Do you ever think that kindness is hard to find these days?
We live in a quick-to-speak culture. Wait… Maybe that’s too easy. Maybe it’d be better to say that we are a quick-to-speak culture. To assume that we are somehow standing outside of the culture looking in is to misunderstand our place. Not only are we quick-to-speak (whether online or offline), we are quick-to-anger as well. Turn on the daily news and you’ll probably find yourself watching two people, angry as all get-out, arguing with each other. Both persons, or each “side,” embodies a particular group of people and argues their side’s opinions and agendas forward. Having the last word seems to be the name of the game.
Then there’s Social Media. The place where everyone’s got something to say and they’re not afraid to say it. Whether it be a tweet about our current political situation or what we ate for breakfast, we’ve created a platform and it’s been put into overdrive by the people and for the people. Online, we easily reinforce ourselves and our opinions by following or “liking” like-minded people. If we disagree with someone, we unfollow them. Or another way we say it, “block” them. Like culture, Social Media is something that most of us cannot stand outside of and act like its separate from us, for we have become a part of the system ourselves. Reinforce. Block. Repeat.
Un-kindness is thrown at us on every other street corner. Even though anger and unkindness is easy to find, I think if we close our eyes for a moment and call to remembrance some words of Jesus (who many believe to be “the son of God,” myself included), we might learn how to be kinder people. I think that when we are unkind towards others, we are actually, to use a phrase from C.S. Lewis, becoming “less human.” So more pointedly, maybe we can be made human again through the way of Jesus.
I know I need to learn how to be a kinder person. I often find myself too easily angered at things that, from a second look, are pretty trivial. When I am easily angered or quick-to-speak towards my neighbor, I unconsciously throw love to the side of the road. In those moments, I choose to walk a path that’s much broader and much easier than the narrow path of love.
That Famous Love Quote that Turned the World Upside Down
In an age marked by the same kinds of unkindness and violence we see today, Jesus of Nazareth called to remembrance a revolutionary idea from the Torah (the first 5 books in the Bible). Not only did he call it to remembrance before the people, he embodied the idea in himself. He insisted that it was comparable to loving “the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -Matthew 22:39
Strangely, the question immediately becomes, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers this question for us with a parable, a story about a man who recognizes his neighbor in a bleeding and wounded stranger on the side of the road. To Jesus’ first listeners, the religious elite, this story was both astonishing and upsetting because Jesus tells them that the man who actually helped the wounded stranger was a Samaritan. It wasn’t the Priest. It wasn’t the Levite (considered the High Order of God’s people). It was the Samaritan, who would’ve been seen by Jesus first listeners as an unworthy person incapable of pleasing God because he wasn’t, by blood, good enough (you can read it in Luke’s account, 10:25-37).
What was Jesus getting at? He’s showing the religious teachers of the day that the game they’ve been playing for hundreds of years is coming to an end. God isn’t playing their game of self-entitled righteousness anymore. In fact, He never was. Nor is God going to be found in a Temple, where only the High Priest has the authority to enter in. Instead, Jesus insists that God is going to be found in the love that we for our enemy. He’s going to be found in the act of washing a person’s feet. He’s going to be found amidst a people who say that poor is the new rich and weakness is the new strength. Ultimately, God is going to be found on a bloody cross, forgiving the very people who are pounding stakes into His hands and feet.
The Narrow Road
Jesus taught people how to be truly human, which is what God intended from the very beginning. He taught people how to love and forgive and pray and think and worship. He taught that mercy triumphs over judgement. He taught that He was the only Way, Truth, and Life that people are ever going to find. He taught about eternal life, but He describes it differently than most people. In John’s Gospel, He says quite plainly, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (17:3).” Eternal life is knowing God in the face of Jesus Christ. According to Jesus’ Resurrection, it’s a way of living (knowing the Father) that starts here and now and goes on forever.
The narrow road is the difficult road of sacrificial, self-giving Love. It’s the road where we might have to walk an extra mile or turn another cheek. It’s the road of accepting God’s sin-forgiving, death-defeating Love for everyone. Instead of trying to win God’s love, we receive it and help others do likewise.
Living Life on the Narrow Road
Violence? Easy. Recycled anger? Easy. Unkindness towards the other? Easy. But to love our neighbor as ourself? Now that’s difficult! To include those who’ve been excluded by the religious elite? Not too easy, and we might even be persecuted for doing it. Loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? That’s going to take a lifetime to learn. But Jesus says that’s the narrow road, His Way.
Side note: The earliest Christians did not call themselves Christians. Rather, they called themselves the followers of “the Way (Acts 19:9).” Maybe we could learn from this?
In a culture of unkindness and violence, acts of kindness and love for the enemy are acts of rebellion. Turning the other cheek will be seen as weak. Walking the extra mile will be laughed at and seen as unnecessary. But according to Jesus, if we don’t at least try to live this way, we might be walking a path leading towards destruction. Recycled anger and the myth of redemptive violence is what keeps terrorism alive and well. Un-forgiveness and harsh speaking towards the Other is also what rakes in billions of dollars for the media. Both roads lead to destruction, along with many more.
Of course we humans aren’t perfect. At times we are going to want to give up and give in to the easy road of anger and hatred. I constantly find myself gravitating away from the narrow road (“prone to wander / Lord I feel it, prone to leave the / God I love”). But Jesus calls us to follow Him regardless, promising that he’ll always be with us. He’s the One leading the way, not us. God loved us first, not the other way around. There’s always more grace for the needy, more patience for the quick-to-speak, and more kindness for the unkind.
The narrow road with Jesus is, at times, inconvenient (at least from the perspective of the world). We’ve all walked the broad road a time or two. To say we haven’t is to lie and not have the Truth in us (1 John 1:8). But the only way the world is going to be changed for the better, the only way that God’s will and Kingdom is going to “be done on the Earth as it is in Heaven,” is by walking on the road with Jesus.
And walking on the road with Jesus, we can become kind people again.
“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12