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Impossible Challenges?

Jesus issued some remarkable challenges to his disciples and the crowds that followed him around the countryside of Galilee.  He taught things like:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Luke 6:27-28

“If anyone strikes on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”  Luke 6:29

“When you give a luncheon… do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors in case they may invite you in return and you would be repaid.   But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”  Luke 14:12b-13

This is but a tiny sampling of the many challenges of Jesus.   I have had it argued, directly in my face,  that the reason Jesus gave out such “impossible” challenges was to make us aware that the human heart is loathsome and despicable, and we stand in need of constant forgiveness. It is argued that these are not things we can actually do, but function to reveal the depravity of the human heart.

My response, in the face of such a proposition, is that the result of that theological paradigm has been  ecclesiastical bodies that gather week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century to get sins forgiven that affects no real change or transformation.   People just keep coming back to receive the absolution, and then continue to live pretty much the same lives they lived before. That line of argument is a gargantuan cop out!   Also, that theology has been a manipulative tool the institutional church has used effectively for centuries.

I do not deny that I am in need of Divine grace with every breath I inhale, but I don’t think Jesus would have said those things if he thought his disciples and followers could not actually do them!   I am weary of an ecclesiastical paradigm that demands I confess and be absolved, but never seriously challenges me to make the life of Jesus my own and boldly live it, in all of its radical absurdity, in the world!

What I think Jesus had in mind when he issued such challenges was awakening his disciples and followers to the God Presence that lives deep within each and every one of us.  Forgiveness?  Of course!   But forgiveness and grace is not a sentimental pat on the head that says, “That’s OK, don’t think anything of it.”   Forgiveness and grace is the nuclear energy of the Divine that removes the overwhelming weight of fear and insecurity that has buried the God Presence at the core of my being so deep I was unaware it was even there!   With that weight lifted and shell broken, the Love that has been there all along is set free to do its astounding transformative thing in the world and, in the process, I am transformed into what a human person can more fully be.

Those who see the human heart as nothing but loathsome and despicable haven’t seen it at a deeper level.  These days for me, grace is the God energy that removes all that which blinds me to the God Presence at the core of my being that, when set free, propels me on a journey of the endless expressions that the power of Love can take in my life and grow me into a fuller humanity, and like Jesus, to challenge and change the world.

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