Now, at the risk of alienating many, a divergence into the Christian religion.
Christianity, truly practicing it, is hard. A lot of people project the attitude that, since they accepted Christ as their savior, practicing their religion is all smooth sailing. They need it hammered into their brains that the opposite is true. Their work has only just begun, and it is not easy, especially because much of what the faith requires runs contrary to the behavior our culture encourages.
“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”
~ The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Until you can actually understand the parable of the prodigal son and the workers in the vineyard and apply those principles in your everyday life, you’re not there yet. And trust me, those are hard principles to swallow and practice. If you complain about welfare queens or student loan forgiveness or giving out handouts, then you still do not get it. You have to be okay with someone being given a leg up, even if no offered you one. You have to be okay with someone who has been a complete jerk once he returns to the fold, even if, in the intervening time, he has been tearing it up at your expense, while you stayed good and played by the rules.
Further, until you can “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. Until you can understand that it is more than doing good just for those who do good for you. You still do not grasp practicing Christianity. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:44-48.) Until you can go farther than the basic pattern of the quid-pro-quo social glue that almost anyone, good or bad, regardless of faith or beliefs, falls into, you are not there yet.
I get tired of people using a faith that teaches compassion, love, humility, and going out of one’s way for others, even when it is of no direct benefit and may even harm you, to espouse intolerance, lack of compassion, and turning a blind eye to the suffering of fellow humans, for whatever reason (including color of their skin, their religion, who they love, what gender they identify as, etc.). Simply put, what you are doing when you do that is not Christianity. Stop saying it is. Stop saying doing so makes you a good Christian. Stop using Christianity as a justification for such behavior.
As a child I went to Catholic church school. There was a part of a program that involved the parents and their children. One night a hypothetical was proposed to the larger group. It was laced in our modern, common experience. And the adults, almost to a person, rejected the person being described and said to not do so would be unfair. Except my father. A man the Catholic church had condemned because he dared get a divorce years and years prior. My father defied the rest and pointed out the person being described should be accepted and forgiven. My father was booed.
The hypothetical that had been proposed to the crowd was a modern-day example of the prodigal son parable, and only my father got it. Not because he saw the immediate parallel and others did not. But because he just understood that it was the right thing to do.
I mention this because those adults’ reactions were normal and entirely understandable. It also emphasizes that even when sitting in a religious teaching context, people still find it hard to truly grasp what the Christian faith asks them to do.
Christianity is not easy. It means forgiving people who you don’t want to forgive. It requires accepting people you do not want to accept. It means going beyond doing good things only to those who are good back to you. It is also about accepting things that on the surface seem unfair in the interest of spreading fairness and seeing a bigger picture. It requires being a serious grownup even if society encourages you to be petty, childish, or selfish.
You do not get to pound the table about how Christian you are either. That is also part of it. I could dig up the various Gospel quotes on that too, but I will spare you for now and save quotes for the end. Let people know you are what you are by your deeds, not your chest pounding. And those deeds are not large Church donations. They are getting out, doing, caring, loving. Every day. Even to those you would rather hesitate to do so for.
It is not easy. It takes work. Every day. Every single day. That is true Christianity.
New Testament Quotes:
There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.
Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Luke: 15: 11-31.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”
The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Matthew 20: 1-15.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13: 34-35.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1 John 3:16-17.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. … And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Matthew 6: 1, 5-6.