Like millions around the world I celebrated the Christian holiday of Easter with great joy. It represents the central idea of my faith, but I have also been thinking about the many interpretations of the word and Jesus and wondering how we humans are able to get his very simple message to us so wrong. In particular I have been harkening back to the Gospel of Luke for the fifth Sunday of Lent, and its story that seems to encapsulate the essence of what Jesus wanted us to know.
It is the tale of the woman who was brought to Jesus and accused of committing adultery. The Pharisees were hoping to test Jesus and to prove that his radical ideas were dangerous, so after describing her crime they reminded him that according to the law she must be stoned. Jesus remained calm and told them that his was a new way of doing things that superseded the old smiting and punishing ways. Instead he showed compassion to the woman asking if she was sorry for what she had done, and forgiving her when she demonstrated her regret. Her only admonishment was to go forward and live a better life than she had done before.
I truly believe that all of what Jesus stood for is to be found in this story. He had told his followers that all of the complicated rules of the past were misguided and that there was only need of two very simple ways of living. One was to love God with all of their hearts and the other was to love their neighbors just as they loved themselves. I don’t think he could have been any clearer about what he hoped that people would take from his life. his examples and his preaching, and yet we have often lost our way in a miasma of minutiae. We parse every sentence of the Bible, both old and new testament and somehow come up with reasoning that seems totally at odds with what Jesus said again and again.
I remember my early years of teaching and the mistakes that I made as a beginner. Luckily I was surrounded by wise principals who gently showed me the error of my ways. One time I created a huge poster listing almost twenty classroom rules and the exact consequences for each infraction. Sweet and wise Joyce Eversole guided me to understand that no child would be able to successfully fulfill all of my demands. She helped me to craft a much smaller mandate with only three or four rules and no listing of specific consequences. my guidelines were general in nature and left room for exceptions which invariably came up. Like Jesus Joyce understood that we don’t need to be so complicated. The idea of how to live and work well together can be summed up in a few simple phrases.
I sometimes imagine Jesus coming back as has been prophesied only to ask what we humans were thinking when we took his message and contorted it so badly. I believe that he would tell us to love the gay people that some Christians believe are so sinful. He would remind us that there is something quite beautiful about two people pledging their love and loyalty to each other that doesn’t change when they are the same sex. He might ask us why we continue to execute those we have charged with crimes and remind us that he too was a victim of capital punishment. I fear that he would ask us why we do not see life as something miraculous and precious, even when it is till a baby in the womb. I think a hint of his feelings is to be found in the story of his mother who so unexpectedly found herself unmarried and with child. Think of how unfortunate it might have been for the world if she had chosen to terminate her pregnancy.
So why are we so concerned with rules and laws? Why do we argue with one another over definitions of marriage and when life begins? Why do we seem to be carrying bags of stones so that we might be ready for the kill when we see someone who does not live and think as we do?
I don’t claim to be a theologian, but I can read and there does not seem to be any mystery or hidden meaning in the life of Jesus and his words. He was always about love and compassion. He embraced the unclean, the sick, the elderly, the children, the misunderstood, the outcasts. He ignored rules that made no sense and only became angered when he saw religious teachers focusing on things that did not matter or that hurt people. He hoped that we would understand that his way of living was the better way, and the reason he was sent to this earth. He was our teacher, but as with any classroom some of us appear to have misunderstood how he wanted us to behave.
We humans like to believe that with our minds we are capable of accomplishing anything all alone. Like the citizens of Babylon we sometimes act as though we do not need a god or any kind of divine guidance. We have created a kind of religion of humanism that relies only on science for making decisions. We forget the two most incredible rules that Jesus suggested for us, and when we do, we lose our way. In this Easter season we are reminded that there is a better way, and its challenge is to love.