Monday, August 27, 2012

This Teaching is Difficult

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"  ...And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father. "  --  John 6:60,65

I find this last sentence curious.  Many people interpret it to mean that only some people are chosen by God.  Only some people, specifically those people who believe what Jesus is saying, are "insiders."  The rest are "outsiders," predestined to be rejected by God.  And yet woven in between these words, and immediately afterward, Jesus makes a point of saying that among the chosen twelve, among the innermost "insiders", is one who will betray him.  Jesus says that the one who will betray him was chosen also, just as the others were.  In light of this fact, that last sentence seems to be saying, simply, that there will be different factions, outside of the group and within the group.  All put in place by God.

This understanding certainly reflects the state of things, then, as well as now.  Certainly outside of Jesus' followers, there were different factions.  There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Essenes (not to mention all of the non-Jewish sects), and probably many shades of greater or lesser extreme, within each of these parties.  Even within Jesus' followers there were different factions. Probably each disciple had a different understanding of what Jesus' message and purpose was.  That would explain why each of the Gospels, and each of the communities founded by different disciples, emphasized different aspects of Jesus' life and ministry.  Today there are many, many more factions of people who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (not to mention those who don't).  And even more factions of Christians, all emphasizing different aspects of Jesus' life and ministry.

Could this actually be God's intention?  That we form factions?  If so, to what purpose?

Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine."  (11:19)

So what makes us genuine?

Throughout the four Gospels in the Bible, Jesus says, in many different ways, that those who do the will of the Father are true worshipers.  Paul, James, and Peter, too, all emphasized doing the will of the Father.  It is not just a matter of saying, "Lord, Lord."  It is not just a matter of resting on our Abrahamic lineage.  We have to actually do what God asks us to do.

And what does God ask all of us to do?  Love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is what God asks us to do.  Love our neighbor.  Not just those who agree with us.  Not just our brothers and sisters.  Not just those who are self-sufficient.  Everyone.

It is a very difficult teaching.  It is so difficult that many people will turn away from it, and teach something else.  Some of us will actually teach the opposite.  Some of us Christians will actually betray Jesus' message.  We betray Jesus whenever we ignore or oppress the poor, the hungry, the sick, the weak, the downtrodden.  And we betray Jesus whenever we hate, harm or neglect those who think differently than we do.  Instead of teaching, as Jesus did, Love your enemies, and pray for them,  we teach:  hate your enemies; distance yourself from them; make war on them.  Instead of caring for the poor, some of us say, "Well Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you."  -- as if that meant that we should make no effort to relieve their suffering.  They do not wonder why "the poor will always be with us."  It is the same reason why there will always be factions:  " it will become clear who among you are genuine."  That is... who will follow the will of God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

God made all of us.  And God chose all of us to be different:  some Jews, some Muslims, some Christians, some Buddhists, some Hindus, some atheists.  And even within each of these groups, more factions.  And even within these factions, everyone different.  The world is structured the way it is for a reason.

It would not make sense for the world to be made up of people who are all the same, who all think the same, who all behave the same way.  The only way for us to learn about anything is for there to be variety in the world around us.  Differences are a necessity of life.  Conflict is actually a requirement.  What we need to understand is that if we love our neighbors as ourselves -- despite the conflict, despite our differences -- we might actually resolve the conflict, and get to a better understanding of one another.

The world is the way it is so that we learn the true meaning of Love.  It is not easy to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, but that is the will of God.

Dear God, please help me to understand your will anew each day of my life.  Love always, Pam

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