Today’s blog post has been written by one of our past Crossroads speakers, Judson Bridgewater!
I follow Jesus.
But on Friday I was counselling someone who called himself a Pagan. On Monday someone else came inquiring of me about the rules of wearing his pentagram necklace in uniform. One of my daughter’s best friends is a Muslim. Welcome to multicultural Canada.
Most of us, can I assume, have been taught to be ‘nice’ Canadians: “Live and let live. Be polite. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but keep your religious beliefs to yourself.” Yet despite all these nice sentiments, lurking behind this veneer of ‘niceness’ we have seen some shocking examples on social media of racism, xenophobia, ignorance, and pride by Christians and non-Christians alike. Have you seen it regarding the military’s new minister of national defence? What about the hatred following the welcoming of 25,000 Syrian refugees?
And as I see this stuff I have to wonder if followers of Jesus aren’t called to act differently? Do you say anything to the Muslim guy who sits next to you at school? What about your doctor who is a Hindu? What do you do if your child’s principal is a Wiccan?
And yet it seems that many Christians follow one of 2 opposite paths followed by most ‘nice’ Canadians. First, some folks say all religions say the same thing. All beliefs are equal and true. Everything thing is relative. And anyway, someone’s religion isn’t that important.
The second path says that all faiths other than your own are evil, wrong, backwards. Those who follow this path feel it is their personal job to be judge, jury and prosecutor of anyone who doesn’t affirm that: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Can you relate to either of these two perspectives?
But could it be in the bible (Matthew 16) that Jesus is demonstrating, calling, and empowering his followers to respond differently than with these two extremes? When Peter says to Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” he does so amidst other vibrant beliefs in a multi-cultural world of the Greco-Roman Empire (not unlike pluralistic Canada today). And yet Peter still makes a definitive, exclusive claim of who & what Jesus is all about in a pluralistic world.
As William Willimon points out, Peter doesn’t say Jesus is the Son of the Living God, the Roman Emperor is also the Son of God and so is Buddha. Nope. Peter indicates something particular, something special about Christ. And Jesus acknowledges this particularly. Many folks today want to embrace something else by saying: “You’re a Muslim, I’m a Christian, but that’s not really important. After all, we’re all saying the same thing?”
I’m not so sure. If you patiently sit down and actually listen to a Muslim for more than 2 minutes, you’ll see we’re not saying the same thing. And for you to suggest otherwise, is disrespectful to Muslims and even to your own faith. It might be an attempt to appear gracious; however, it might actually be ignorant and arrogant. Its kinda like saying: “Hey, your belief in Islam is really unimportant and insignificant.” When in fact their faith might be the very centre of their being as your belief in Jesus is central to your being.
Jesus is not some mixture of vague spiritualities, he is the Son of God who lived, died on cross & was raised in a very specific way. It is possible to mis-identify Jesus as Peter points out. And yet just because some mis-identifies Jesus doesn’t mean you need to slam them on the head with the bible, does it?
Folks who take the second path by denouncing and condemning other faiths, often use this episode from Matthew 16 out of context. When Jesus asks: “Who do people say I am?” Peter responds with: Well, some folks say your John the Baptist, other Elijah. Heck the lady down the road thinks you’re a good moral teacher. That guy believes you’re a political rebel.” But how does Jesus respond?
As Willimon suggests, Jesus never says anything against other religions but he fiercely criticises his own followers. Condemning of other faiths isn’t demonstrated by Jesus. In fact, throughout scripture, its the outsiders like the Good Samaritan or the Gentile Centurion who are exemplars of faith. Jesus is hardest on Peter for his inconsistent lack of trust.
Finally, as Willimon remarks if you can affirm Jesus as Lord like Peter, it is only because you have been given a very special gift from God. It isn’t because you are so smart and spiritual.
“Blessed are you, Simon (Peter). Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my father in heaven.”
With that, your response to others might be to affirm Jesus’ uniqueness while respecting your neighbour and her different beliefs .
Who do YOU say Jesus is? And how does YOUR life demonstrate that reality?