Rumination III – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

In the ongoing debate about who and/or what is to blame for the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we’ve definitely seen the extremes of what folks believe laid out before us in the media – on Facebook, in blogs, in print and on TV.

There are those who strongly support gun rights and those who would ban all guns. Some feel that society is to blame and some see an individual at fault. Some support the efforts and policies of the Obama Administration, while others vehemently oppose them. Our opinions and feelings about the tragedy (and the direction of government in general) are dividing us – possibly as never before.

Those feelings are even finding their way into the Lord’s church. I’ll admit to having less-than-loving feelings about some of the things that my brethren have said about the current state of affairs. I disagree with their comments and conclusions, and sometimes am quick to draw lines in the sand – lines that would create a chasm between us.

As I said in an earlier post, Satan is alive and well in this world. Not only can he put his evil to work to destroy the lives of innocent children, he can also employ it to divide God’s people. Every minute that we spending arguing over who or what to blame at Sandy Hook or the direction that our country is headed is a minute that we cannot serve as Jesus served, or love as Jesus loved. Satan throws these distractions at us to prevent us from being effective in God’s kingdom. If he can get us arguing about things we can’t control, then he’s neutered God’s people.

So how do we maintain unity in the church in spite of our significant differences of opinion about how a nation should be governed? An example from the life of Jesus serves as a powerful example of how it can work.

If you are a student of scripture, then you know that Jesus hand-picked twelve men to serve as His “inner circle”. These men spent the three years of Jesus’ ministry walking and serving with Him. They had special access to Him and His teaching, and then were given tremendous responsibility in carrying on His ministry after His death and resurrection.

Who were these men? By all appearances, they were common folk. Some were fishermen. At least one, Peter, had a wife. They probably had families and the associated responsibilities, just like most of us today. But two of them in particular had a special “disconnection” with each other: Matthew and Simon the Zealot

Let’s start with Matthew. We’re told that he was a tax collector. Now, none of us really like dealing with folks who work for the IRS, but tax collection in Jesus’ day was a completely different thing. It basically worked like this: The Romans expected a certain amount of tax revenue from a given city or region. They allowed individuals to bid on the opportunity to collect that tax revenue on their behalf.

For example, the Romans might expect 20,000 denarii (a denarius was a day’s wage) from Smalltown, Israel. Individuals would bid for the opportunity to collect the taxes from Smalltown and submit them (or more – that’s how you won the bid to collect) to the Roman authorities. The tax collector was free to actually collect whatever he wanted from the townspeople (or beat it out of them), as long as he provided the Romans with whatever sum he agreed to.

Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish people, because they were “in bed” with the Romans, so to speak. They were seen as the evil minions of the Empire. They were the epitome of extortion, exploitation and unfairness. And to make matters worse, Matthew was Jewish and was exploiting his own people.

Then there was Simon the Zealot. We use the term “zealot” today to mean someone who is on fire for a particular cause, and that would accurately describe Simon. But in his day, to be labeled a Zealot meant something even stronger. The Zealots were a sect of the Jewish nation (along with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Essenes) who had a particularly strong dislike of the Romans. They hated everything about Rome. In fact, the Zealots wanted to overthrow Roman rule and return to the glory days of the nation of Israel. (A subset of the Zealots, known as the Sicarii, would go as far as to assassinate Roman sympathizers. I doubt, however, that Simon was among their ranks.)

So here you have two of the twelve hand-picked disciples of Jesus who really wouldn’t have cared much for each other. One not only tolerates Roman rule, but profits handsomely from it. The other despises it and wants it gone. In today’s world, one might be a supporter of President Obama and the other a hard-line member of the NRA.

So how did these two co-exist in Jesus’ ministry? Because they both came to realize a higher calling. They came to know Jesus and His plan for them and for the world. They came to understand that this earth is temporary and that what happens here among the nations matters little in God’s overall plan.

You may have seen the diagram, most often used to describe a marriage relationship, that depicts a triangle with God at the top and the husband and wife at the bottom corners. The idea is that, as the husband and wife each move up their respective side toward God, the distance between them decreases. At the point where each is one with God, they are one with each other.

The same can be said of any relationship. Imagine the same diagram with Republicans and Democrats at the bottom corners. Or political conservatives and political liberals. Or gun owners and non-owners. Or theological conservatives and theological liberals. Or whatever characteristic we might use to divide and separate ourselves.

As long as we stand on our own and hold tightly to our particular opinions, we will remain divided. However, when we begin to yield those opinions to God’s will and move toward Him, the distance between us will decrease. It’s simple to say, but hard to do.

Did Simon and Matthew become best of friends? The Bible doesn’t tell us the answer. But history tells us that both met a martyr’s death, serving their Lord to the end. I think that speaks volumes.

Did Simon come to embrace everything about Rome? I doubt it. I suspect that he still bristled at the thought of his nation suffering under Roman rule. But he came to understand that it was temporary, and that if he showed his countrymen the Way, they could come to realize true freedom through Jesus.

Did Matthew miss his cozy relationship with Rome, and the money that he made from it? I bet he did. But he came to know that true riches are to be found in service in the true Kingdom. And those riches can’t be taken away.

So, what’s the takeaway here? As a Christian, I don’t think I have to ignore the feelings that I have about what’s happening to my beloved country. But I do need to hold them in check and realize that my true home is in another Country, in service to the King of Heaven.

And I can’t allow my feelings to interfere with my relationship with my brethren, regardless of their political views. We serve a common Master and must do so hand in hand.

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