Ever wonder why folks on the other side won’t listen to us?
As a Jesus-follower whose every effort to understand the biblical Christ and the true God he reveals to us, I have total faith that Jesus was essentially a liberal in his day who was favored by the marginalized and opposed by the privileged. I identify as a liberal only because the Jesus I read about, agree with, and strive to imitate was always on the side of the folks conservatives of his day mostly scorned and persecuted.
Yet, here’s my confession before Jesus and anyone actually reading this just now. And here’s my plan of over-due repentance.
I share the same impulse as the disciple of Jesus named Simon Peter.
When I see anyone coming to arrest Jesus, and to stop him and his social justice movement in our world he called The Kingdom of Heaven, I pull out my sword and try to protect and defend him by cutting off the ear of that one who is on the other side. Only to then wonder why that same one won’t hear me or even listen.
The writer of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible described this process as follows, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
I’ve been around this planet since 1946. All of my 74 years have been spent living in the USA. And most of those years have found me claiming to be a Christian. Yet, today I’m experiencing what amounts to a civil war of rash words between my fellow Americans, and fellow Christians, that amounts to nothing less than an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…….and an ear for an ear.
We’re not hearing each other because we have, metaphorically, cut each other’s ears off. Conservatives believe we have come to arrest their Jesus. Liberals believe conservatives have come to arrest our Jesus. And we are, like Peter, becoming defensive to a fault. Myself, in particular.
As I seek Jesus in this time of ear-splitting (I know, bad pun) noise of cultural war here in America, I find again this reminder of how it all came down originally in that biblical garden named Gethsemane. All four Christian Gospels note this event, and Matthew’s version goes like this: “Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Matthew 26:51-53) John’s Gospel uniquely names the swordsman as Peter and the slave of the high priest, representing the conservatives in power, as Malchus. Luke’s Gospel uniquely depicts Jesus healing that slave by reattaching his ear and, one may assume, restoring his hearing.
Here’s where I’ve gone wrong before and will be tempted to go wrong again. Hence, my need for public confession and repentance so others may hold me accountable and pray with me that I not enter into temptation.
I have wrongly assumed that the privileged and powerful should not by nature be conservatives. In reality, these folks have every reasonable motive for wanting to conserve their status and position. Allegorically, the high priest is every man of male privilege who opposes change. He, of course, wants to conserve the status quo and resist the changes Jesus is advocating for on God’s behalf. It would be irrational for me to assume otherwise.
Also, I have forgotten that the slave of the high priest in this story is himself a victim. He is serving the conservative in power because that’s what slaves do. Conserving power always means some form of victimization of some Malchus in society acting as servant. Why should I blame the victim and attack the conservative's lowly messenger?
Another area where I’ve gone wrong and will be tempted in the future is to assume that Christ’s power comes from what some have called “Christian apologists.” In my younger years I was instructed in conservative Christian schools where entire courses were taught on “Apologetics,” as a kind of evangelical battle plan.
Here’s what I mean.
Christian apologetics assumes that Christ gets his power when we Christians have all the right verbal arguments to speak against those who present themselves as skeptics or worse.
Such awful theology and evangelism essentially places Jesus on the side of Peter in Gethsemane using his powerful sword to defend the Christ against attack. Such manipulation of Jesus carries the word, blasphemy, in other portions of scripture. As it should. Let Jesus be Jesus. And let him claim his own power. Jesus doesn’t need me, or Peter, or anyone else to empower him. No. I instead need Jesus to empower me, using the same power source as he claimed for himself.
Like Paul in II Corinthians 12:9-10, I need to remember (next time I’m tempted to defend Jesus against conservatives coming in their own political power) these words the Apostle noted as God’s answer to his own prayer: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
These days I am going to need to better understand how it is God empowers the liberals seeking to defend the marginalized, oppressed, abused, and the powerless. It may well not be through political power. Nor other sources of worldly strength. The Church of Jesus Christ today in our world does not need another Emperor Constantine. Not another Vladimir Putin. Not another Donald Trump. Not another conservative high priest sending forth slaves. The Church needs another Jesus Christ.
And if I am to serve the Church as a liberal follower of Jesus in today’s world, I need to put away my sword. I must, by repentance, turn a 180 and stop trying to empower Jesus and let him instead empower me, as he did Paul, through “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Maybe then folks on the other side may actually have ears to hear what I am trying to say.