Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jesus means it: Don't be a jackass

We're continuing today in our weekly "through the (chronological) Gospels", learning about Jesus from Jesus and outside the ideas and proclamations of what most loudly calls itself "Christianity".

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the translation version on this scripture page as suits you. I default to the NASB to get the more literal translation, but do use the one that works for you).

If you haven't read the last several blog posts where we've been talking about Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount", I encourage you to do so – to "catch up" on how very different Jesus' values are from how He's been too often portrayed. For example, we've seen that Jesus' purpose in His "Sermon on the Mount" was to teach us that if we don't do better in our spiritual / religious lives than the good church-goers, Bible-memorizers, and seminary graduates of Christianity and Judaism do, we're NOT going to heaven. Why? Because God requires something entirely different than the religion they create, maintain, and become expert at – and Jesus was there teaching all the Good Religious People of 2,000 years ago (and us!) just how different! Last week we looked at what Jesus says God requires of His (real) people in regards to getting mad at people, cheating on our spouses, and breaking up our committed relationships. Let's keep learning!

No swearing, please 

First, Jesus tells us the (truly) godly way of making oaths: not at all. Swearing or promising we'll do something, He lets us know, just invites the devil to speak for us. He says don't promise it – just do it!

Human society requires lots of oath-taking to "function". Our own is certainly one of the worst. We make contracts (oaths on paper) where we promise to pay or to give something in return for payment, or to work or to give money in exchange for work, for example. When we appear in court we make an oath to tell the truth and only the truth. Our political leaders make all sorts of oaths in our name, promising "justice" and "democracy" and "peace" to others around the world.

Yet our society is one of the most lying, cheating things that's ever existed. People don't pay up. Companies either don't deliver, or deliver substandard goods. People goof off at work. Companies cheat workers out of wages. People – even police officers – lie in court. No politician – from either "right" or "left" – ever does anything but lie (and that's their "best"). This all just gets worse and worse today, as it's now become "normal" and even legally "justified" for people and companies and nations (and even "churches" and "denominations") to make all sorts of promises and never ever intend to really, truly keep them. It's really not hard to see how Jesus can say all this promise-making comes from the devil!

As we've been going through the real Gospel, though, we've begun to see that God is more interested in what comes naturally from our hearts – and not in what promises we can spout off or how many contracts we can sign. If we follow Jesus, then, we don't make oaths and promises like the world does, because we aren't playing that devil-game any longer. Instead, we simply do what we've said we'll do, and we don't go what we've said we won't do, and all without having to flap our lips or sign and initial 47 pieces of paper. As Jesus-followers, we're just purely true to our word – just as He was.

What kinds of oaths or promises are in your life, either made by you or made by others (like politicians) "for" you? Sometimes we enter into such mutual-oaths to protect ourselves – to keep from getting ripped off by a company (for example) we already know is less than trustworthy. How is this the same or different than what Jesus is talking about here? What kinds of oaths and promises do you need to immediately stop making, because they don't come from your living a life where your "yes" simply means "yes", and your "no" simply means "no"? How will that change your life, how you see others, and how you commit to following Jesus? 

Don't be bad like bad people

Next Jesus seems in many translations to be telling us not to resist evil, to be docile and let evil run amok among us. This re-make of what He really said has been the "justification" for centuries for telling the poor, and women, and other oppressed people that they just have to sit and take it when their religious, political, and even family and other human authorities take advantage of them, savage them, treat them like dirt, and even murder them. We're told in such cases that "God" wants it that way, that this is all part of the "hierarchy" of power "He" has instituted. Sorry, but that couldn't be bigger B.S.
If you consider this "be docile toward evil" idea at all in the context of the real Jesus, it just doesn't make any sense. Jesus spent His whole ministry time resisting the evil of and refusing to bow obediently to any human authority - including religious human authority and Good Religious People (we'll talk in a minute about what He did or commanded us to do, instead). And He definitely meant for us to live like He did, making His life the one we model our own on.

What He really said, though, is revealed in the original Greek. There He doesn't say "Don't stand up to evil", but does say, "Don't get involved in violent rebellion, armed conflict, rioting, and the like". And those are two very different things!

