Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The Rights of the Christian
Last week Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have made sure that people of faith could not be forced to violate their religious beliefs to do business with those in the homosexual community. Last year, a family owned bakery in Colorado was sued and forced out of business because they refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Something similar happened to a photographer in New Mexico. In both instances the gay couples had several opportunities with other businesses not far away that would have gladly baked their cake or taken their pictures, but they were not satisfied with other business, not when they could force the hand of the Christian businesses. The bill Jan Brewer vetoed was designed to protect the rights and religious convictions of the citizens of the State of Arizona against such suits. There is a part of me that is really bothered by militant gays forcing individuals with religious convictions to go directly against those convictions to do business with them. Shouldn’t the religious have the right to say “No”? For the week leading up the eventual veto of this bill, I became upset every time I thought about it. Again my thoughts were, shouldn’t Christian business owners have the right to say “No”? Even the day she vetoed the bill and afterwards I found myself getting angry. My mind kept going back to the question of the Christians rights and being forced to do business with individuals whose lifestyles they know to be wrong.
Right now in our country this is a huge political hot button. I believe there has always been political hot buttons. Early in our nation’s history the political hot button was “taxation without representation”, later there it was slavery, then women’s rights, then the rights of blacks and on to abortion, which is still one of the political hot buttons today. We, as Christians, can get pretty emotional about these issues, and understandably so. But can I challenge you to re-think your position? Or perhaps I should change that to, change what you think about. Move away from dwelling on what our rights are and move into what would Jesus do?
Let’s think back to the days of Jesus and see if we can come up with some political hot buttons He had to deal with. As bad as things seem to be for us, I think the Nation of Israel had things much worse. Their rights were being infringed upon in every conceivable way. Perhaps their biggest political hot button was taxes. They were ruled over by the Roman Empire and the taxes on them were significant. The Israelites hated paying these taxes and when the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus with a question about taxes His response was “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then He said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” (Mt. 22:20-12).
Let’s stay on the issue of taxes for a moment. To a large degree the Roman government did not use Romans to collect their taxes, they used Jews (the chief tax collectors were Romans, but they hired Jews to do their dirty work). The individuals who collected the taxes were required to put a certain portion of what they collected into the public treasury, but they didn’t just stop there, no they frequently collected far more and pocketed the excess themselves. Tax collectors were considered to be religiously defiled traitors who furthered the fortunes of the oppressor out of the pockets of God's people. Let’s just say they were hated and despised. So what do you think Jesus did when he came face to face with these low life’s? Well let’s look at 3 examples. The first we seen in Matthew 9:9-10; ”9As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he rose and followed him.
10And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples.”
What on earth was He doing? Didn’t he realize who He was talking to? This guy was the lowest of lows, why on earth would he want Matthew to follow Him? By the way, can I point out the obvious here? When Jesus called Matthew, this tax collector, to follow Him, he was asking Matthew to be a part of His inner circle, one of His closest companions. Still Jesus said “Follow Me.” Then He had the gull to have dinner with Matthew and a few of his tax collector buddies. This didn’t go over well with the religious leaders watching!
The next example is found in Luke 19: 1-10; ”1He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” Again we see Jesus welcome a despised tax collector with open arms, no hatred from Him, just love.
The last example is in Luke 18:9-14. Now in this instance Jesus is telling a parable so we don’t know that this actually happened, but His message is very clear. Let’s look at it; “9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Again we see Jesus look past the sins of the tax collector, pass on an opportunity to criticize and condemn and talk of forgiveness. It is interesting to note that, as far as I know, Jesus only mentions tax collectors 3 times specifically and each one of them found forgiveness.
So what does this have to do with our rights as Christians? In my minds eye a lot. The rights of Jesus and His people were constantly being ignored and violated, the Roman government and the tax collector’s mentioned above were a big part of the violation of those rights. Yet Jesus doesn’t go on the attack when given the opportunity. He doesn’t criticize them or publicly call them out for their sinful lifestyle. He loves them and forgives them. As I think about what happened in Arizona last week, and what happened in Colorado and New Mexico last year, I can’t help but think that perhaps we, as Christians, are thinking about the wrong things. Instead of dwelling on our rights, let’s look at the issue from the eyes of the Savior and do what Jesus would do. So what do you think He would do? I tend to think he would bake a cake and load His camera with film.
Now just a quick note before you go on the attack. I didn’t say He would condone their sinful activity. My guess is He had some serious talks with Matthew behind closed doors. Good chance He did the same with Zacchaeus. Something had to happen with Zacchaeus because he goes on to say; “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” He never condones the sins of the sinner. He tells the woman caught in adultery in John 8:12 to “Go and sin no more.” No, He never condones the sin of the sinner; He just loves the hell out of them.
These are my thoughts. They are fresh and I have recently done a major shift on this issue. I would love to hear your thoughts.