the "wasteful" son. That makes sense, as the son wasted the love of his family and his full inheritance on that which was fleeting and meaningless.
This revised understanding of the meaning of "prodigal" opens up Keller's book title as well, as we understand that Keller wants to clue us in to the "wastefulness" of God. At first this notion perhaps comes across as blasphemous. But as Keller expounds on the story of the Prodigal Son, highlighting Christ's audience, Christ's character, and the overly generous love of the father, it becomes clear that God is "wasteful" in his love, at least in the eyes of the world. The Pharisees couldn't understand how Jesus wasted his love and attention on the sinners and tax collectors. Such a message is just as important for us today, as we likewise horde the love and forgiveness of God which we believe we have obtained through our merit, refusing to dispense any of it to those who we perceive to be less than us.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.