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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Honoring The Ides of Christ

"What Would Jesus Do?"

"You need to act more like Christ."

"You are being DIVISIVE and RENDING the Body of Christ!"

Yada, yada, yada.

It's hard to take people who make these comments very seriously. After all, God's prophets were not known for their sweetness and light. People tend to forget the jeremiad was named after Jeremiah. Isaiah promised quite a diverse number of really nasty punishments to his listeners. John the Baptist's favorite question was, "Who told YOU that you could escape the coming destruction?!?"

Jesus was no less serious about getting in people's faces. Remember these Golden Oldies?
"You blind guides!...
You blind fools!...
You hypocrites!....
You snakes!...
You brood of vipers!...
You whitewashed sepulchres, pleasing to look at on the outside but filled with filth and charnel on the inside!...
You make your disciples TWICE the sons of hell that YOU are yourselves!...
How will you escape hell?" (Matthew 23)
He called one woman a dog ("It is not right to give the children's food to dogs": Matthew 15:26), and made His own special whip of cords in order to whip the money changers out of the Temple, turn over their tables and make a general mess inside (John 2).

Jesus cursed a fig tree so furiously it died on the spot. (Matthew 21:18-22)

He insisted that He had not come to bring peace. Quite the opposite:
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. (Matthew 10:34).
When an apostle lifted up two swords and said, "Here, we have swords," Jesus didn't reply with, "Idiot - I don't condone violence." He also didn't say, "You fools. I don't mean actual swords." In short, He didn't start explaining His remarks as yet another parable. Instead He saw the apostles' two swords and merely said, "That's enough" (Luke 22:35-38).

When Peter uses his sword to strike off Malchus' ear, Jesus does not forbid the use of the sword entirely, He merely says it is not to be used now, during His Passion (Luke 22, John 18). Similarly, when soldiers came up to him asking for various things, He never told them to stop being soldiers - although He certainly did tell tax collectors that they were saved when they stopped being tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10). Instead, He simply warned the soldiers not to abuse their position.

Although God is Love and Jesus is God, so Jesus is Love, Jesus wasn't very nice.
He was, in fact, about the most confrontational, divisive figure you can imagine.

Indeed, the only time He didn't verbally upbraid the men who opposed Him was when those same religious and secular authorities began to beat, scourge, humiliate, crucify and kill Him. And notice that He didn't shut up as soon as the idea to do this entered their heads - the religious authorities were looking to kill Him from the moment He raised Lazarus from the dead.

No, He continued to energetically correct them until the time HE chose to go silent.

Alright, so His prophets were divisive and HE was divisive, but His apostles were terribly gentle men, weren't they?

Were they?

Read about Paul in Acts, or better yet, read what he wrote to the Galatians sometime.

In Acts, Paul gets thrown out of synagogue after synagogue because he keeps fighting with the Jews who reject Christ. In Galatians, he not only proudly recounts his fight with Peter over how to interact with the Gentile converts, he also mentions that he hopes the Judaizers will castrate themselves. (Galatians 5:12, 6:12-13, 6:15)

Paul is so divisive he gets beaten, with rods, thrown in jail and nearly stoned to death. That's the man who becomes all things to all men so that he might by all means have a chance to save some.

Peter was no better. He threatened Simon Magus with damnation (Acts 8:9-24) and struck Ananias and Sapphira stone cold dead (Acts 4). His work in Rome so thrilled Caesar that the Emperor had him crucified upside down.

Essentially every martyred Christian follows this example. That's why the saints got martyred, after all. You don't get martyred unless you really tick somebody off. At some point, the words and actions of every single one of the apostles managed to generate a murderous rage in their hearers.

What makes us think we are supposed to be different?
Are we smarter?

So, when someone tells me to "act more like Christ" and "stop being so divisive!" what does that really mean?

Well, the short answer is simple - it's the coward's way of saying, "SHUT UP! I don't want to listen to you anymore!"

People who spew this "You are being DIVISIVE... NOT Christ-like!" phrase are not particularly Christian. They can't let their YES mean YES or their NO mean NO because they don't like being like Christ. They don't like getting in people's faces.

