The newspaper I read allows readers to submit anonymous comments without having to take ownership of what they write. They write about everything from politics to trends to crime news.
“I believe in ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’” wrote one recent contributor. “The family that abused and tortured their (sic) foster child should receive the same treatment!”
The writer is referring to a recent case in which foster parents are accused of abusing and neglecting a teen aged girl, resulting in her death. He didn’t bother to explain the “eye for an eye” passage from the Hebrew Bible or add the rest of what Jesus said.
Meant to Restrict Retaliation
In the Hebrew Bible, “an eye for an eye” was meant to restrict retaliation to no more than that, according to some Scripture scholars. And Jesus used the passage to teach that his followers should not seek retaliation but should, in scriptural hyperbole, “turn the other cheek.”
I know nothing about the writer in the newspaper, but is it possible that he/she is another avowed Christian who fails to take seriously Jesus’ teachings? There’s no hint of a readiness to forgo retaliation, forgive, be a peacemaker or Good Samaritan or to love neighbor and give generously of oneself and ones’ goods.
Fact is, many of us who profess Christianity and other Judeo-Christian beliefs appear to be less than serious about our faith. We refuse to recognize that it is counter-cultural. We believe we can simply adopt our culture’s popular beliefs and still call ourselves Christians or Jews.
Consequently, our beliefs become platitudes, our values unlikely to make any difference.
Jesus turned on their head the cultural values of his day, and those of our day. Although he emphasized God’s extravagant willingness to forgive, he made clear that his followers can’t love money, power, stuff, violence or irresponsible sex and still legitimately call themselves his followers.
I wrote previously about Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love, an exhortation on family life published last year. It has a lot to say about love – perhaps the most important word in the Christian and Hebrew Bibles – and it’s not just for families.
“Christ proposed as the distinctive sign of his disciples the law of love and the gift of self for others,” the Pope says, and love “… bears fruit in mercy and forgiveness. We see this in a particular way in the scene of the woman caught in adultery; in front of the Temple, the woman is surrounded by her accusers, but later, alone with Jesus, she meets not condemnation but the admonition to lead a more worthy life.”
Francis acknowledges something about which we’re all aware, that “individuals, in personal and family life … receive less and less support from social structures than in the past.” If you want to search for God in today’s world, for instance, you can’t expect support from the media, the popular culture, government or even family and friends.
Desires Considered Absolute?
And today’s rampant individualism makes it difficult to buy into a communal religion like Christianity. It leads in some cases, the Pope says, “to the idea that one’s personality is shaped by his or her desires, which are considered absolute. The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility ….”
The Pope, however, tries to see things as they are. There is no sense, he says, “in simply decrying present-day evils, as if this could change things. Nor it is helpful to try to impose rules by sheer authority. What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations” of our faith.
People searching for God may be tempted to ask – using the words of the song made famous by Tina Turner – “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” The answer: everything.