What Did Jesus Say?

            Jesus never spoke directly about abortion and homosexuality. He did say a great deal about life and love. He taught repeatedly about care for the poor, the danger of wealth, the abuse of religion, and the way of com-passion and mercy for the weak, the rejected, and the enemy.

So what does Jesus say and what would Jesus do? This question has always been the heart and soul of the Christian church. What Jesus said and did is our authority, the gospels are our primary source, and the Spirit of Jesus is our continuing guide in life.

Some people will object by saying that all scripture is our authority. I believe that as well. But the scriptures do not speak with a single voice about behavior and attitudes, about what is moral, about what is right and wrong.

Jesus goes beyond what the Hebrew scriptures said, and that was “the Bible” of Jesus’ day. At times Jesus even contradicted them in what we have called the Sermon on the Mount. Quoting from the Hebrew scriptures (the Christian Old Testament), Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said….” And then adds, “But I say to you….” [See Matthew 5]

In every example, Jesus moved beyond the traditional interpretation of the scriptures. He saw that the people had focused on outward forms of behavior and made that focus the most important thing while ignoring inward attitudes of heart and mind which Jesus said were more important.

People knew that murder was wrong, but Jesus said not to be so angry that we would curse someone. He told us to go and be reconciled with someone we have offended before we go to worship God.

Jesus goes beyond outward rules of behavior (do not murder) to deal with relational concerns. What we say and how we say it are also important. God cares whether we have offended someone, and if we need to be reconciled with another person, at least as much as God cares about our worship.

People knew that adultery was wrong, but Jesus said not even to look with lust on another person. [He said a woman because he mostly spoke to men; but it applies to all, even though men commonly wrestle more with it than women.]

Jesus honored the covenant of marriage with strong words for people who commit adultery, but he went beyond what scripture said to emphasize emotional and mental faithfulness as well. When a man looks at women with lust, he wants to dominate and use them for his own satisfaction. That happens within marriage as well. Faithfulness to another person grows out of love for that person and cannot be contained only within legal and physical boundaries of marriage.

People knew that breaking an oath was wrong, but Jesus said not to take an oath, not to swear, at all. Rather, simply be honest in all that we say.

Traditional interpretation of scripture has most often stayed in a narrow valley of understanding, focused on the outward limitations (do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not swear). Jesus takes us by the hand to lead us out onto a broad plain of understanding God’s intentions by turning our attention to what is inside of us, our attitudes, motives, unspoken desires. God desires simple, honest relationships of love for one another.

People had been told to limit their revenge, to take only an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But Jesus said not to take revenge at all. Do not respond in kind to someone who is treating you violently or unjustly.

Scripture allowed limited revenge for injustice and violence done toward us – eye for eye and tooth for tooth. Many Jewish people of Jesus’ day felt justified by the scripture to pray for revenge against their enemies, to seek it on their behalf, even to take it into their own hands.  Unfortunately, the same interpretation of scripture leads many Christians today in the same direction.

Jesus said the scriptures were wrong. God’s desire is for peaceful response, although directly confronting the abuser. Nonviolent resistance involves engaging “the enemy,” the unjust or violent perpetrator. Peacebuilders today often call it “the third way.” Rather than running away or passively accepting the abuse or injustice, and rather than fighting back with similar violence and injustice, we find a third way of loving our enemy in open challenge to their dominance and authority.

People had been told to love their neighbor, but were given permission to hate their enemies. Yet Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Follow the example of God, he added, who sends rain on all people, both evil and good at the same time. Go beyond loving only those who love us, for even the most despised of people will do that.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus goes even further. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back…. If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.” And then the clincher: “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”

And why would we do this seemingly impossible thing? Because God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” [See Luke 6:27-36] God is good to all people, not just those who love God. The kindness, mercy, for-giveness, and love of God go out to everyone regardless of their moral character or level of faith. And we are called to live the same way.

Jesus directly contradicts a major theme of the Hebrew scriptures, saying that God does not seek revenge on “ungrateful and wicked” people. God does not withhold good gifts from people because they are not people of faith. God is kind, loving, and generous to all. The implications of Jesus’ teaching form the foundation of what this book claims as core moral values for Christians.

I grew up in churches and in a home where the Sermon on the Mount and all of Jesus’ teachings were foundational for life. When I began to preach in my early 20s, I read the scripture and interpreted it according to what Jesus said and did. When I read passages, especially in the Hebrew scriptures, which made me wonder about the moral values of the people in the story, I would ask, “What did Jesus teach? What did Jesus do?”

From Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church, pp.20ffhttps://jimmylreader.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/moral-values1.pdf

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