These folks resistant to the vaccine, they are driving me nuts. Just get the shot and be done with it! These folks are standing in the way of progress. It’s time, they got on board. If they don’t, well, then we need to find a way to make them.
Now as thoughts like that were flowing through my head this week, I remembered an uncomfortable quote from the preacher Bill Coffin. Coffin said:
God knows it is emotionally satisfying to be righteous with that righteousness that nourishes itself in the blood of sinners. But God also knows that what is emotionally satisfying can also be spiritually devastating.
Ouch, then it got worse. Some of Jesus’ words from the sermon on the mount popped into my head, words like:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
You see. I realized. I might feel all self-satisfied with my vaccinated virtue, but I was missing so much. What do I mean?
I have a job that gave me the freedom to get the jab whenever I wanted. Lots of folks didn’t.
Beyond that, I’ve never had an adverse experience with a vaccine or even with the medical establishment. Medical stuff doesn’t make me anxious at all. Beyond that, I’ve got no history where doctors used people with my skin complexion as guinea pigs for gruesome experiments. But black and brown folks do.
And yes, those caught up in the conspiracy theories drive me nuts, but I get that too. I had a brother-in-law who followed conspiracy theories, and I kinda understand why. He worked in a big company where it seemed that the higher ups were doing a lot of things at his expense and their profit. He had a keen sense of that injustice. So, he figured if it was happening there, it could be happening elsewhere. And lots of folks getting wrapped in those conspiracies probably had experiences like his.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe folks need to get the vaccine. I just realized my self-righteousness didn’t have a lot of ground to stand on. And well, when you’re judging someone, you can’t love them, and not loving someone, well, that’s a pretty big log.
But it’s so easy to go there about well anything. You can get judgy about folks who vote differently or believe differently or just like music or movies or shows you don’t. And then, there’s the judginess we give ourselves. We do something or fail to do something. And the judgment comes. The burden hits, the regret, the embarrassment, the guilt. How do you free yourself from that, especially in these day where folks seem to be getting more judgy about well, everything Here, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
These words that I just read from 1 Peter come as part of a longer conversation in the letter. Peter is giving advice to his folks as they are being persecuted by the government or exploited by slavery or dealing with unfair relationships in their marriages. And he knows how dangerously easy it would be for these folks to get caught up in judgment, how tempting it would be to react in self-righteous violence to the injustices they face. So, in the middle of his advice to let that judgment go, he lays out the reason why. He tells them. Don’t forget. In Jesus, God let go that judgment when it came to you. He turned the other cheek. He did not threaten or strike back. But Peter is making a bigger point than guilting them with Jesus’ example. Peter is reminding them. Jesus’ way won. It won so big that it healed them, that it even conquered death.
But why did Jesus’ way win? Why does the way of Jesus, of non-judgment, of suffering for the sake of others triumph over judgment and revenge?
To understand that, you first need to understand what Jesus won, and how judgment always gets in the way of that victory. And to see that, you need to get one word that Peter uses again and again here, a word that honestly isn’t translated all that well here – dikaiosene.
Wherever you see the word righteous or unrighteous in the New Testament, you are almost certainly seeing a version of that word. And the problem isn’t that the translators got the word wrong. No, the problem lies in that we get the idea of righteousness wrong. What Peter meant by this word likely doesn’t mean what you think it does. It’s why the same word also means justice. You could just as easily say here, “free from sins, we might live for justice” or “Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the just for the unjust.” And that gets closer to the right meaning, but we’re not there yet.
When the Greeks talked about righteousness or justice, they were talking about a right relationship, a right relationship with others or say, with the state. To be righteous or just simply meant you were living in a right relationship with those around you or with the laws of the land. And if you weren’t doing that, you were wrecking those relationships.
But for us, we too often miss that because we see righteousness as obeying some moral code or justice as having an ideological label. We take the relationship part right out, but when you do that, you miss the whole point of why Jesus came. Jesus came because human beings had gone so radically astray from what right relationship even looked like with God and with each other. We had lost touch with how much God loves us, and the more we lost touch with that, the more we lost touch with how to relate and love each other. And as a result, our world became filled with fear and judgment, with broken relationships between others. Why do you think Jesus made the two primary commandments, love God, and love others as you love yourself? Jesus was calling for the restoration of right relationship, of true, even just relationship. And for that to happen, Jesus had to overturn the way of judgment and show it for the evil lie it was.
Think about it. When the snake showed up in the garden, and told Adam and Eve God didn’t really care about them, in restricting the tree he was holding out on them, what was he doing? He was peddling the original conspiracy theory. And the lie of that theory opened them to judgment, to first judging and distrusting God, and then doing the same to each other. And even since, human beings have been trapped there.
So, what does Jesus do? How does Jesus free us? You can’t reason someone out of a conspiracy theory, but you can love them out. So, Jesus does just that. And n doing that, he exposes the lie, and show you the truth.
So, what is the lie? In these five words, “the just for the unjust” Peter tells you. Who is the just one? Jesus. And the just one suffered. He lost everything, his life, even the very love of God. On the cross, the source of all love literally lost the love and for what? Jesus did it for the unjust. Jesus did it for all those caught up in judgment and injustice. In other words, God did it for all of us.
That’s the lie Jesus exposes. No one has got it right. Every one of us is broken. None of us has the right to judge anyone. Why? We all fall short of relationship, of the love, of the justice. And if you don’t see that, then you’re trapped in the lie. As someone once put it. If you think you’re a saint, then you are so not one. No saint thinks they’re a saint. They know better.
And when you know that it frees you. Why? You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to pose. Because everyone has their ugly places. All of us entertain dark thoughts. Everyone carries baggage, everyone. And when you face that, fully and completely, it frees you from judgment of others, and of yourself.
But exposing the lie gets you ready for the best part, the beautiful truth. After all, Jesus became the only being in existence that chose to die. Sure, people give their lives for a cause or to rescue someone. But in the end, they were going to die anyway. They just decided when, that’s all, But Jesus didn’t have to die. Jesus lived in perfect communion, perfect relationship forever.
But in Jesus, God left that relationship behind, even left life behind, even love itself. And God freely chose to do that, even though it meant a suffering more infinite than we can imagine. But why?
To paraphrase Nietzsche, the one who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. So, on the cross, what was Jesus’ why? The Bible tells us. In Hebrews, it says “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” And what was Jesus’ joy? You were. Jesus endured the cross for the joy of bringing you, his beloved sisters and brothers, home. Jesus chose to be broken so that you might be healed. He lost the love so you will never lose it. He lost his life to give you life forever with God. And Jesus did that, because well, he loves you no matter what. So come to this love and leave the lie of your righteousness behind. Savor the truth of the love, of the One who invites you, who welcomes you, who loves you, who loves each of us no matter what. Amen.