By Jeff Lackie on January 27, 2024.
Increasingly often, I notice people who want the world to know they hold certain values. The word ‘values’ is important to them, and they’d prefer if everyone shared their values.
Whether these are ‘family’ values, ‘Christian’ values, or ‘Biblical’ values, when they discover I’m a Christian minister, it becomes especially urgent that they tell me about these things. They want me to know ‘we’re on the same side’.
The ensuing conversations around these assumptions can be challenging, because, to paraphrase my favourite character from ‘The Princess Bride’, “I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.”
For example, Jesus doesn’t talk much about values; rather, He talks about behaviour. He talks about how we might treat one another – but values, not so much. And when Jesus encounters the people representing the ‘values’ of his day, things get … interesting.
For instance, Jesus is often confronted by learned folks who want to know why he does not follow the tradition of the elders. Consider His encounter with the Pharisees and lawyers in Luke’s gospel (Luke 11:37-54). The Pharisees, having invited Jesus to dinner, gives him grief for not washing his hands. This is no mere sanitary practice; these are ‘Biblical Values’ of the highest order, and the Pharisees are the ‘family values’ police of the time. Jesus wastes no time in taking them to school.
He calls them fools – and means it. He speaks of hypocrisy, comparing them to unmarked graves – the most insidious trap for a people who took pains to avoid the taint of ritual impurity. Jesus mocks their attention to ritual, their note-perfect obedience of the law with no regard for doing justice. All talk and no action, as we would say.
It’s our actions toward one another that matter to Jesus.
Echoing the prophet Micah, Jesus would have us do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. He invites us to love our enemies and pray for the folks who belligerently misunderstand us.
These are true ‘biblical values’: values that do not incite us to judge or shame others, or to arrange them according to the imagined state of their salvation.
My reading of the gospels suggests that any questions about the state of my salvation were answered by the tomb vacated by the resurrected Christ. I need not follow any formula, I just need to try to follow Jesus.
Rev. Jeff Lackie is minister at St. John’s Presbyterian Church