Jesus on adultery/lust:
And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Jesus when confronted with an actual case of adultery:
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
[...] “neither do I condemn you...”
Jesus! Where's your consistency?? You should have at least cut off a hand!
This post is not about adultery. It's about Jesus.
When you read the gospels, it becomes pretty clear that Jesus is willing to speak harshly about things. Jesus speaks openly about things like judgment and morality, and he is unafraid to come down hard on people (especially the religious and the rich) throughout the gospels. And yet, something else also happens. Every single time someone tries to get Jesus on their side against someone, he seems to push back against it. Or the opposite! People like tax collectors, who stood for everything Jesus spoke against (greed, idolatry, mistreatment of the poor), seem to get special attention and kindness when Jesus meets them? What's the deal?
All we want is a little consistency, Jesus. Pick a side.
The problem with the way that we read the gospels, is that we look at Jesus through our own tendency to pick sides based on "issues." Jesus uses a completely different framework most of the time. And as he does so, it can feel inconsistent to us.
This is because the "single issue" that guided Jesus' actions was the value and dignity of every human, each bearing the image of God. So from the outside, it can feel like Jesus was constantly switching sides. But he wasn't. Consider the above example: Jesus knew that adultery and lust brings incredible pain and brokenness, damaging relationships and eventually leaving people feel used and others full of shame. No human should experience that, so he speaks harshly against it. And yet, when someone has actually done what he warned against, Jesus is the first to remind everyone that her life is as precious and valuable to God as everyone else's is, and he offers grace and advocates for her.
Jesus is, and always has been, on the side of humanity. And when that's the case, his radical love may even feel inconsistent. Do we have the courage to live this radical third way in the world?
Christians must have enough bravery and integrity to regularly "switch sides" when faithfulness to Jesus demands it.
Jacques Ellul, French philosopher and anabaptist theologian, wrote about Christians becoming so consistent that they are willing to switch sides at a moment's notice for the sake of love and compassion. He gave the example that in the French Revolution, the most Christlike response would have been working for the freedom and worth of the peasantry. But when the peasants began executing the aristocracy, faithfulness to Jesus would require Christians to immediately switch sides and defend the inherent worth of ruling class. They remained on the side of Jesus' peace, mercy and dignity. But that would look like switching sides, and likely even feel like betrayal to some of the revolutionaries.
So we stand with the oppressed, until the moment the oppressed becomes an oppressor. We seek to live in truth, but never in a way that threatens another's dignity. We defend the inherent worth of every person, even those who may have harmed others. This is a consistent view of the image of God in all people, and the way of nonviolence in Christ.
No worldly systems should ever expect "loyalty" from Christians if they begin to do things that diminish the worth and dignity of anyone, regardless of how good their overall goal may be. God's kingdom is not brought about that way. Jesus showed us that.
So we hold the conviction that every mistreated person is worth caring for and defending.
Hard stop. No qualifications after that.
And we hold the conviction that everyone who seeks to do what's right with their next moment is moving toward God's heart, regardless of what you've already decided about their past or their character.
Hard stop. No one gets to be written off.
And internally it means a tough shift:
It means we've got to stop thinking Jesus is on our side, and slowly and humbly learn what it means to be on the side of Jesus, moment by moment.
This is not simply about "big issues" or ideologies. This is about daily interactions. We can be right in our views and wrong in the way we hold them. We may be true in our statements and wrong in how or when we state them. But if we submit ourselves to Jesus and acknowledge the image of God in each person, we will move toward being consistently inconsistent, the way Jesus was.
Jesus, help us keep our allegiance to you first today, so that we might be able to see the value inherent in every single person we meet.