This past month I’ve deliberately minimized how much I seek out online or television news.
It’s hard to overestimate the positive effect of unplugging from mainstream media. You can never tell how much the unsettling effects of threats, outrageous behavior, anger, whining, have upon you until you silence it. You old timers would call this a return to Mayberry, but I call it a return to Pineville, to the hometown of my youth. This was before the internet, even before Walmart, to a period when you either had to buy a newspaper, or make sure you were in front of the television at a certain slot every evening to hear news that troubled you. Most of life remained an emotional silence that was up to you to fill, which you usually did with friends, family, or hobbies.
I recently filled some of that space by reading Matthew chapters 5 through 7, where Jesus describes the character and constitution of the Kingdom of God. It’s amazing what some interior silence will do for your reading and how deeply you can process content. I was struck how these chapters don’t describe any national or geopolitical entity, nor do they reflect some type of prescribed social ideal. In fact, they didn’t describe me much, either, a man who has been active in the faith for 35 years.
These verses are a blueprint of interior spiritual health, and they remind me I’m not so healthy. As I read Jesus’ words about anger, I’m warned about what an angry dude I am, of how little patience I have for the quirks of my spouse, for slow drivers, for the cashier who doesn’t move fast enough. And then Jesus addresses love, a positive force that I can’t manufacture, especially for those who have over the years become enemies to me. The best I can squeeze out for them, is not wanting them dead. Then when Jesus talks about lust, good works, and generosity, I realize even more I have a long way to go.
I also know folks who are activist oriented, and it just so happens that many of the sentiments of these chapters are truly other oriented. But the folks demanding righteousness and calling for mercy are mostly not that way themselves. My wife has complained to me about enlightened liberals making the crudest kind of sexual comments toward her. And of course, we can easily see those who vie for mercy and love filling online comment sections with hate for whoever doesn’t agree with them. So whether you hold an evangelical view, or you are a social activist, or liberal, or all the above and more, you don’t have a corner on these verses.
The fact is, when Jesus speaks these verses, they describe Him. Conformation to His image requires not only good intentions, but another life, and not only another life, but the ongoing work of it within.