So what Jesus actually tells us is to never strike back with violence when someone does you violence. But He doesn't just stop there. He goes on to give us some mental images of even more – images we must understand in the way that the people He was originally talking to would have understood them, in order to really get what He's telling us. Jesus said:
  • When someone hurts you to humiliate you (which is what a strike on the right cheek was, in that culture 2,000 years ago and today – it's a backhanded slap that men do to women, adults do to children, masters do to slaves, "superior" races do to "inferior" races, and so on), don't lay down and take it. Instead, stand up and offer up the other side, as if to say, "You failed to humiliate me with that one. Would you like to try again?"
  • When you are so dirt-poor that the only thing someone can take from you any more in a court of law is your shirt (for that's the only reason 2,000 years ago someone would be sued for their [literal] "tunic", which was the garment people there wore against their skin - and it did happen back then, believe it or not), don't just stand there and accept the thieving humiliation. Instead, take off your coat (which was the [literal] "cloak" or outer garment people wore) and stand there in your underwear in front of everyone in court that day, embarrassing the crap out of them by your nakedness (in that culture, the person SEEING the nakedness was the humiliated one, NOT the person who was naked), and say, "This should make you even more happy."
  • When some police or military person comes along and, because they see you as a weak nothing, makes you carry their heavy crap for a mile (for that's what the occupying Roman soldiers were allowed to do to the local people they oppressed), don't just accept that humiliation. Instead, proudly carry the crap they were too pathetic to carry for themselves for TWO miles.
  • When someone wants something from you, let them take or borrow it. Who will really look bad or be humiliated if they take advantage of you?

Pretty different from the mainstream "Christian" interpretation, isn't it? But it's also very different from "Christian" practice, as well. For example, what was the response of our "Christian" nation and of so many "Christian" men and women to the 9/11 attacks? Did they (like I, to my great sorrow, did back then) rush to military solutions, like believing in or advocating war (to "protect" or "punish"), or joining the military to take part in inflicting the murder, torture, rape, destruction, and suffering that makes up war? (And don't bother with the "we're only peacekeepers" or "we're here to help the people" lines – the Romans and Communists and Nazis all said the same thing, and God's real peacekeepers don't show up with weapons.) If so, their actions (until repented of) were and are completely anti-Christ. What might a truly Christian response have been? Well, what if as a nation we'd made apologies for all the things our country had done to other nations to make them hate us? What if as a people we'd collected funds to rebuild the homes and lives of those we'd injured? What if as a people we'd said, "Yes, you struck us, but we will not strike back. We leave it to God to judge." Impossible in the world of today, you say? Only for those who aren't really following Jesus!

War is certainly the one we first think of, but there are many other ways to violate Jesus' direct command and get involved in violent conflict. Think, for example, of all the revolutions "for the people" we saw in the 20th century, that inevitably involved violent actions against the previous government but also always against the people who were being "helped". What about the riots we saw break out over certain inflammatory (and certainly unjust) court cases not so long ago? What about the death penalty? How has your life been impacted by your decision to be part of or support such violence against those who "deserved" it for whatever reason? Have you repented of your sin?
What about the few examples Jesus gave, of responding as a child of God to people who are treating us with evil? In no way did Jesus tell us to accept humiliation. In fact, He told those listening to Him that day that God expects them to believe in their own dignity (and to act on it without slipping into jerkdom), even when oppressive others do not. (As we continue through the Gospels, we'll see that that's just what Jesus did - believing in and acting on His own human dignity - when He was confronted by those who wanted to humiliate and hurt Him).

Just picture the Jewish audience listening to Him that day.
  • They were an oppressed people, humiliated under Roman rule. But Jesus told them they could stand tall against the oppressive attempts to humiliate them without becoming as evil as those who oppressed them. 
  • There were also women and other people oppressed even within the Jewish culture who were listening to Him that day, many of whom knew the humiliation of being slapped around. But Jesus told them they could stand proud of who they were despite others' powerful attempts to humiliate them
  • And there were poor people listening to Jesus that day, people who were used to more powerful people taking everything they had and still wanting more. But Jesus offered them turning the tables on those who humiliated them, embarrassing those who had shamed them.

