Enforced Belief (And Other Myths)


Commissioning the Twelve Apostles depicted by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1481

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Jeremiah 36:11-26, 1 Corinthians (13:1-3) 13:4-13, Matthew 10:5-15

When Jesus sent out the Twelve to spread the Gospel to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he gave them several instructions. They were to accept no payment for any of the healing they did. They were to take not much more than the clothes on their backs, for the people should show them hospitality. When they reached a town or village, they were to select a worthy home to stay in, and “let [their] peace come upon it.” If the house turned out not to be worthy, they were to “let [their] peace return to [them].” And if any town or house would not welcome them, they were to shake its dust from their feet as they left it.

Note the absence of any type or coercion or retaliation. The fate of anyone who rejected the Gospel was ultimately between them and God. Of course the Twelve had no legal authority to enforce belief, but then again “enforced belief” is an oxymoron. Without the power of an empire behind them Jesus and his disciples were an all-volunteer movement. So how did Christianity become less about sacrificing and suffering for our beliefs and more about making others suffer for not agreeing to share them?

Jesus asks us to share the Gospel, but he doesn’t ask us to enforce it. When the Twelve met resistance, they simply withdrew the only thing they had to offer, which was the peace they knew. If someone doesn’t want to embrace the message, there’s not much we can do about it. Petty pressures like trying to wring a “Merry Christmas” out of a  cashier in a setting that is essentially a temple to commerce only reinforces the stereotype that Christians are intolerant. Do such actions seem like the love Paul describes in Corinthians – a love which is patient, kind, and does not insist on its own way? Real evangelizing begins with vulnerability.

A Christianity consumed with exerting the upper hand is far removed from the Beatitudes, the Apostles, and the greatest who seek to be least. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted for his name’s sake, not when we persecute in his name. When emperors (and their admirers) claim to be wearing Christian clothes but are more interested in destroying perceived enemies than loving them, speaking the naked truth in humility may be the most powerful witnessing we can do.

Comfort: Jesus is a comfort to the afflicted…

Challenge: …and an affliction to the comfortable.

Prayer:  Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name! (Psalm 97:12)

Discussion: Do you think there is such a thing as a Christian nation?

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