As I write this, our nation faces a time of great social unrest and political division. We are challenged to state publicly with our words and on social media what matters. But for too many, a person’s hashtag has become the litmus test for determining the value of their perspective and worth as a person. My heart breaks when I consider family ties, long-standing friendships, and even church congregations frayed and divided over three words. For some, these words are “Black lives matter.” For others, they are “All lives matter” or some variation of this.
It seems like everyone is choosing sides these days…
As I look at the social, racial, and political divisions in our nation, I am reminded of two of Jesus’s disciples: Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot. These men couldn’t have been more different in terms of their worldviews and their passions. Simon was at war with the Roman government and he was so passionate, so vocal, and so committed to this struggle, that “Zealot” was added to his name. He was really the “Jewish lives matter” guy of his day.
Matthew, on the other hand, was a tax collector for the Roman government. He was part of the system because the system was benefiting him. He was on the opposite side of the political, social, and maybe even the religious divide from Simon, yet they both came to follow Jesus. I believe that they did so because they each thought that Jesus would help them accomplish their particular agendas. I imagine Simon the Zealot thought, “Well, Jesus, if he’s the Messiah, will take down the Roman government with violence, if necessary.” And Matthew may have thought that as a close follower of Jesus, he would be well-positioned to get a lucrative role in the new system when Jesus came to power.
It’s not a stretch to imagine that once these two men learned each other’s perspective and politics, they had some very heated conversations around the campfire, probably within earshot of Jesus. No doubt, they kept waiting to see which side Jesus would take.
But Jesus never engaged in the debate of the day in the way that the culture expected or even demanded. He was never on the side of man because he was always on the side of God.
When Jesus was handed that coin and challenged with the question of, “Should we pay taxes?” by those who sought to trap him, he said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” He transcended the cultural debate about whether taxes mattered and refocused the discussion on the things of God–the heart of the matter. His agenda, as he revealed in Matthew 22, is reflected in the two greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor.
As followers of Christ, we must engage the cultural issues and debates of our day in a similar fashion, rejecting the methods or the frameworks of our culture if they don’t fully reflect Christ’s agenda. This brings us back to the conflict with those three words. When the culture demands that we use or reject a particular hashtag to demonstrate whether we are on the right side of the debate, it’s framing the agenda on its own terms.
How would Christ turn this question on its head were he to speak to our culture today? He certainly would not engage in a debate about who “matters.” He would challenge us to love our neighbor and pray for our enemies.” Love is a higher and more difficult calling. Jesus calls us to the ultimate standard of love: to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Why is this so critical? Well, because it’s connected to the core reason Jesus came: to reconcile us to God and to reconcile us to each other. That’s why he died on the cross. When we seek to apply this higher agenda to our current cultural problems, it means we have to look past the political rhetoric, social media posts, and hashtags and pursue reconciliation by means of Christ’s love.
We need to stop acting like the ultimate solution to the unrest and violence in our streets is a hashtag or a march. In order to see healing in our land, our communities, and our families, we need a rebirth of God-honoring righteousness in every heart. This rebirth will only come if we as Christ’s followers transcend the hashtags and re-align ourselves with his agenda of unconditional love.
You see, Jesus took two men diametrically opposed to one another and gave them the same call: “Come, follow me.” We must focus our attention and our ministry on individual hearts. We must take time to listen with love to those who are on the opposite side and find our stories in their stories.
Simon and Matthew, men who, as reconciled brothers, each died a martyrs’ death for Christ, found a way to put aside their “zealot” and “tax collector” labels to become disciples of Jesus. So, can we. Indeed, we must, if we are on God’s side.