Gandhi's Knowledge of Jesus vs Experience of Christians
There is a well known story about Mahatma Gandhi, during his studies he became very familiar with the story of and teachings of Jesus; but, while he was living in South Africa he attempted to attend a Christian church and was denied and sent away because of his skin color. Gandhi is quoted as saying, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Now we could just pass this off as events that happened a long time ago during the South African Apartheid, but that would be completely missing the point. Confession time, Christians have often said and done things that seem contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This is true of the entire church in every era and in every place, including Community UMC. Sometimes, we have been completely hypocritical and Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrisy. But Ganhi's experience lead us to an important question, are we taking the message of Jesus seriously? But before we can answer this question we must ask another, what is the message of Jesus Christ?
These are Huge Questions
First, I want to start by saying that countless people in countless volumes have attempted to answer this question and I am sure that my answer or contribution in general will fall dramatically short. We will not be able to fully answer that question in one post or a life time of post. I also want to own up to the reality that my life and experience influence how I read the gospels, just like your life and experience influence how you read and understand the gospel.
There is also the factor that the Gospels were written for differing audiences and with various emphases in order to make the best case. For example, Matthew's gospel, more than the other three gospels, references prophecies and scriptures in the Hebrew Bible (a much kinder term than to our Jewish friends than Old Testament). There are good reasons to understand why Matthew would do this, the first reason would be to point out that Jesus was undeniably a Jew. The second might be to align him with a particular Jewish perspective or beliefs about the Messiah. The third would be to reinforce that Jesus was a great rabbi, a great teacher. Luke, like Matthew, has particular focus in linking the message and life of Jesus to the life of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. The most straight forward part of John's more mystic gospel is when he states the intent in his gospel, "these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name," (John 20:31). So the question of the message of Jesus must consider these things.
The Message of Jesus is that God loves us; basing this on the Sermon on the Mount, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, John 3:16 and Christ words from the cross. It is the unconditional love (agape) of God that motivates the entire mission and message of the gospels. But back to our question, do we take the message of Jesus , the message of unconditional love for all people, seriously .
The Message of Jesus Should Impact Our Lives
This message of love is everywhere in the gospels both in word and in action, and this love of God and people is expressed in grace, mercy, forgiveness, and self-giving. Jesus commanded his disciples to teach and obey all their disciples everything that he taught them, so it is not hard to understand why Ghandi expected Christians to imitate Christ, to act like Jesus. We should be imitating Christ and following his teachings; which is not, nor has it ever been, an easy thing to do.
Imagine that you are a person that has little to no religious background or are a relatively new to a community of faith, and you have heard some of the teachings of Jesus. What would you think if the community of faith did not seem to follow this love centered movement with their actions? There would be a disconnect. We would see that they did not actually take the message of Jesus seriously. How we live our lives, can and does affect whether or not people think the message of Jesus is true. Old adage is true here: actions speak louder than word.
The Extent of Love
How we go about loving others in our actions, both as individuals and as a congregation, is the most powerful way to reveal the message of Jesus. This will challenge us to love those that seem unloveable. But both the Old Testiment and the Gospels are clear that we are to love and care for all people. For God all means all; period, no ifs, ands or buts. This includes our enemies and friends, those that seek to harm us and those who want to help, (legal or illegal) aliens and fellow citizens, the rich and the poor, the oppressed and the oppressor, the marginalized and those who think of themselves as the center of the world. The list could literally go on forever, because all means all. There is no one who is beyond the love of God expressed in and by Jesus. The movement of Jesus is a radical movement of love. So Church, we need to go find somebody to love.
Grace and Peace be with you,