“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control … Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. … Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ ….”
Paul, the apostle who is identified as writing much of the New Testament, always operated with a central focus: Christians must live in community, within the spiritual and invisible bonds woven when common faith and belief in the Christ are shared.
It is an ideal vision and template at its best.
Widespread celebration and commemoration of the American civil rights struggle in the South 50 years after events has offered dynamic reminders of how much easier it is to live selfishly and without regard for others than to live for their needs, their situations and their potential as equal people.
Paul, it is necessary to remember, came from a background that was as vile and violent as almost any racist of any color in the history of the American South.
Paul’s issue was religious identity. He loved his Jewish identity, and he spent years hating the new Christian identity that was beginning to threaten several kinds of religious orthodoxy, especially Judaism.
Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia clearly sets expectations for what is in mutual best interests, regardless of background or region or race or gender, or religion of origin.
Communities fail when self-interest trumps mutual benefit and caring.
The journalist, writer and political operative Bill Moyers first of all was a Baptist preacher, and his ability to relate faith stories to life in communities that are diverse is unusual but resonates with many who place inclusion high in their priorities:
“…On an impulse I reached for the Bible in the pew in front of me. It fell open to the Gospel of Matthew where the life of Jesus unfolds chapter by chapter. Glancing at the headings I was reminded of the central events of that brief but intense life and of the great themes of his ministry: There was Jesus being baptized; Jesus tempted in the Wilderness; Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount; speaking in parables; healing the leper, the blind, the cripple; feeding the hungry … And then – in the 21st chapter – a change. … Jesus becomes angry.”
“Jesus – angry! … I realized: There is a place for anger in this world. It is important to be reminded that some things are worth getting angry about.”
Moyers, a sometimes fiery liberal, continues to explain that he believes the Jesus of the early church and of scripture has been hijacked by people who give first priority to selfish ends.
He writes, “The very Jesus who stood in Nazareth and proclaimed, ‘The Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.’ The very Jesus who told 5,000 hungry people that all of you will be fed, not just some of you. The very Jesus who challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day by feeding the hungry on the Sabbath, who offered kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast, who said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children … has been turned from a champion of the dispossessed into a guardian of the privileged.”
His point for authentic communities of faith: “Let’s get Jesus back.”
And live like him.