ON SPIRITUALITY AND ETHICS
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Jesus (Luke 6:37)
Your times are so different than mine. Still, I see you share many of the same struggles as those in the first century who reflected upon my gospel.
I notice Christians today tend to lump the four gospels together. This never happened in my day. Matthew, Mark, John and I wrote to people facing different situations.
Let me give you an example. Mark wrote to our churches in Rome when Christians experienced much persecution. Rome was torched and the people suspected the Emperor himself had set the fires. So Nero created a scapegoat: He blamed us Christians. Some of us were set on fire in the arena while others were mauled and killed by wild beasts. It took great courage for many to confess that Christ, not Caesar, is Lord.
Mark writes his gospel with these traumatic events in mind. He also knows our brothers and sisters were driven into the catacombs, so he writes that Jesus is driven into the desert after his baptism. Mark mentions as well that Jesus is among wild animals while in the desert—even as our fellow Christians in Rome face similar terrors in the arena. He recognizes that some being persecuted are falsely accused by their friends, so he emphasizes that Jesus is betrayed by a disciple in his inner circle.
Mark is my best source on Jesus’ teachings. So I include many of Mark’s stories in my gospel. Yet my gospel is different in many ways. You must understand: I write a decade later to people often hated by their Roman neighbors. Many consider us traitors and treat us as illegal aliens.
How would Jesus address such hatred?
I respond to this question with some stories of Jesus not found in any other gospel. In one parable, a father welcomes home his prodigal son. Remember how the father runs to his son and hugs him even before the son confesses his sins? This is how God’s grace embraces us whenever we turn toward the Father.
Another story is the Good Samaritan. A man is attacked by robbers and left on the side of the road. Imagine being beaten and left to die! The religious leaders walk by while the despised Samaritan offers generous assistance. Even as this outcast is compassionate toward a helpless man, God has compassion for the outcasts of this world.
I tell a third story about a sinful woman who seeks forgiveness. Remember how Simon the Pharisee so easily brushes her aside? Jesus doesn’t. He accepts her and forgives her.
And then there is Zacchaeus, a hated tax collector. Does anyone today like the IRS? Well, in my day it was worse. Zacchaeus extorts all he can from his fellow Israelites. He is a traitor, a man rejected by everybody in Israel. Yet Jesus accepts and forgives even Zacchaeus.
No doubt you notice the common link in these stories. Jesus holds out his arms of acceptance to everyone: To a son who squanders his father’s fortune; a Samaritan outcast Jesus portrays as a hero; a prostitute who betrays her own body; a tax collector who steals from his own people. Meanwhile, respectable folks like you and me, we so easily reject the people Jesus accepts.
Brothers and sisters, this is our temptation: To reject our neighbors–to regard others as inferior. It is so easy to turn our backs on people who sin grievously, especially those who sin against us.
I never met Jesus. I lived in the wrong place and time for that. But the Spirit of Jesus lives in me. If there is anything I know about him it is this: Jesus loves sinners. This is the offense of the gospel! Jesus loves us no matter who we are. And Jesus wants us to follow his footsteps in accepting and loving other people—-no matter who they are, no matter what they do to us.
©2004 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.