One of my favorite stories which has been told for generations by preachers is about a person who hoped to find the answer to a pressing question by looking in the Bible. After prayerful consideration of the problem, this person was inspired to open the Bible to a random page, believing the answer would be found in the first place looked. Opening the Bible, twirling a finger in the air and landing it on a page, this person found that the answer to the problem was Matthew 27:5: “Judas went out and hung himself.” Perplexed, the person decided to try it again. As luck would have it, this finger plop method of investigation led to Luke 10:37: “Therefore go and do that same.” Yikes! Clearly, this was not the answer the person hoped to find.
Yes, people often struggle with making decisions, wondering what to do. Some seek answers to their day to day challenges by attempting to derive answers from a sacred text. While the Bible does provide clear advice on how to live our lives, it doesn’t provide us with answers on which job to take, who to marry, or predictions of the winning numbers for the lottery. But the Bible has lots of wisdom to share about living and finding happiness.
As a follower of the teachings of Jesus, I pay close attention to the clear things that Jesus is recorded to have said. I do my best to make them part of my life. That doesn’t mean that I always succeed. But it does mean that the teachings of Jesus articulate how I hope to live.
Remember what Jesus said about how to approach our lives? “Consider the lilies of the field. They don’t work or make clothes. Yet not even Solomon wore as fine clothing as the lilies.” “Who among you can add to their lifespan by worrying?” “Do not be afraid.” Yes, these simple sayings from Matthew’s gospel are very clear. Yet we often don’t realize that they are central to the teachings of Jesus. We fail to notice the centrality of these teachings of Jesus because we’re generally caught up with worries about what to do, fears of what might happen, or try to make ourselves look better, more competent, or more self-assured. Instead, the practical teaching of Jesus is to let go of fears and self-preoccupations and to live fully in the present moment, just as the birds that fly freely through the air. The teachings of Jesus lead us to live in a way that’s trustful, centered in the present moment, and with detachment toward the things that are ephemeral.
We also forget that morality and ethics are pretty simple matters in the teachings of Jesus. “Love one another.” “Give and it shall be given to you: pressed down, shaken together, running out all over you.” “The measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” In other words, as a follower of Jesus, all of our interactions with others should be directed by love for them. Yes, it’s simplistic, but it’s very real. No judgment, just acceptance. Treat others with dignity and in ways that exemplify kindness and compassion. That’s the foundation for Christian morality.
Jesus was also very patient with people and met them where they were. He was known to spend time with those considered social outcasts, foreigners and racial minorities (the Samaritans), and responded to the needs presented to him by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and offering comfort to those in grief. He is recorded as showing anger to only one group: religious leaders who took advantage of others. He called them blind guides and compared them to a pit of snakes. He had no tolerance for oppression and called out the oppressors — particularly the ones who used religion for their own gain or the control of others.
The teachings of Jesus are clear and practical. There’s little mystery to them. They are focused on living life in a good way, caring for others, and standing against injustice. As for what job to take, who to marry, or what lottery numbers to select….well, those choices are yours. But it seems to me that in the day to day decisions a follower of Jesus would ask questions like: is my choice in this matter demonstrating trust in God’s goodness in my life? Does this decision demonstrate love and compassion toward others? Does the way I live oppress others or lead to equality among all people? Ultimately, there are no quick easy answers for the follower of Jesus. Perhaps that’s why some people think that plopping a finger on a random page of the Bible is an attractive solution to life’s challenges. By treating the Bible as a magic book, they don’t have to take the actual teachings of Jesus to heart.
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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.