Perhaps it’s inevitable, but the older I get, the more radical I seem to be becoming. It all comes from thinking that Jesus really meant all those crazy things he said and, you know, actually wants us to do them. I mean a lot of effort has gone into trying to put the Jesus stamp of approval on the comfortable American dream and a lot of people are happy with the result. But the red letters are still there in the bible. And all it takes is to try to follow a few of them for a person to be changed and their American dream to be upended – or for them to end up with a really screwed up life if you’d rather see it that way. I’m not sure exactly why we are so convinced that a good and comfortable life is what we get when we follow in the footsteps of a man who was tortured, killed, betrayed, abandoned and mocked. It’s a bit of a disconnect to be sure. But then again, who wants a screwed up life? Better to just sign up for your “get out of hell free” card and sit tight ’till you kick the bucket, I suppose.
But anyways, what I was saying – or meant to be saying – was that I’ve become more of a radical as I’ve gotten older. And part of being a radical is that you’re prone to being rather unrealistic. Like maybe you embrace pacifism. Or you decide that you shouldn’t have sex with anyone you’re not in a permanent, covenant relationship with. Or you’re going to take what you need to exist on from your paycheck and turn the rest over to people in need. Or you’re going to forgive and be in relationship with the man who murdered your daughter. Being a radical makes you a bit of a lunatic, really.
Part of the way you protect yourself from becoming a radical is to point out the obvious; if we embrace pacifism, then people who are violent and evil will be able to run amok. And people aren’t going to stop having sex outside of marriage – especially when the average person doesn’t get married until their mid 20s – if at all. And if some people work and give away their earnings willy-nilly, some people won’t work and will just take advantage of them. And some things are just unforgivable – the damage can never be undone and some people will never repent. Which are all good, rational reasons not to be a radical and to continue on your merry way with your comfortable American dream. After all, surely Jesus was talking about spiritual truths, not things you’d actually do for real in real life, eh?
But I realized something not too long ago which has been making it hard for me not to lean towards being radical. It’s about salt and light:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” ~ Matthew 5:13-15
Now, clearly Jesus is using salt and light as metaphors. My family already objects to finding my hair in their food. I don’t think they would appreciate me adding skin flakes a la Rebecca to season their dinner. And my husband doesn’t use me to read by at night in bed. Metaphors do have their limitations. But let’s look a little closer at this one.
First, a couple of questions; when was the last time you tucked into a nice, big plate of salt for dinner? Or set a room on fire to read by? See, most Christians start with the assumption that we’re supposed to be bending the culture such that everyone conforms to the teachings of Christianity. By the force of law, if need be. And if everyone’s not going to conform or if everyone conforming would cause its own problems, well then either the culture is hopelessly degenerate or the teaching needs to be turned into a merely spiritual one which demands nothing of anyone in practice.
But it’s a bit like when I scold one of my children for hitting and she responds by telling me all about what the other person did wrong. The response is always the same – “Who are you responsible for?” If we claim to follow Jesus and our faith teaches us to behave in certain ways, then that’s our responsibility. What other people do or don’t do is neither here nor there.
So yeah – some of Jesus’ teachings are unrealistic and have little chance of being universally embraced – at least right now. But the metaphor Jesus used to describe his followers are salt and light. It only takes a sprinkling of salt to season the dish. And one lamp to light a room. The fact that a plate full of salt is unappetizing and a room lit on fire is dangerous is completely besides the point.
It’s also why I’m not in the least bit concerned about the apparent decline of the church. Who cares if the herd’s being sorted and it turns out that there are more goats than sheep? Jesus started with the disciples and the women – probably two dozen really devoted followers. Those radical instructions are for those of us who claim to follow Jesus. They are our sacrifices to make. And it’s our privilege to make them.And by doing these things, we change everything around us. Our flavor will seep into every bite of the dish and our light will illuminate those sitting in the dark. It’s the purpose we are called for. But what do I know? My life’s pretty damned screwed up. You might not want to take advice from the likes of me!