And for those who would rather read instead of watching the video:
I don’t know how many of you remember the original movie “The Karate Kid,” but I sure do. When I first saw it as a youngster, I thought it was one of the best movies I had seen. I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I would play around and imitate the “Crane Technique.” Anyone remember that one?
There was a very impressionable scene when the main character, Daniel, is about to begin receiving his training from Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel if he is ready to begin, and Daniel replies, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Mr. Miyagi then says, “Daniel-san, must talk. Walk on road. Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk in middle, sooner or later (squiiiiiiik) get squish just like grape. Here karate same thing. Either you karate do yes or you karate do no. You karate do guess so, (squiiiiiiik) just like grape.”
The implication is awfully clear. There is an either/or proposition. Either you do things one way or you things the other way. There is no middle ground.
A lot of times, we as Christians do the same thing with Jesus, and one of the prevailing thoughts regarding Jesus in the Church is that He is love. And if Jesus is all about love, then He certainly can’t do anything or say anything which is opposite of love.
We flesh out that picture of Jesus by citing many favorite stories and sayings of Jesus. “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:38-39)
There is the parable of the Prodigal Son, or as others have begun to call it, the Parable of the Prodigal Father who goes above and beyond to show love and compassion to both of his children even enduring humiliation to show them that kind of love.
And finally, there is Jesus’ new command given to His disciples at the Last Supper, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Yes, Jesus was all about love–all about showing God’s love–and we just need to love everyone like He loved us. This is what Christianity is all about!!! Love, love, love. It’s that simple. If something doesn’t speak of such love, then it cannot be of Jesus. “Walk on right side of road. Safe.”
Ah, but then one runs across stories and sayings like our Gospel lesson for today. Listen to Jesus’ words once again:
49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ (Luke 12)
Just what happened to Jesus? Where is all that love? He speaks of bringing fire to earth? He speaks of bringing division? What happened to love one another? This sounds quite different. It sounds more judgmental! Surely this can’t be right. It doesn’t seem to gel with the idea that Jesus is all about showing God’s love. Does it? Is Jesus more of a judge? Did Jesus show up to render judgment and call us to mend our ways and get our lives back in order?
Well, there is a portion of Christianity which builds a case for Jesus being exactly this, and they use the above Bible verses and others to show that indeed Jesus renders such judgment upon us.
Matthew 4:7, Jesus says, “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near!”
Luke 5:32. “I have come not to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance.”
“Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5)
“In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7)
And there is that long parable of the last judgment in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells of the last day when God will judge the sheep and the goats. Those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned will head to a heavenly reward while those who refused to show such compassion will end up separated from God for eternity.
Indeed Jesus came to render such judgment, and there are more than a few Christians who harp on this fact to no end. In fact, some almost revel in rendering these judgments upon others believing they are doing the Kingdom of God a favor. “Walk on left side of road, safe.”
Or so it seems. Either go with Jesus as Lord of Love and be safe or go with Jesus as Righteous Judge and be safe. Try to do anything more, and squish, just like grape. Right?
Wrong. Unequivocally, wrong.
For, the reality is that the same Jesus who showed compassion and love is the same Jesus who rendered judgment and called for repentance. The same Jesus who prayed that His followers would all be one is the same Jesus who said He came not to bring peace but bring division. It is the same Jesus on both counts. It is not an either/or, it is a both/and.
There is no doubt that Jesus came to earth to show God’s love and compassion. He came to heal. To bind up the broken hearted. To restore to community those whom had been shunned. To forgive those whom society had labeled sinner and unworthy to stand before God. To make people radically rethink the nature of God and who God truly cared and loved. One cannot read the gospels without noting this facet of Jesus.
But Jesus was also uncompromising in standing against that which was evil. He didn’t mince words when dealing with the Pharisees who showed a lack of compassion toward the poor and widowed. He didn’t hesitate to call such people “a brood of vipers” which is the modern equivalent of sons of female dogs. He didn’t hesitate to make known the reality of eternal punishment for those who failed to show charity in this life. Anything which stood in the way of God’s Kingdom or led people away from God, Jesus unhesitatingly condemned. And it was this uncompromising stance which led to division.
Love AND judgment. This is Jesus. And as His followers, it is who we are called to be as well.
There is no doubt that we, like Jesus are called to show compassion, mercy, and love. There is no doubt that we are called to welcome the sinner, the outcast, those whom society turns its back on. We are to love those who are considered unlovable. We are to love our coworker who scoffs at us and gossips about us. We are to bring God’s message of salvation to anyone and everyone regardless of race, color, or creed. Love must be a part of our lives, and we must sense it to our very core.
But we too must be uncompromising when it comes to living by Kingdom principles. We must shun the works of evil. When gossip is laid on our ears, we must not repeat. We must not return evil with evil. We must refrain from abusing anyone who is made in the image of God. We must reject dishonest dealings and refuse to cut corners if it means doing shoddy work. We must take such stands even if it means rejection and division.
Unlike the karate, Christianity isn’t about walking down a road. Christianity is about following a path–a path laid out by Jesus Himself. Too far to the left, and you’re out of His footsteps. Too far to the right, and you’re off the way again. Keep your eye on Him and imitate Him because if you go too far one way or the other, squish, just like grape. Amen.