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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jesus versus the Governor of Alabama

Providing an address to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., new Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley explained, "So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

I've said before that accepting Jesus Christ as your savior is a prerequisite to being saved. I expect my understanding of Salvation is much different from that of Governor Bentley, although I don't know. I believe that Jesus provides a pathway to enter the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Way, if you will, to live in harmony with the creation, to learn to love everyone and everything in God's creation. I think He offers salvation from what Paul describes as the unexamined, selfish life of those enslaved by the law or by sin. I think the Christian goal of Salvation may be similar to Buddhism's Englightenment or the securlar humanist's Good Life, but they are not the same. Accordingly, I don't quibble with the notion that not everyone is saved.

Nonetheless, Governor Bentley wasn't making the point that a group of folks was saved and another group was not. He was saying, those that are not saved are not his brothers and sisters. What is his point? Is it that he doesn't need to consider them?

Jesus seems to disagree. Consider this story about who is in and who is out:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
As I've mentioned, but might be worth repeating, Samaritans practiced a different religion than the Israelites. It is not an accident that the folks that passed by were religous people. The point is that your neighbor can include even one among the dreaded adherrents of the false religion in Samaria.

Of course, some people are not Good like the Samaritan. But, Jesus says you are supposed to even love your enemies. Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:44. In fact, in the version provided my Matthew he kind of goes off on how unimpressive it is to only care about those people who are like you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 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?
This all leaves me unsure of the Governor's point. Luckily, Jesus was more clear. To follow Him is to treat everyone with love and kindness, including and especially those who are not in your group.

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