I’m a social liberal. Want to know why?
Not the Jesus as interpreted by Paul.
The Jesus of the Gospels.
I grew up in a Baptist church in rural Texas and we went to church at least twice a week. There I heard the story of a man who lived his life helping others and trying to teach those around him to do the same. He wasn’t about entitlement or elitism. He wasn’t about nationalism, though that was a popular theme at the time. He wasn’t about exclusion or retribution. He was about love and grace and forgiveness, and about crossing borders and boundaries to express and embody these to others.
There was an underlying theme to his life that captured me enough to make me want to be a minister, though I failed at that because I couldn’t get past my own selfishness. What gripped me was the message that everyone matters, and that caring for each other, including those whom society rejects, abuses or punishes, is the fabric that holds families, neighborhoods, communities, states, nations and the world together. The Jesus I encountered in the Gospels taught that though this isn’t always the popular way to live or the way that makes you economically prosperous, it is the way that binds us all together. He lived and died with this message as his daily expression.
His living wasn’t haughty or mean or derisive. He might have felt fear, but he fought through it and continued to spread his message by the way he lived his life and by the words that came out of is mouth and from his heart.
Yes, I know, he got angry and drove the money changers from the temple, but that was an incident borne out of his outrage of how the underprivileged had been abused by the entitled and greedy merchants, not for the sake of getting what he wanted.
By expressing and following his example, even in my feeble way, I saw the effect these words and actions had on those around me. Oh, not a profound, change immediately kind of effect, but one that was evident nonetheless. In today’s world of instant gratification, this kind of seed-planting-watering-nurturing-tending kind of relating has fallen away, replaced by something else for which I have no name.
But the Jesus of the Gospels, the one so many profess as their savior, their leader, their inspiration, lived a life of planting seeds. He and his followers fed, comforted, clothed, sheltered and befriended those in need. I know many of you might say this is a simplistic view of Jesus, but it is the one I carried away from my early life. It is the view I rarely glimpse any more from those who profess to be his believers, followers of this man who claimed a kinship with Jehovah God.
I, myself, no longer feel I can claim to be his follower because I fall so short of what he taught. But the hypocrisy of my life doesn’t drive me away from loving others, and it doesn’t bring me to despair or anger. Instead, it humbles me, reminding me of what I see, what I feel to be true about what kind of behavior truly makes the world a better place for us all to live. I still see the life of Jesus as the example of what works to make the world a better place for us all. I don’t know if he was God, or the Savior, but I do know that his example of how to live and love has an effect on those it touches.
So, I find myself wondering how the message of this man, how the life he lived, can be interpreted to be supportive of mean, derisive, selfish, greedy, nationalistic, exclusive actions and policies. Maybe I’m naïve, maybe I don’t understand the Jesus that others profess. Maybe he would be different if he lived today, but I think not. Maybe you know a different Jesus than the one I was exposed to. If you do, please explain him to me, I want to understand how he would live if he were alive today and how he could support the behavior I see exhibited by so many who profess him as Lord and Savior.