Jesus was different. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5 – 7. Jesus spoke to a Jewish audience familiar with the traditions and laws he spoke of. He turned those well established conventions upside down, often repeating “You have heard it said… But I tell you” something different. Hating your brother is the same as murder. Lustful thoughts are committing adultery in the heart. We are told to love our enemies. These are just examples. And the Sermon on the Mount was just the beginning.
Jesus talked to people that good Jews just didn’t associate with. He talked to women, Samaritans and little children. He ate with tax collectors. Many of his disciples were fishermen. He stopped for blind beggars, lepers and cripples. Jesus told his Pharisee critics that it is the sick in need of a physician. Being righteous is not about merely not doing evil, but actually doing good. He told the Pharisees they kept the letter of the law but missed the spirit of the law. In all of their memorizing and quoting the scripture they had missed God.
Jesus left his followers with instructions to continue doing the things he had done. He washed their feet and asked if they understood the lesson; it was about serving each other in humility. He commanded them to love one another the way he had loved. We are taught by the Apostle Paul to have the mind in us that was in Jesus Christ, which is no small task. Jesus did things differently than the established religious community, told his followers to continue, and also warned them that they would be hated by the world but not to worry; the world hated him first.
Some are different in a bad way. Fred Phelps is different. He is the “pastor” of Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that preaches a gospel of hate. You’ve probably seen them on the news protesting military funerals and carrying signs such as “God hates fags” or “Thank God for dead soldiers.” There’s a lot of crazy in the world, and some of it is done in the name of Christianity. Much evil has been done in the name of the Church. The Crusades during the Middle Ages were the result of fervent Christians being misguided by the Church leaders of that time, the only people in Europe that were literate. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker probably started out doing well, but by the mid-80’s had been drawn in by the same greed that motivated much of the culture. It is unfortunate that many of us have been hurt by the very people we trust to take care of us. It may be parents, teachers or sadly pastors or other church leaders.
Christians should be different IN A GOOD WAY. If we are generous when the culture tells us to be greedy, if we meet the needs of others when society teaches looking out for number one, if we go to church on Sunday morning rather than the lake, the golf course or the cabin, if we are honest even when we think no one is watching, then someone will notice. You don’t have to become a missionary in a third world nation to be different. If you do slightly more than the very minimum required that is often enough to be different. Jesus said if we give a cup of water to the least of his children, it’s like giving him a cup of water. We will never do everything perfectly as Jesus did, but the goal is to increasingly become Christ-like. We should be found doing the things that Jesus did, and with a good spirit while doing it. Christians should be different, but only in ways that make things better. “You are the salt of the earth.” Go… be salty.