Thursday, February 2, 2017

Kindness is Worth the Risk

I want to thank the person who showed me that a kinder universe was out there…
And that kindness is worth the risk.
 - Groot #6
by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

This is the Gospel.

Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love the stranger. Be kind to the widow, the orphan, the foreigner in your midst. Even if they don’t deserve it. Even if it’s risky for you to do so.

Especially if it’s risky.

Love is inherently risky. Showing love and kindness to someone you know well is still risky for, as much as you may believe he or she will reciprocate such love, nothing is guaranteed. Marriages end. Families become estranged. Friends have falling outs.

How much more risky is it to love those unknown, those we have no reason to assume will repay or even appreciate this love? “But,” as Jack Caputo said, “love always requires taking a risk – love is exposed to rejection, neglect, abuse – even for God.”1

God loves, knowing that some might not love back. Jesus prayed for those who crucified him as they were crucifying him.

But somehow we neglect this aspect of the Gospel. Sure, we pay it lip service and nod in agreement when the Sermon on the Mount is read from the pulpit. Instead I feel like we focus straight on the end and make everything about Heaven. It’s all about getting into Heaven and converting others so that they too can get into Heaven someday. Forget about their current pains and struggles because they are only temporary when Heaven is eternal.

But reducing the Gospel to such escapist fantasies greatly minimizes the actual ministry of Jesus. He ate with the poor, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. He was notorious for associating with the dregs of society and preaching in parables that challenged the status quo.

Should not this be the Good News? Should not the Gospel be showing kindness and love to those whom society says we should not show kindness and we should not love? Is this not the Gospel, instead of badgering one to recite a magic spell that will grant him or her access to heaven?

But Mitch! You are being so wishy-washy here, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me.”2 Well, allow me to be a little heretical here. It’s what I do. It’s my thing. If Jesus, the incarnated one, is the perfect revelation of who God is, then Jesus’ behavior is a glimpse into God’s behavior. And maybe, just maybe, the going through Jesus to get to the Father is not via casting that magic spell known as the Sinner’s Prayer that will get us into Heaven, but maybe, just maybe, it’s by emulating the Way himself. Maybe loving your neighbor, your enemy, and the stranger and engaging in other Christ-like behavior is far more “Christian” than anyone claiming to be “Christian” while abstaining from such actions and attitudes.

But Mitch! How will they know if we don’t tell them about Jesus?

Who gives a crap? Do you think the starving child cares more about why you gave him food than the fact that you gave him food? Do you think God cares more about if you witness to starving children than if you feed them? Sure, if once he’s fed he inquires about your kindness, explain that Jesus was pretty blunt about the subject when he said:

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”3

And to do otherwise would be unchristian, not to mention inhumane and just being an all around dick.

But Mitch! I already love my neighbors and peers and acquaintances. Well, good for you! However, love for your own is not love for your neighbor. In fact, I think Jesus explicitly stated that. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even the sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”4 If you only show kindness to people you know and like, what good are you as a Christian? If I only love my friends and family, what good am I as a Christian?

Lest one thinks I’m taking a “holier than thou” stance, let me remind you, dear reader, that everything I write is directed squarely back at me. For I am the chief of sinners, guilty of all things, for which the Prince of Peace was slain. As an introvert, I just don’t care for people in general. So, for me to welcome people that are strangers and different from me? No thank you. But, at the very least, even I can at least admit that the risk of kindness is the Good News that Christ preached, the Gospel which I strive to adhere to, though I will inevitably fail in that task.

But Mitch! You object, even though you might agree, for your church, pastor, what have you, would ostracize you for supporting such a polarizing position. Well, if your religious institution questions the legitimacy of your faith because you wish to follow Christ’s commandment to welcome the stranger, then perhaps it is time to question the legitimacy of your religious institution. Too often the Gospel that is preached only confirms the power of those preaching. If the Gospel you hear elevates, promotes, or even maintains your status, it is probably not the Gospel of Christ.

Instead, the Good News is that love, hospitality, and kindness are all great risks. But the risk is worth it.

1John D. Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), kindle location 1590.
2John 14:6, NRSV.
3Matthew 25:34-40, NRSV.

4Luke 6:32-33, NRSV.

1 comment:

  1. I like this, I want to like this... and yet: "God loves, knowing that some might not love back"? Really? Truly? Well there are a thousand counters to that proposition (unless you are using the Bible as a fundamentalist, self-referencing loop, which will inevitably defeat me). Take the 1816 Irish potato famine in which many thousands of men, women and children starved to death. It has been attributed to the random eruption of Mount Tambora volcano which caused a prolonged winter. That's how fragile the world God made is. How much He cares. How do you tell a grieving mother to love God back, with a child lost to famine. Its a great -if trite - proposition, but its a tired theodicy. This is but one obscure example of course, and we will exclude wars (South Sudan, Syria etc etc) because apparently these are all the fault of man's misuse of his freedom, right? Give me something more convincing than "God loves, knowing that some might not love back" Post Holocaust theology grapples with the question ... but lets not settle for vacuous dogmas...