I think about the Pharisees a lot. (I know. I’m weird, but stay with me. This gets relevant.)
The Pharisees of biblical days viewed life through a “letter of the law” lens. “Pharisee” means “separate.” They believed in interpreting the scriptures literally. No harm so far, right?
It’s just that Jesus couldn’t stand them.
Okay, maybe that sounds harsh. I’ll use his words instead of my own.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matt. 23:27
Um, yeah. Jesus was no shrinking violet. I don’t think it was about their theology; he just didn’t like their attitudes.
They looked at life through the wrong lens, but they thought they were spot on.
Do we ever do that? Laser-beam focus on something but miss the point?
I recently read a cartoon that depicted Jesus talking to some folks. He said, “The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.” (Nakedpastor.com)
Jesus saw the world through the lens of love.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church about a mile from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. THE Central HS. You might guess I’m going to launch into a story about racial prejudice, but actually, it’s the opposite.
Our (white) pastor was one of the first white pastors in the nation to call for civil rights. He got plenty of death threats and ostracization from other white churches, but he only had one lens.
The lens of love. Nothing else made sense to him.
On another note, did you know that the Southern Baptists originally took a stand in support of abortion? Seems that was the stance among a lot of Christians at the time of Roe v. Wade.* Things have certainly changed.
Defining issues change, but the lens of love does not.
Throughout life, I’ve felt that my head (the law) and my heart (compassion) were at odds, but here’s what happened to me. I wrote a book.*I started seeing Jesus in a different light. He broke the law of religious technicalities often in favor of the law of love. He healed a guy on the Sabbath, a big time no-no. Two of his followers wouldn’t be silenced by the authorities, saying, “We’ve gotta follow God, not man.” Big time civil disobedience.
The lenses of love.
But what about the law? Didn’t Jesus have standards? Surely he didn’t preach that “anything goes.”
Check out how he treated Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, but not your run-of-the-mill IRS employee. Tax collection back then meant extortion. When Jesus saw him, he didn’t hold up a sign saying “No More Extortion.” He asked himself over to the guy’s house for dinner!
In response, Zacchaeus changed, but not because he knew a lecture was coming. No lecture was needed. We humans know when we’re living sub-par lives. Jesus already knew who Zacchaeus was. He wasn’t excusing extortion, he just chose a different way of operating… not zeroing in on the lifestyle, just the life. Zacchaeus changed because he was chosen.
What if we did that? Engaged with the “bad guys” with no lectures or judgment? What if we used the lens of love in our everyday lives?
I would call that looking a lot like Jesus.
*The Journey: A Traveling Companion Through the New Testament
** Per Dartmouth professor Randall Balmer… “Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject (abortion), which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.
Although a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly criticized the ruling, the overwhelming response was silence, even approval. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.”
(But) by the late 1970s, many Americans—not just Roman Catholics—were beginning to feel uneasy about the spike in legal abortions following the 1973 Roe decision.