Instead, they call names - "YOU aren't like CHRIST!" - while pretending that they aren't calling names. They judge while retaining the false veneer of being non-judgemental and loving. They are white-washed tombs, pleasing to look at on the outside, but filled with venom and hatred on the inside.

They are like nothing so much as the pro-abort who says, "No one has the right to push their morality on others." Of course, if any pro-abort really believed such nonsense, she would remain silent, lest voicing this opinion render her a hypocrite as she forces on others her opinion about how morality should be handled.

As with the "Be more like Christ!" example, the phrase "Don't force your morality" really means, "SHUT THE HELL UP! I don't want to hear what you have to say." But by phrasing the sentiment as a moral judgement, the speaker gets to take the moral high ground and pretend to be holier than the one condemned by the phrase.

Of course, it should be noted that Jesus did command us to turn the other cheek, to give more than is asked of us, to care for one another. He did give us the greatest example of this when He opened not His mouth as He was led to destruction as a lamb led to the slaughter.

We must always remember that, after three years of incredibly divisive language and action, Jesus ended in silence.

Like the month of March, He came in like a lion, but left like a lamb. The ides of March fall on the 15th, the turning point of the month. It is the day Caesar was murdered, the day that Shakespeare has Marc Antony remark on the silent mouths of the knife wounds on Caesar's body that give testimony to his death.

So, for those of us who want to model our lives on Christ's, what is the take-away here?
We who follow Christ must honor the ides of Christ, honor and imitate every part of His life.

Jesus followed the law in all things, right down to the paying of the Temple tax.
As long as He had breath in His body, He fought injustice, hypocrisy and lies.
For three long years, He fought the good fight - divisive, in-your-face, brutal, but always the very essence of divine love.

Only at the end, as He allows human law to drag Him to His death, does He allow Himself to enter into His great silence. Although the breaking of the first six seals were accompanied by all kinds of calamity, the breaking of the seventh seal brought a long, great silence (Revelation 8:1).

Jesus was divisive in His words and in His actions.
But He was the most divisive of all in His silence.

It was in His incredibly provocative, contentious silence that Simon was forced to become God's co-worker and help carry the Cross.

It was in this divisive silence that eleven of His apostles broke and ran like water, leaving only one man, John, and a small group of women behind to watch silently with Him.

It was in this great silence that the tombs split open, the dead walked amongst the living, and the Temple curtain was torn in two.

It was in this great silence that the pagan soldier finally turned and spoke the unspeakable Truth: "Surely this man is the Son of God!"

So, yes, as Christians who want to model Christ, we have a right and a duty to fall silent before authority, to turn the other cheek, to give more than is asked of us.

But we have an equal right, and even a canonical duty, to make a great noise, a noise as reverential and gentle as the crack of a whip, before we enter that silence.

And whether we speak or we be silent, if we truly have the Spirit of God within us, then we will necessarily be a sword unto the world, no matter what we do. Even if we fall silent, especially when we fall silent and do the silent works of mercy and charity, we must do these things in a way that divides, separates, cleaves the sheep and the goats.

So, how now shall we live?
The answer is clear.

Go in like a lion, be led like a lamb, but always wield the two-edged sword that divides the people and brings judgement upon the nations. This honor is for all the faithful.


Matheus F. Ticiani said...

Great post Steve. Unfortunately, many Catholics who are otherwise well-intentioned/orthodox fall prey to this politically correct interpretation of Christian character, among them sadly some members of the "Catholic Celebrity" intelligentsia that inflluences many people.
The post made me remember of this one by Jimmy Akin, on which he debunks the inherent stupidy of the "What Would Jesus Do?" kind of rhetoric.

Enbrethiliel said...


Don't forget the "bayoneting our own troops" rhetoric popularised by a certain someone! ;-)

If a sword were beaten into a plowshare every time he trotted out that tired old line, we'd have world peace by now!

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Why Enbrethiliel, whoever do you mean??? :)

Mark my words, I'm shea I don't know!