“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” — Gloria Steinem
On a recent fall night, I went to a concert. A singer-songwriter played whose music remains on a regular rotation in my four-disc changer. And though his work is not overtly “sacred,” leaning much more “secular,” I shared with a friend my suspicions about this musician’s knowledge of Jesus.
My friend’s look said, “Do you know anything at all? Have you heard his songs about booze and women and drugs? Do you know what Jesus said?” I just smiled. The exchange brought me back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22.
Why did he say, “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell”? The commentators on this text always appeared to dodge something, something I couldn’t quite grasp but sensed was present. Jesus’ words here cut a deep line in the dirt. Certainly he’s not just speaking against anger here, as scholars argue. He’s talking about hell.
A friend, discussing this passage, helped illuminate what looked so cloudy. “Fool,” he said, “indicated one did not know God.” “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” came to mind (Psalm 14:1).
Are we calling people fools when we say they’re not in the club? Are we in danger of hell when we say someone does or does not know God?
My friend then mentioned Jesus’ comments about all power to judge being given to him. Do we believe Jesus about this? If so, why do we claim authority to judge and then say, “This person can’t possibly know anything about faith and Jesus”? Jesus’ words on judgment in Matthew 7 are just as harsh as his words on calling people fools.
When we try to draw circles around people, saying, “You – you’re in. And you – you’re out,” we sit in the place of God. We try to be God, assuming rights reserved only for him. Didn’t this lead to some problems in the Garden? Will we ever learn about this attempt to be God?
A man wanted to know how many would be saved. Jesus responded, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:23-24). When the disciples didn’t approve of other and different followers, Jesus said, “He who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50). When John wanted to call down fire on those who rejected Jesus, he said, “I am not here to destroy, but to save.” (Luke 9:52-56). “You don’t get it,” he said. “You don’t get it,” he says to us when we seek to define who is in and who is out.
He says to us, “You have nothing to say on this subject. It is not your territory. I will handle it. So be quiet. Do what I command and don’t concern yourself with who is in and who is out, unless the person you’re worried about is you.”
How do we sit in judgment, and on whom?
Why do we do this?
Why does Jesus tell us to avoid doing this?
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