Sunday, December 05, 2010

It's Christmas!

T'is the time of gift giving! Yay!  Time for all good Christians to go shopping!  Or is it?

I was raised in a somewhat Christian family and, much to the surprise of my parents, spent a lot of time reading by Bible.   I had been given one of those "red letter" editions at age 8 or so, with the words of Jesus in red, so, naturally,  thinking that was the point, I spent a lot of time reading primarily those words and reflecting upon what they meant.

Not too surprisingly,  I ran into trouble.  My young mind read things like "Thou shalt not kill"  (or more precisely the Sermon on the Mount) and thought, you know, it meant that people should not kill each other, even when they really, really wanted to and good cause to do so.

This "interpretation" of the words of Jesus socially seemed to differ.  "Onward Christian Soldiers" was taught as a hymn.   There were Christian ministers and priests blessing the guns and soldiers we were sending off to kill very large numbers of people we felt we had good cause to kill.    Oh.

So, there seemed to me to be a lot of cherry-picking and choosing of just which words of Jesus we were going to respect and which we were going to "reinterpret" to the point of reversing entirely so we could keep on doing what we wanted to do originally.

So, in this Christmas season, with fair warning that I may be going outside the comfort zone,  I want to take a minute to look at the idea of "gift giving".  Specifically, did Jesus have anything to say on the subject?

Yep. Matthew 5 has this section (From the New International Bible):

21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,a and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’
22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brotherb will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,c’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus Christ, and Christianity,  had a great deal of focus on the concept of "forgiveness" and specifically, this idea of removing anger from your heart for past sins of others,  real or imagined.

This is a long way from "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."   It is a long way from "getting even". It is a long way from "never forgive, never forget."   It is way more along the lines of  "Get over it. You haven't exactly been a perfect role model yourself, dude."

And, actually, Jesus said:  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." ( John 8:2-11 KJV)

I thought as a child that the message was pretty clear.   I still think it's pretty clear.   Before you go around giving presents to your friends,  or to God,  you need to start by clearing the anger out of your own heart for past transgressions of others on your turf, real or imagined, of any degree of seriousness.

He did not say you needed to be a wimp or a sacrificial victim. He did not say you needed to forget. But he did say you needed to forgive, and in particular,  not feel so self-justified about your own anger while being, frankly, so blind to your own past behavior and transgressions.

Are there people or peoples we still hold grudges against this Christmas season, that we are using as the basis for personal and international policy?  

Jesus said:  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." ( John 8:2-11 KJV)

And there was all that stuff about "Forgive us our sins as we forgive others."

I suspect, from reading the papers, that we have not individually or collectively, followed that advice.

Carrying venom around in your own heart tends to result in poisoning yourself.  If we as a nation are going to kill other humans, we should at least feel bad about it,  not vindictive and smug and jubilant and self-satisfied and self-righteous.   It is a bad policy overall, a bad habit, a bad way of dealing with conflicting interests, that tends to become self-perpetuating, sucking those doing the killing into the same pit, the same framework, and ultimately the same behaviors as those they are focusing on killing.

Jesus told us not go get suckered into that approach.   It's a good time of year to imagine listening to that advice.  Or we will simply become like unto those we take such delight in hating.

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