April 12, 2015
A True Christian
I enjoy reading the Bible on occasion. It doesn't matter that I'm not a Christian. It doesn't matter that I believe the Bible was written by men, not their version of a god. I don't read the Bible because I think it's the "Word of God;" I read it because I enjoy it. The Bible's got some entertaining stories (often of questionable morality). It's got some absolutely beautiful writing. And it does have some moral truths (here and there) and lofty aspirational goals (also here and there).
Of the lofty aspirational goals category, probably my favorite chapter in the Bible is Luke 6. Now Luke 6 is definitely a disjointed chapter. (Read Luke 6 here in its entirety.) It starts with Jesus doing his clever smack-downs of the Pharisees. Then Jesus chooses the Twelve Apostles. Then it goes into the blessings and woes section where basically Jesus tells people if you're suffering now, it'll be good for you later & if you've got it good now, you're not going to later.
Then with verse 27, Luke 6 finally gets into what makes it a favorite chapter. That's because it contains the essence of what Christians are supposed to be and, quite frankly are not. Christianity is a hard goal to live up to and most Christians don't really seem to try --- not when it comes to Luke 6. And I get it; it really is a hard goal which is why I don't think that Christianity is really suited to the masses.......because the masses can't do it.
Here, straight from the horse's mouth, is what Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, commands Christians to do:
27 "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Jesus goes on to explain what the difference is supposed to be between them (his followers) and the rest of us (i.e. "sinners"). I highlight this text in red because, as a "sinner," this would come closer to describing my approach to life (but as I said, I'm not a Christian):
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
Then, as if once were not enough, Jesus says again how his followers are supposed to treat people:
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
And as if that weren't hard enough to do, Jesus goes on to add another hard task:
37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Now, personally, I would find that task to be impossible, as in I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E. Reading that command, it makes me glad I'm not a Christian, because, thankfully, this is not my goal; I don't have to follow it. I can go around judging other people as much as I want to. Anyone who's read this website would know that.
So loving my enemies, giving someone who stole from me even more of my stuff, not judging & condemning people for how they act -------- that's not anything I've set myself to live up to. It is all stuff that Christians have set themselves to live up to.
Now this is not Europe of centuries ago where if you weren't a Christian (and the right kind of Christian), you were in peril of your life. This is modern day America. Aside from a few bizarre, isolated, cult-like denominations, adults have free choice of religion (or non-religion); hence, they are voluntarily Christians. Even if they were raised as Christians from childhood, there's enough information available, enough discussion visible, that if someone didn't choose to be a Christian, they could stop and plenty of them have. So adults in the United States voluntarily agree to follow the commands of the man they believe is their Lord and Savior.
But having voluntarily accepted Jesus' commands of how they should act, it's been my observation that most of them don't even try to follow those commands. Mostly his followers are like me: doing good for people who do good for them, lending & expecting a return, and definitely judging & condemning. And when I hear Christian Conservatives talk, I certainly don't hear anything about loving their enemies.............more like spewing a lot hate with bombing, killing or somehow destroying their enemies. And is there ever a lot of judging from the mouths of Christian Conservatives. I mean, have you ever watched Fox News or read the posts by their followers? (Ironically, a lot of the time, I, a non-Christian, come closer to following the commands of some guy I don't believe is a deity than his self-proclaimed followers do. Because I tend to help strangers; I've even helped people I dislike. At times, I can be less judgmental.)
And in Luke 6, Jesus even has something to say about that:
43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Then the cherry on the sundae for someone like me is the final verses of Luke 6. In the chapter closing, Jesus describes the different fates for those people who call him "Lord" but don't do what he tells them to do versus the people who do put his words into practice:
46 "Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."
So Christianity is a hard set of goals with destruction for the followers who say Jesus is their Lord, but don't act it. And this is why I've said that I don't think Christianity is really a religion that the masses are suited for. Now back when Christianity was an enforced religion where the masses had no choice but to be Christian or suffer hideous torture and then be executed, you could see where the masses wouldn't be doing what they were supposed to because it wasn't their free choice. So that could explain the actions of the "Christians" through history where there wasn't much loving of enemies and there was no lack of judging & condemning others. (Christianity has been a dominant religious force in the Roman Empire since the 4th century [spreading through Europe and North Africa] and in the Americas since the Europeans took this place over.) But now Christianity is a free choice. Yet those who chose it still aren't living up to their voluntarily accepted goals as instructed by their Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 6.
