Jesus was radical, but you wouldn’t always know that by looking at his followers.
I am consistently amazed at how Jesus re-envisioned the heart of the scriptures.
Radicals are scorned, hated, attacked and persecuted.
Jesus was, as were the early Christians, but most of us today (save those facing intense persecution in places like China) are generally unaware of persecution due to our radical Christianity.
If these are true statements, we need to ask two questions: what was radical about Jesus; and what isn’t radical about our Christianity?
When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, he replied with two. Both of them came direct from the legalistic laws of his misguided adversaries:
“Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbour as yourself.”
This is not new information to his audience. They know these laws forwards and backwards.
The message, however, has been re-envisioned and radicalized.
Jesus expands neighbour to include the broken, the impoverished, the outcast foreigner, and even your enemy.
Jesus consistently asked his audience to pause and rethink the religious order, not to refute the law, but to challenge his listener to a higher authority found in the author and the intent.
He was scorned and hated, because his message challenged the status quo and threatened authorities. Jewish leaders feared the passion and challenge, and Roman authorities feared the threat of disruption to societal order.
Christians do have a growing sense of persecution in North America, but I’m pretty sure it’s not because we love our neighbour in a way that threatens the fabric of society.
What if it was?
A recent National Geographic documentary (When Rome Ruled: The Rise of Christianity) had an interesting story to tell of the early Christians. The radical Christianity, inherited from Christ, which led to their persecution and scorn, may also have had an impact on the growth of the church.
They even suggested that Christians lived longer, fought off diseases more frequently and survived better in harsh times.
This documentary attributed much of Christianity’s growth to how they cared for their community, the poor and the outcast.
That is to say that, “love your neighbour as yourself” was a radical message that caused both growth and scorn, liberation and hatred.
What if we did love our neighbour in a way that threatened the fabric of our society?
What if the scorn Christian’s faced today was not because of our piety and condemnation, but because of our radical love, passion and care for people?
Is there a problem with that?
Sure, in the process we will also disrupt the religious order, the status quo of our churches.
In the process of living our faith, we’ll probably give in to all of society’s pressures and fall victim to secular culture. Well, that’s what I’m told.
Radical faith has to constantly fight against the human desire to create a new law that makes obsolete the radical message and love of Christ.
Bradley Christianson-Barker is pastor at Open Door Church.