We were sitting in the car killing time.
It was the lull between dropping my oldest child off at kindergarten and preparing to take my youngest to preschool. The doors hadn’t opened yet. I pulled out my cell phone and decided to launch a raid in Clash of Clans against another village. The raid was going well, victory assured, when my four-year-old gave me pause.
He asked, “Daddy, are you winning? Are you getting the bad guys?”
I stuttered, stumbled, and then finally went silent. I wasn’t sure how to respond to my son’s question.
I could have responded. “Yes, of course. Daddy is the good guy and I have now thumped the bad guys, gaining all their resources.” On the other hand I knew this wasn’t true. Clash of Clans isn’t a game of good guys and bad guys; rather simply villages and clans competing against each other to advance their own village and clan.
Even if he couldn’t articulate it. I knew what he was asking, what he was trying to clarify. He was seeking the logic and rationale for why I was attacking another village. Surely, I attacked the village because somehow they were in the wrong.
This got me thinking about one of Jesus’ most controversial statements in the gospels. Controversial because most of us would vehemently argue against Jesus. We would tell Jesus he was wrong. After all, Gandhi wouldn’t have agreed with Jesus on this point as it’s known Gandhi appreciated Jesus’ teachings.
The moment in Jesus’ life I am referencing is the unique story found only in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus rebukes the rich ruler for calling him good (Luke 18:18-30). Jesus cautions the rich ruler, “…Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Jesus rejects his claim.
Most people agree, whether they are Christian or not, the teachings of Jesus are good. Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying, “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.”
So what is it? Why does Jesus seem to reject the one claim most of us can agree to?
I believe Jesus’s rejection has more to do with what he is trying to teach us about ourselves, humanity, than it has to do with him.
No matter how much we want to deny it. No matter how much we want to point out our differences. No matter how much we want to claim there is no way we would ever act or respond like the person we see on television. No matter how we want to label ourselves to identify how we are standing in the right while someone, or others, is standing the wrong. No matter how we want to identify black and white.
We are the same.
At least according to Jesus.
We are all a mix of beauty and ugliness, perfections and imperfections, rich and poor, right and wrong. We are all in need of understanding, grace, and forgiveness. We are all marked up in sin. New York Times best selling author David Brooks writes, “Sin is also a necessary piece of our mental furniture because sin is communal, while error is individual…To be aware of sin is to feel intense sympathy towards others who sin. It is to be reminded that as the plight of sin is communal, so the solutions are communal.” The path to forgiveness and reconciliation starts with recognition and acceptance of my own brokenness and limitations.
If I cannot do that, I will forever be caught up the blame game, seeking to justify my own actions while abhorring others. There will be no time to ask and ponder questions. To ask what in our society is contributing to and fostering the deep divisions and tensions we currently feel with our neighbors?
I confused my son that day as I told him, “No the village I was attacking was not full of bad guys.” My hope is, somehow, in this small act I opened the eyes of my son to not simply trust in labels. To look beyond what those labels might tell us to see the humanity we all share. Flawed, and yet, ultimately beautiful.