At some point before her death in 1994, my great-grandmother filled out a “memory book” for the family. It was pre-printed for this purpose and contained places for her to reminisce about her family, her marriage, her childhood, and so on, all of which she did.
On the last page, the book asked her to leave the family some advice. She hesitated to do so, noting that when she had needed advice, she had not asked for it, and when she asked for it, she had rarely heeded it. 🙂 She finished with the observation “to live as Christ came to teach us I think is a good place to start.”
I was raised neo-Wiccan. I have never been Christian. But I have spent a nontrivial portion of my life trying to determine what she meant by that.
This came to me again yesterday as I was reading this post by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville. Melissa’s own point is that it’s painful to hear folks like Rick Warren claim that Christians who commit hateful acts aren’t “real Christians,” especially when one is on the receiving end of that hate. And, although it was tangential at best to Melissa’s point, several of the comments (including mine) wandered into “what is a real Christian?” territory.
Specifically (because this is a lit-crit blog, so there needs to be some texts to crit, right?), I’m interested in the relationship between this text:
3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:3-7)
and this one:
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-45)
Because, as I noted at Shakesville, I think these texts are wholly consonant with one another if one sees the call to Christianity primarily as one of responsibility for others (what some might call social justice). The responsibility is not only not to cast stones, but to get between the sinner and the guys with the rocks. If one has accepted salvation through the martyrdom of Christ, then one has also accepted the responsibility to get between the sinner and the guys with the rocks, because to fail to do so is to fail to get between Christ and the guys with the rocks.
I can’t ask my great-grandmother what she meant by “to live as Christ came to teach us.” But I cannot think of a better starting place than to accept the responsibility of respecting others’ basic humanity – even, especially, when it costs us dear.