"Christian values," "biblical principles" and the name of Jesus are much in the news these days. Not because it's Lent (the 40 days leading to Easter), but because we're in a presidential campaign season. At least in some political circles, candidates must claim their Christian credentials in order to garner votes.
At the same time and sometimes in the same breath, there's talk of banning Muslims and building walls, labeling immigrants as rapists and murderers, and encouraging violence against one's opponents. As a Christian minister, I find such hatred and fear-mongering the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ both preached and practiced. As we who are Christian head into our holiest of weeks, it might be good to remember what he actually did say and do.
For Jesus, his teachings of "turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, love your enemies" weren't just feel-good phrases. They shaped his life. Throughout that life, Jesus showed the power of love to overcome fear. He reached out with love to embrace people who were afflicted with leprosy or mental illness who were banished from the community. He crossed the divisions of race and religion, telling stories of good Samaritans, welcoming people of all backgrounds, and eating with "outcasts." He respected women, honoring those who wished to learn (Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) and those called to lead (Mary Magdalene, the "Apostle to the Apostles").
Jesus also knew firsthand how hard it is to choose the way of love and nonviolence. There were times when his own anger or exhaustion got the best of him. He got cranky with a woman who wanted him to heal her daughter. He zapped a fig tree and overturned the tables of the money-changers. The Gospels record how often Jesus went to a "lonely place" to pray. I think it shows how much he needed, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., God's "strength to love." We do, too.
Overcoming fear with love "is not for the timid or weak," affirmed César Chávez, leader of the farmworker movement. "Nonviolence is hard work." Jesus knew that, all the way to the cross. At the Last Supper, he knelt to wash the feet of all the disciples, including Peter, who would deny him, and Judas, who betrayed him. Later, when the religious leaders came with their band of thugs to arrest him, one of the disciples cut off the ear of a servant named Malchus. "No more of this!" Jesus commanded. "Put down your sword." Then he healed the man who helped arrest him.
At any point that night or through the next day, Jesus could have called his followers to arms. He didn't. In addition, as clearly demonstrated in the fate of a fig tree, Jesus had the power to zap Pilate, Herod and all the legions of Rome if he'd chosen. He didn't. Instead he chose the power of love. "Father, forgive."
The journey of this Holy Week that begins with Palm Sunday reminds all who would claim the name of "Christian" that to follow the way of Jesus Christ is to trust the power of love to overcome fear and hatred. Moreoever, it is to commit one's self to that hard work of love.
Want to express real Christian values? Saying "no" to violence and hatred is a good place to start.
The Rev. Talitha Arnold is senior minister at The United Church of Santa Fe.