If you are new to Christianity or know very little about it, here’s the cheat sheet for Christian theology: we are supposed to find our definition in Jesus. His non-violent-Calvary-shaped-life-of-love is the blueprint for his message. He literally lived what he preached. And his politics of love are starkly different from the politics of power that the church has historically wielded over countries, denominations and congregations.
Now, part of the reason the religious aristocrats rose up and clamoured for Jesus’ execution was because he was upsetting the apple cart. He was tearing down their meticulously designed structures of oppression. He was undermining the authorities that were persecuting the people that they were supposed to help. And he was destroying a religious system that claimed to be about grace, but instead bred tyranny.
Jesus was setting out to destroy the asylum once and for all and his call on us to free his church from the asylum that she seems so keen to reconstruct over and over again echoes through history and through the pages of the bible and at a time like this, is ever more poignant.
Matthew 7 is a portrait of Jesus that shows him in all his asylum-busting glory. This passage is part of a much longer message that he is giving as recorded in the gospel of Matthew that starts in chapter 5. We find Jesus coming to the end of this counter cultural message in Chapter 7. Listen to what he says:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Judge not or you too shall be judged!
You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye!
Has there ever been a more pointed indictment against the asylum-trapped church than those simple phrases? None of us are innocent! All of us are guilty of most egregious sins, AND of classifying them in such a way that our personal ones are minimized, while those of the people that we intend to demonize are maximized. It is only when we recognize that grace has been freely and readily given to us that we not only recognize the planks in our eyes, but we in turn become agents of grace in a world desperate for it.
It is only when we realize that God is on the side of the downtrodden, the orphans, the widows, and the slaves that we stop using them as pawns in our prejudice-driven crusades against sexual minorities. It is only when we realize that the churches we belong to are exhibiting a kind of asylum-worthy behaviour, that we are able to realize the seriousness of the prophetic words of Jesus when he says this:
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
The conclusion that we must all come to, is that whether you are a Christian or not, the numerous good things we do and devote our lives to are mostly powerless to mask the stench of the crazy and hurtful things that we do. As churches we must accept that our lukewarm attempts at trying to re-write the stories of our faith communities are largely unsuccessful because the certifiable things that we do completely unravel all the good we think we’ve done. We are bad trees bearing bad fruit. We are not good trees!
This is why we need Jesus – each and every one of us. Christian or not. Through his life, teaching and his death, we see a man who perfectly embodied his message. He is the template for actions lining up with words without any caveats or explanations. What we see as we gaze on the wonder that is Jesus of Nazareth, is that it is only under his mastery that we are able to become more like him – people whose words line up with their actions.
Ultimately, this Jesus-following thing is not about our works or our displays of piety. It starts and ends with a leap of faith. Breaking out of the asylum in which we are trapped by our botched attempts at righteous living, and entering into the freedom that Christ offers, has nothing to do with what we can do. Instead, it has everything to do with what Jesus has already done by unlocking the gates and breaking down the walls of our prison.
I say this to you very plainly and very frankly. The good things that you do as an individual do not save you because the bad things you do tarnish you irreparably. The good things that your community tries to do are always usurped by the bad things your community does. This is why we are not saved by the things we do, but by something else completely – Jesus’ astonishing grace in his life, death and resurrection, AND our faith in him.
On our own, we are unable to undo the craziness of our history. On our own we are unable to re-write the wrongs of our faith communities. On our own, we callously cast aside 10,000 needy children around the world. On our own, we rebuild the asylums and trap ourselves once again.
Finding freedom and walking in it can only happen when we, by faith, accept the free gift of salvation that is in Christ. Faith is the key that will unlock the door out of the asylum and into the freedom that can only be found in Jesus
So I call on you this afternoon to step out in faith.
I call on you to grab a hold of the keys that will free you.
I call on you to leave the asylum.
I invite you to consider the message, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus
And when you have I invite you and welcome you into your true freedom.