On Saturday, the Church lost an insanely important voice when Rachel Held Evans passed away. There have been more than a few articles, posts, reflections, and thoughts put out there the last few days, and I can hardly imagine joining the chorus on any deep level. All I knew of Rachel was the one time I met her with my wife. Sarah had been a huge fan of Rachel’s, and when we passed each other in the hallway at a conference decided to say hi. Rather than the usual nod and keep walking that most speakers give in that moment, Rachel stopped to talk to Sarah and listen to how their stories were similar. I was struck by how unhurried Rachel was, how much she genuinely cared, how much she was every bit the practicer of what she preached. Her voice was brilliant, and will be missed.
In that same vein, I’m seeing a lot of posts from other writers about how Rachel inspired and encouraged others to write more. While her voice is not one to be replaced, I think the most fitting tribute to Rachel is for us to continue to write about theology and faith, about a big wide table of God where every single person is included, to fight back against the tide of darkness, and to be decent human beings to each other. And so, I keep writing. It’s not so much a tribute to Rachel as it is a desperate effort to pick up the big heavy baton she left behind and try to run with it, happy that I don’t have to run alone.
Which brings me to some grumpy old man time. Gather ‘round, children!
In the last few weeks, I’ve several times now come across a theology that makes me absolutely insane and needs to be addressed. I most notably came across it when doing research for a Bible study on this passage:
So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
This is as straight forward as they come, is it not? But a few different commentaries that I’ve read and more than a few blog posts want to make a distinction between brother and sister meaning everyone, and brother and sister being a reference specifically to believers in Christ.
That, to use a technical theological term, is lazy BS.
First of all, the Greek word here is adelphos, and it means (surprisingly) brother. We add the sister because it was a bit more generic in it’s usage than just a male dominant thing, but that’s really it. There is no connotation of belief associated here. There is no secret code name for Christians. There’s nothing magic about this word. When it says “brothers and sisters,” it means “brothers and sisters.”
To me, this suggests a humanity that recognizes that we’re in this together. Whether you are a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or an Atheist or an Agnostic, we are brothers and sisters in that we occupy the same planet, face the same struggles, feel the same pain, and behold the same beauty. Maybe that’s too wide a net for some, but that’s where I come down on the question.
But let’s say I’m wrong. If you believed that Jesus is referring only to believers here, and that they were the only people we had to extend such courtesy to, wouldn’t you (under that worldview) ultimately want everyone to come under the banner of Christ anyway? So why would you withhold the redemptive work of the Church from someone specifically because you see them as outside your labeled crew? That doesn’t make sense on a practical level at all to me.
But then there’s the theological level, in which Jesus basically himself breaks down this argument. When an “expert in the law” asks Jesus about who his neighbor was, Jesus reaches for someone who is decidedly outside the tribe of Israel. The Samaritan behaves in a neighborly way, not the insiders of the religious order. The expert in the law is so taken a back by this assertion in fact that he can’t even bring himself to say “Samaritan.” He just says “the one who had mercy on him.” This story tells me two things about the brothers and sisters discussion: 1) We have the same problems now that we had back then, and 2) Jesus had an answer for our questions even then.
The world is your brother, the world is your sister, particularly and especially when it comes to looking after each other. We bare a responsibility, a Holy Weight, to look after each and every one on this fragile little blue ball we call home. And maybe that’s hard, and maybe that’s going to require much of us, and maybe we just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and I understand all that. But let’s not try to twist Jesus’ words to fit our reality. We are called to love our brothers and sisters, full stop.
So, both because I believe it’s what Rachel was all about, and because I think she stole the idea from Jesus himself, I believe we need to open up a bigger table. I believe we need to do a better job loving everyone, both those in our midst and those on the outsides, those with a voice and those who have none, those who have influence and those on the margins. Everyone, every single person is welcome at the wedding banquet of the King, and in fact those with a snobby attitude about that are told where they can go. We can all do a little better to love one another. We can all recognize the needs each of our neighbors carries. We can all be better neighbors. I’m certainly going to try.
Who’s with me?