How different is Jesus' way of dealing with power from what you have been taught is the "Christian" way? What new ways can you respond to the oppressors in your life, to reject (within yourself, if not outside in their world) the humiliation they try to cause you and to instead point out how embarrassed they should actually be?

Don't be a jackass to the jackasses

Jesus goes on, telling us that God's real people actually love their enemies, praying for them and doing good for them – just like God loves and goes good even for those who insist on being His enemies. Jesus tells us that if all we do is love people who are good to us, and hate people who mistreat us, we're no better than the people who help make oppression happen. And if we're only friendly with those like us, then we're no better than God-haters. So, Jesus tells us, don't just be human-good – be God-good!

What a painful one-more-way we as a "Christian" nation and as "Christian" people have been living completely anti-Christ. It amazes me how easily we convince ourselves that we can be in the military and even go to or support war or warriors and still be good (or even better) followers of Jesus (even though the Bible we claim to follow says only the people who actually do all of what Jesus says actually get into heaven). It amazes me how easily we let slide our despising the jerk who cuts us off in traffic, or the jackass who blocked our advancement at work, making as if our crappy behavior is "excused" or "doesn't count". Is it hard not to live as jerky as the jerks around us? You betcha! Do we have to do it anyway? You betcha!

One of the biggest teachers of my life regarding living like Jesus with and around our enemies, instead of like our natural jerky selves, has been Corrie ten Boom. To hear her speak (in old tapes – she's passed to the Lord some time ago now) or read her books, and know that this was a woman who had everything (including family) taken from her by the Nazis and their helpers, and who even watched beloved family and other folks tortured and murdered by the Nazis, and yet who – completely through the power of Jesus – was able to forgive and treat even her old camp guards well, is both amazing and humbling. Do check out her speeches (many of which can be found on the web for free as MP3s, like here for example) and books (most available in used and new book stores everywhere, still). Her life of struggle to forgive and her grown in Jesus in letting Him forgive for her is something we can all benefit greatly from. And even though she doesn't speak of these things directly, abused women and children, Gay folks, and other oppressed minorities can especially benefit from learning from an elder-sister who's been there how to forgive and even love the people who hate and cause them such misery.

What ways do you still need to work out being God-good, rather than human-good, to the people who make your life hard or miserable? Keeping in mind that Jesus never said humiliating yourself was what God wants, how will you keep your God-given dignity as a child of God AND still be at peace with and even friendly with those who mistreat you?

Some final thoughts for this week:
  • We've seen a lot of Jesus these last weeks, and the difference between what His values and teachings are, and what "The Church" only SAYS His values and teachings are, is huge. Yet "The Church", because of it's long history of "tradition" (as if doing something wrong for a long, long time makes it right), seminary education poisoning minds and hearts with denominational and theological conformity of religious thought, religious indoctrination of both children and adults into its own human-spawned ideas and ideals, and its interior (in "the church") and exterior (political) power around the world has a much larger voice in the world today than does Jesus. What ways can you make sure you hear (the real) Jesus, instead? How can you help others hear the real Jesus?
  • Jesus doesn't just say nice things we're supposed to nod our heads at before going back to living like the devil again. We're actually supposed to be changed by Him, our hearts and minds opened up and taught by God's Holy Spirit. Not so we conform to some religious ideas about cleaning up our lives, spouting off the right religious words, and wearing suits and dresses "to church" each Sunday – that's all that Good Religious Stuff that Jesus warns us will NOT get us into heaven. Instead, we're supposed to grow new hearts, to start seeing ourselves and the world like Jesus does, and to go out into and live in the world like He did. What does that say to your life, this week? What religious nonsense do you need to let go of this week? What real-Jesus living needs to start illuminating your day?

Have a great week! Next Thursday we're back again, continuing through the "Sermon on the Mount" and beyond.

This article written by Lynne at You can contact Lynne at