Not long ago my wife, Patti, and I attended a seminar with Dr. Terry Wardle at Ashland Seminary. During one session Dr. Wardle noted that sometimes the question is not whether something is right or wrong, but whether it is loving or unloving. This idea struck me and I immediately wrote it in my notebook. While this may not always be the case, this is a wonderful lens by which we can examine our choices as we live out our faith. Checking to see if our actions are loving or unloving is a great way to get closer to deciding, “What would Jesus do?”
Some will object that Jesus was the perfect man and lived his life without sin, and so, he could not have done wrong. And yet, he did. During his ministry, Jesus seemed often to be at odds with the Pharisees, men who devoted their lived to following “the rules” and, in fact, devised rules stricter than those contained in the Law so that, by following these ‘new and improved’ rules, they would never, even accidently, violate the Law. Simply put, the Pharisees made it their business never to break a rule. They were devoted to living that was always right and never wrong but if this is so, why were they so often at odds with Jesus?
The Pharisees began to hate Jesus and plot for his humiliation and, ultimately, his destruction when Jesus repeatedly revealed their hypocrisy and the failure of their rules-based morality. Jesus pointed out that what they had achieved was like white washing a tomb; it looked pretty on the outside bur remained full of corruption on the inside. The Pharisees were known to tithe from everything they earned, every increase that God granted to them, even to the point of giving ten percent of the growth from their herb gardens and yet some of them had elderly parents whom they allowed to starve. They justified their actions by saying that all their money was “Corban” or, dedicated to God. They had followed one rule so vigorously, that they missed the bigger ideas of “love your neighbor” and “honor your father and mother.” They had done what was “right” but had failed to be loving. As Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
At the same time, the Pharisees attacks against Jesus revolved around what they perceived as his wrongdoing. Jesus and his followers were rule breakers. Jesus sat down with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, and ate with them. No self respecting, rule-following, religious person would be seen socializing, let alone sharing food, with “those people,” and yet, Jesus did. As Jesus and his followers were walking through a field on the Sabbath, they were hungry and the disciples began to pick heads of grain, rub them between their hands to remove the chaff, and eat them. The Pharisees asked Jesus why he allowed them to do wrong. Clearly they were harvesting on the Sabbath, and everyone knew that harvesting was work and work was not permitted on the Sabbath. They made the same accusation against Jesus when he healed a man on the Sabbath. Since healing was “work,” obviously Jesus had done wrong. Again, as Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
In each case, the Pharisees wanted to follow the rules, to do what was right, but Jesus wasn’t as concerned with right and wrong as he was with being loving. Jesus believed that the Pharisees had missed the point when following “the rules” caused them to be unloving.
If we see ourselves in the mirror held up by the Pharisees, we should. The Pharisees weren’t bad people; they were the church leaders and teachers of their day. Like the Pharisees, I think sometimes we get so focused on “the rules” that we miss the point. When people of faith debate issues like homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment and other “religious” issues in the public square we often carve out positions that we believe are “right” and yet, at the same time, fail miserably at being loving. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept sin, Jesus didn’t, but Jesus found a way to be loving even if it broke a few rules.
As we enter the public square we must ask ourselves if our arguments are right, but also if they are loving. Because…
Sometimes, right is wrong.