Jesus in the stacks

I was in the stacks getting paging slips. I see this guy using his laptop. He has his legs up on a stool. It is against the rules, but I don’t say anything. I’ve just gotten challenged about the rules for what we are going to allow as proof of address for library cards, so I leave it.

This guy calls to me. Sort of. “Becky!” he says. “Becky!” I’m not Becky, I’m Betsy, but he’s close. I have “Elizabeth” on my nametag, so maybe I’ve told him my name and he’s half remembered it. I tell my name to people I like.

The only problem is that I don’t recognize him.

I look, and look, I and I think maybe he’s a regular, but he has cut his hair? Nothing.

So I think about it, and because he sort of knows my name, I come closer. He says “I’ve got something for you.” and he pulls out a box of cookies and starts opening them.

I’ve just finished a piece of banana bread, and I’m trying to not eat a lot of snacks. You don’t keep 50 pounds off by eating snacks. Plus, I don’t know this guy. Sure, the box was sealed, and they aren’t homemade, so I’m not worried about being poisoned. But something doesn’t feel right.

I tell him I can’t, that I’m trying to stay fit, so I can’t eat extra calories. He tells me he just walked several miles. I point out that I haven’t.

I walk away.

And then I think, is this Jesus in disguise? Did I just refuse to share a cookie with Jesus? Is this communion in the library?

And I think of this verse.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

And I start to wonder. Am I doing the right thing? There are a whole lot of boundary issues with being a follower of Jesus. More on that later. At what point do I protect myself, and at what point do I realize that I’m safe all along?

Paul isn’t the Messiah

I just got into an argument with a minister. Well, that isn’t uncommon. I get into arguments with Christians and their leaders all the time. The issue is when we follow Paul and not Jesus. Plenty of Christians use the words of Paul to harm others, and to exclude them. This is contrary to the message of Jesus, and damaging to the reputation of Christians as being Christ-bearers.

Sure, if we discount the words of Paul, we discount the majority of the New Testament. But do we really need more? We have the Gospels. Isn’t that enough?

More does not mean better. If Paul’s words add to the message of Jesus, then great. It is when they take away that is the problem. Paul’s words have been used to attack and divide for centuries. They paint Jesus as aggressively intolerant – and that is not Jesus. The Jesus I met when I read the Gospels on my own wasn’t the Jesus I was introduced to by people who said they were Christian. The more people use the words of Paul when they are counter to the words of Jesus, the fewer people will find the real Jesus.

Our job as Christians is to bring Jesus to people. We are to bring that same healing love, that same forgiveness, that same compassion.

I remember thinking the same way as that minister. I remember taking a women’s studies class and a female minister was invited to talk to us. She said “Paul said…” – and I said “You mean Saint Paul?” She looked down her nose at me, as if I’d just offered her dog doo and said “I don’t call him Saint.” I thought, how dare she attack a leader of the church?

At the time, I was going to a church called “Saint Paul’s”. We heard Paul’s words almost every week. The Bible readings during the service are always one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, one from the Epistles (Letters) and one from the Gospels. So we heard a lot from Paul, because Paul wrote a lot of letters. Paul wrote while he was in prison for preaching about Jesus. It wasn’t considered Scripture at the time.

It is now, and that is the problem.

Paul isn’t the Messiah. When we follow Paul instead of Jesus we are going to get mislead.

Paul is for telling people they are sinners, and for making women be silent in church. Paul is against anybody who isn’t Paul. Paul did a lot to spread the message of Jesus, and that is great. The problem is when we start to think that Paul’s words ARE the message of Jesus.

The only way to differentiate between the two is to read Jesus’ words first, then Paul’s. Then we have to separate the wheat from the chaff. What agrees? What builds up? What strengthens and clarifies? Then – what takes away? What is added in that wasn’t there?

The philosopher Descartes talked about the color teal. He said he could explain what teal is by telling you that it is sort of green and it is sort of blue, but you really won’t know what teal is until he shows you what it isn’t. At some point it is peacock blue. At some point it is emerald green. It is seeing the line of what it isn’t that shows you what it is.

So, yes, read the words of Paul. Read them, so you can learn what isn’t the message of Jesus. Read them so you can learn what God’s message looks like through a fully human filter. And then learn from that. Learn how easy it is to take the message of Love and turn it into judgment and condemnation.

The minister had said that we need to “Speak the truth in love”, that a “sincere sin seer” should point out the sin in others. Because of my readings, I knew that “Speak the truth in love” is not from Jesus, but Paul. I said this, and said that Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our eyes first. Our sin is greater than the sin of someone we are trying to “correct”. The minister brought up the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. He said that Jesus said to “Go and sin no more.”

That was all he mentioned. If I’d felt awed by the fact that he is a minister, it would have stopped there. But Jesus came to take away all such distinctions. Jesus didn’t ordain anybody. We are all ministers. So we all need to think for ourselves.

Here’s the full text. It is John 8:2-11 (HCSB)
2 At dawn He went to the temple complex again, and all the people were coming to Him. He sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. 5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” 6 They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. 7 When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

See? When the minister just quoted “Go and sin no more”, all he was focusing on was the sin. He left out the line before that – “Neither do I condemn you.”

I mentioned this, and said that we cannot point out other’s faults, that we must show love without fail. He said we should point out people’s faults, that it is called intervention. He also then said that I was pointing out Paul’s faults, so I was contradicting myself.

I’m not pointing out Paul’s faults. I’m pointing out the Church’s fault when we take the words of Paul as the Gospel. I’m pointing out the danger of following Paul as the Messiah.

I point out where Paul deviates from the words of Jesus. We cannot base our faith and our lives on the message of Paul when it does not harmonize with the message of Jesus. Remember the hymn “They will know we are Christians by our love”? Sadly these days it is more judgment and condemnation that we are known for.

Intervention indeed. The Church needs one.