Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tough Questions

There are passages in the Bible that biblical scholars refer to as Jesus "hard sayings", things that modern people have trouble accepting or comprehending.  Things such as "Love your enemies and do good to those who abuse you" or "if someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other and let him slap that one too."  The words of Jesus are actually not ones that modern Christians take literally or accept as valid.  Oh certainly, we affirm such sayings of Jesus as, "Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself" or "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  We like them because we can quote them and we see them on plaques here and there in stores that import a lot of goods from China.  It is rare to see a plaque in one of those stores that has "If someone asks for your coat, give them your cloak too" or something like that because it would not sell as well as the other ones that make us feel good.

Jesus has a final resurrection appearance in the last chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.  Jesus and his followers have had breakfast together on the beach and after everyone had eaten all they wanted, Jesus looked at Peter, the disciple who had denied knowing him three times as Jesus was being tried by the Jewish authorities, and asked him a hard question.  "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"  We are not sure about the "these" that Jesus was referring to....was it the other disciples, the fish they had grilled, others they both knew?  Peter's response was quick..."Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus repeated this question three times and each time Peter became more aggravated by Jesus' questioning him in this way.  "Do you love me?"  "Yes, Lord, you know I love you."  With each question, however, Jesus gave a task to Peter to do to show that he really loved Jesus.  "Feed my lambs...tend my sheep...Feed my sheep."  The proof of Peter's love would not be in the words he said to Jesus but in the action he took to live out his love daily among those whom Jesus loved.

That action took legs in Acts 10 when Peter had his famous dream where he saw a sheet descend from heaven filled with animals of all kinds and a voice said to him, "Kill and eat."  The animals in the sheet were some ones which were forbidden by Jewish law for Jewish followers to eat.  Peter responded that he would not eat them because he was an observant Jew.  The voice told him, however, "What God has called clean, you must not call profane."  When Gentiles knocked on his door a bit later and asked him to go with them to the house of Cornelius, a wealthy and important Gentile, Peter took the risk and went and the result was that Cornelius and his entire household was saved and baptized.

Peter's pledge of love to Jesus was acted out in his life as he obeyed the command to mix with others who were not like Peter and the other disciples, people whom Jewish law forbade them from having dealings with.  Peter fed the sheep that Jesus said he had, sheep of another fold, by obeying what he believed God had spoken to him in that dream

Jesus' words often bring comfort to us in times of trial but his words also bring challenges in the way we live.  Do we love Jesus enough to follow him in loving and serving others?  Do we love Jesus enough to choose to do something that we think God would have us do rather than choose something we would enjoy?  Do we truly love Jesus enough that we would obey his commands, even the hard ones, rather than dismiss them as not relevant today?  Jesus' words are often challenging but serving him is always rewarding when we do it for "the least of these."

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