But every once in a great while, I hear about someone who did follow Jesus' commands, someone who is a true Christian -------- someone I can greatly admire because they are doing what I could never do. That was the case when I saw the made-for-TV-movie "The Scarlet and the Black" based on the true story of an Irish priest, Hugh O'Flaherty. Monsignor O'Flaherty was assigned to the Vatican during World War II. (FYI, both his home country, Ireland, and the Vatican, were neutral during WWII.)
During the early years of the war, when Italy was still under the control of Benito Mussolini, Mgr. O'Flaherty regularly visited the Allied prisoners held in Italian jails. With the fall of Mussolini in 1943, thousands of the POWs were released. However, the Nazis then occupied Italy and the former POWs were likely to be future POWs. Some of them made their way to Rome and the Vatican. Mgr. O'Flaherty --- in direct conflict with the Vatican's neutrality and with the Pope deliberately turning a blind eye --- began aiding these Allied soldiers. He organized an underground that hid them. When the Nazis started deporting the Roman Jewish population to concentration camps, the monsignor also helped them. In the end, he helped save 6500 people.
Opposing Mgr. O'Flaherty was the SS commander of Rome, Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler (as Obersturmbannführer was the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel, from here on out, I'm just referring to him as colonel). Col. Kappler soon figured out it was a Vatican priest who was the head of the organization helping the Allied service members and the Jews. And he targeted Mgr. O'Flaherty. Col. Kappler tried to have the monsignor kidnapped. He made repeated attempts to kill the priest. Kappler even put a bounty on the priest's head. While he was trying to kill O'Flaherty, Kappler was working diligently to prevent or undo the monsignor's work. He deported over 2000 Jews to the death camps. He tracked down the people being hidden, torturing and killing those who had helped hide them. When a Resistance attack killed 33 German soldiers, Kappler responded by rounding up 335 Italians "rich, and poor, doctors and lawyers, workers and shopkeepers, artists and artisans, teachers and students, men and teenaged boys from every walk of life, and even a man of God to walk among them" and had them murdered (see the Ardeatine Massacre). Kappler was a dedicated Nazi intent on following the Nazi ideals of human slaughter. Lt. Colonel Kappler was most definitely Mgr. O'Flaherty's enemy.
In 1945, Col. Kappler was captured by the British and eventually turned over to the Italians. In 1947, Kappler was tried and sentenced to life in prison for his war crimes. From his cell, he sent a message to Mgr. O'Flaherty requesting his presence. Now, me, the only reason I'd want to see Kappler would be to gloat. If I were a religious person "Rot in jail and then burn in hell for all eternity, you Nazi butcher" is what comes to mind. That wasn't Mgr. O'Flaherty. O'Flaherty visited the former SS commander who'd done so much harm. He didn't visit to condemn. He visited to offer comfort and hope.
Mgr. O'Flaherty became Kappler's only visitor and visited him regularly. He didn't proselytize; the monsignor was never one to push his religion on people. He didn't have to be. The very way he lived his life was a walking example of his religion. In 1949, Col. Kappler converted to Catholicism. I try to imagine Mgr. O'Flaherty taking the confession of the SS commander who tortured and killed his friends, who tried to have him killed and who did succeed in killing so many including those that the monsignor tried desperately to help. And then I imagine the priest offering the Nazi forgiveness for those atrocities ----- offering Kappler not just forgiveness, but the assurance of God's love and the promise of an eternal life in heaven.
Monsignor O'Flaherty was someone who understood and lived Luke 6 ----- who loved his enemy and did good to him, who did not judge, but was merciful as his Father is merciful.
Now, that's a true Christian.
If you enjoyed this, you'll probably like "Life Among the Baptists: One Outsider's Perspective." You might also try "Self-Proclaimed Antichrist."
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