I have been confronted time and time again with the fact that both the way I see Jesus and the way I define what following Him means easily gets distorted – by patterns in my own mind as well as by the people and ideas in the world around me. I grew up with the stories of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. People of the faith and others constantly remind me that Christians are supposed to be all understanding, all forgiving and all accepting – we should not ask questions, especially when those questions might make the other person feel uncomfortable or confronted. I live in a culture that says that blood (=family) is supposed to be counted above everything else, no matter what they do or who they are. So I constantly live with the pressure and the guilt of “being Christian = being everything to everybody”, no matter what they do to you, and the tension and anger of constantly getting hurt and being walked all over. I cannot help but wonder if that is what Jesus meant when He said that we have to be the least…especially when he also says that who we are and our joy is important to Him…And so I am left with questions buzzing around in my mind: How many of those preconceived/”drilled in ideas” I walk around with, how many of the sayings that people love quoting, truly come from God? What did Jesus mean when He was talking about “love”?
The strange (and wonderful!) thing is, if you were to pick up any of the Gospels and page through them, you will see a different picture of Jesus and you will come to understand that the love He taught about is not the love me have made it to be. For this blog post we will only be having a look at Matthew, but you are welcome to take any of the other Gospels and give it a go 😀
Jesus begins his public ministry in Matthew 4 – he calls his first disciples, does a few miracles and then gives them the longest sermon ever (the Sermon on the Mount) in Matthew 5-7. This pattern continues in a way in chapters 8-10, except that now they have really started moving – Jesus does more wonders and He calls Levi, while all the while teaching his followers about what it really means to follow Him. And then, at the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus decides to do a dry run with his disciples by sending them out to go and do what they have been seeing and learning. The interesting thing here is a part of the last words He says to them before they head out: “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” – Matthew 10:14. Especially when we also take into consideration what happens in chapter 12 between Jesus and His family! While Jesus is busy teaching, his mother and brothers arrive and try to get Him to come to talk to them outside (probably in order to take Him home and stop all this embarrassment). He rebuts them, and very strongly I might add: “But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” – Matthew 12:48-50.
It might be like the mustard seed...
Directly afterwards, He tells the story of the sower in the field, a parable that’s message is that not all people will react the same way (receptively and enthusiastically) upon hearing the gospel. This begins to make it clear that, when it comes to priotities, the Kingdom of God is always at the forefront of Jesus’ mind – even if that means having to reject His family. This is affirmed by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, giving advice about how to handle someone when they have wandered off of “the Way” – and in this teaching He himself says that there comes a time when it is necessary to create distance/let someone go. Which is not the same as saying that you are now closed off forever was that person to regret his decision and want to return (just look at is teaching on forgiveness in the next section); but then only with true repentance and an effort towards reconciliation.
So, when we talk about love for God and about having a relationship of worth with Him our first thoughts should not be what we learnt as kids or what our culture or those surrounding us say – our first thoughts should be about the Kingdom of God and our part in it. Being a follower of Christ is first and foremost about living the Kingdom…this should be our first priority and what we fight for. Which also means that when anyone – be they family or strangers – hinders or prevents us from living the Kingdom, it becomes our responsibility to still witness to the Kingdom by removing them from our lives, and telling them (in love) the reasons why. For the love of God is NOT about hiding the Kingdom and its principles under the rug for fear of making someone feel bad or confronted, or offending someone.
A good example of what happens when we do not do what is necessary is actually to be found in the Old Testament! In Genesis 12 God calls Abram to leave his land and his family (who do not believe or do as he does) behind and follow him. But, for whatever reason (I am sure those of you with/in families can hear the “conversations”), he decides to take his brother Lot with him. And from there it’s all the way downhill – it’s because Lot does not see the world or believe the way Abraham does, its almost as if Lot’s story is constantly hampering Abraham’s walk with God. First, Lot takes the best part of the land; then Abraham has to step into battle to rescue Lot and his family; and it is Abraham that pleads with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah – only for Lot to then go and live in sin with his daughters…It might sound insensitive to some, but Lot is an interruption (disruption!) of Abrahams journey with God and the destiny he is to fulfill. Would it not have been better to have done what God said in the first place and leave Lot behind?
More importantly, aren’t there people that we need to leave behind? Are there people that we think we are showing the love of God to by loving them like we think we ought to (aka babying them)? When I end with this prayer for each of us I want you to remember that, wherever God is mentioned, it is not the God we were taught to believe in or the one that the world has created. It is the loving but firm God who has given us the Kingdom of God, and who expects of us only to keep on spreading that Kingdom.
God to enfold you, God to surround you. God in your speaking, God in your thinking. God in your sleeping, God in your walking. God in your watching, God in your hoping. God in your life, God on your lips. God in your soul, God in your heart. God in your sufficing, God in your slumber. God in your ever-living soul, God in your eternity.
Seek ye first (and always!) the Kingdom of God...