I’m a flawed follower of Jesus. I’m aware of gaps between what he teaches and how I live. There’s distance between his vision of the world as God means it to be and the world that my ego insists upon.

In other words, I’m a sinner. To paraphrase the confession I pray regularly, I’ve gone wrong both in things I have done and in things I have left undone.

Despite my faults, I want to want what Jesus wants. I long for the world he dreams of and yearn for the joy, justice, peace and love he offers. I hope against hope that his followers will join him in the hard and glad labor of helping all creation to flourish and all people to experience fullness of life.

That hope is dim to me just now, not extinguished, but flickering, because, though Jesus’ name is frequently used, including in public and political life, his ways are often ignored.    

To read the gospels is to know that Jesus welcomed strangers, fed hungry people, and befriended lonely folks. He opened his heart to people whom the powerful had pushed to the margins, was tender with people who had failed, and was compassionate toward people who had lost their way. Jesus catalyzed an ongoing movement to liberate people from every kind of oppression, whether spiritual, emotional, or physical. He healed people who suffered from brokenness and sickness, taught people who were searching for life as God intends it, and lightened the loads of people for whom the will and way of God has been distorted into bad news. He insisted on straightforward speech and linked inseparably truth and freedom. He called his followers to be peacemakers, to forgive people who wronged them, and to pray for and love their enemies.

As one sinner to other sinners, given who Jesus was and is, what he said and says, and what he did and does, I have questions: How can people who claim to follow him justify political violence (and, even, take twisted delight in it)? How can they spin deadly conspiracies, when it was a conspiracy that nailed Jesus to the cross? How can they prefer a right to own assault weapons over our children’s rights to be safe in their schools? How can they revel in harshness, applaud cruelty, and laugh about injury? How can they support systems which make the burdens of poverty and racism heavier? How can they sing about “Amazing Grace” and be so ungracious toward those who differ from them?

I don’t get it. 

Thomas Linacre (1460-1524) was a physician, scholar, and, later in life, a Catholic priest during a time when the church was afflicted with power-madness, corruption, and violence. As a priest, he read the gospels for himself (not common in those days) unfiltered by pronouncements made and positions imposed by others. What he discovered about Jesus in those pages unsettled him in right and good ways.  He said: “Either these are not the Gospels, or we are not Christians.”

Read the Gospels. Get Jesus clearly in view. Then ask the most crucial question: How much like him are we?