From CM Central.....
Bono and the Pharisees
by Michael Janke
I recently saw the concept video for Michael W Smith's "Secret Ambition." It's almost 15 years old now (wow), but it holds up decently, for what it is. If you haven't seen the video before it shows the story of Jesus adult life, from his ministry through his Passion Week, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. What stood out to me as I watched this time was the behavior of the Pharisees. Here you have Jesus Christ, who's whole existence could be summed up by the word "love," raising the dead, healing the sick, and caring for the outcasts. But there on the sidelines were the religious leaders, pointing fingers, becoming indignant and outraged, and eventually plotting to kill the man. To kill him. Why? What was Jesus doing that was so terrible that it deserved not only their scorn but a death sentence? Well, a large portion of that answer can be found in the fact that he was doing things outside of the box of what the supposedly righteous and moral thought was proper. The Bible tells us that it wasn't so much that the Pharisees were wrong about what the law said - they knew the law inside and out, better than any of the people. But they understood the law wrong. They became so caught up in the dos and the don'ts that they lost sight of the essence of why the law existed. Jesus summed up the law in two commands: to love God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is love that is at the core of our faith, but it was love that the religious leaders of his time lost sight of and in their blindness they condemned the very one who had come to save them.
John Fischer wrote a book called 12 Steps For the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me). I've heard both he and Philip Yancey wonder aloud if Jesus had come today would they be one of the Pharisees condemning him to death for his unorthodox, radical ways. I've asked myself that same question. And I hope that I would be able to see Jesus for who he was and not let my expectations and own particular church background blind me. But sometimes I wonder. I wonder because I see how easy it is for me now to point a finger of condemnation at one of my brothers or sisters in Christ when I see actions and decisions that don't fit my pre-conceived mold of what good Christian behavior should be.
We Christians get so caught up in that idea of the "good Christian." Or even what a "real" Christian is. If asked we could spout of a list of things that a good Christian should not do: don't drink, don't do drugs, don't cuss, don't watch rated R movies, don't go to clubs, don't listen to so-and-so's music, don't read feminist literature, don't gamble, don't support a Democrat, don't subscribe to HBO, don't dance, etc. It's as if the things we don't do actually define whether or not we are a Christian. Because a real Christian wouldn't do any of that. But when I read the Bible that is not what I see it telling me. These current rules that we in the church use to define real Christian behavior don't appear in my Bible. The Bible tells me that it's the fruits of the Spirit that evidence our faith. It tells me that the greatest in the Kingdom of God is the one who is a servant of all. And it is quite clear that love is the defining characteristic of a true Christian.
The Bible also tells me that only God knows the heart. That even Paul himself struggled with a thorn in his flesh (a particular sin) that he could never overcome, and that he constantly struggled with the desire to do what he knew he should not do. In the Bible I see that the one who was called a man after God's own heart, David, was a murderer, a polygamist, an adulterer, and a liar. How can one who committed all of those terrible sins be a man after God's own heart? It seems that there must be more to all of this than simple dos and don'ts. And that sometimes people who fall outside of our little box of expectations might be more than we would want to allow. It tells me that sometimes God uses men and women who are full of flaws in remarkable ways. Flaws and all they are still His children.
There's a guy named Bono. He happens to be the lead singer for perhaps the greatest rock band since the Beatles (debatable, but they're at least good enough to be in the debate). He also happens to be a Christian. He has made no secret of this and ever since U2's early days they have been followed and discussed in Christian music circles. But Bono has a problem. At least, he has a problem from some perspectives. You see, Bono doesn't fit the mold of what the average American evangelical thinks a Christian should look or act like. Bono drinks. Bono drops cuss words in interviews. And he's a generally all-around imperfect man. Because of those hard edges he takes a lot of flack in Christian circles, who wonder aloud "if he's really a Christian why did he cuss in this interview," or other important questions. Some will flat out deny that the man is saved; apparently they have an in with God, who tells them such things.
Years ago I used to wonder many of those same things. But I've come to see that in doing so I was aligning myself with the Pharisees. I was judging the man based upon small outward shortcomings; he did not fit into my boxed idea of proper Christian behavior and so I closed the box and left him outside of it. I see now that there's more to it than the bad language or the different way of doing things. For one, only God can know his heart, and so only He can be the final judge of the man's salvation. But we on the outside can look for evidence of the fruits of the Spirit. Hard to do, yes, since we really only know him from his songs and what we see on TV and read in magazines. None of us live with him or near him and so none of us can truly know him in any meaningful way. Yet even from the limited glimpses we get of the man it should be clear that Bono is a man full of compassion and love, especially for the downtrodden. He has become one of the world's most vocal advocates for the AIDS crisis in Africa, taking a stand for some of the most hurting and needy people on our planet. In doing so he is serving, and in serving the least of us he is serving Christ.
Bono, who does not hide his faith, has put a loving face on his beliefs. Now stop and think about this. Ask the average non-believer about the impression they get of most Christians. Chances are it will be negative, and associated with right-wing politics, money, and tele-evangelism. They are turned off by the impression. Then ask them what they think of a guy like Bono, and it's a different story. To the non-believer Bono appears to be a man of morals, compassion, and integrity (not to mention great art). He's a Christian, but he appears to be a different kind of Christian because he doesn't pretend to be something he is not (as in, perfect) and he puts action behind, or actually in front of, any vocalized beliefs. Thus, it is ironic that Bono takes most of his flack from the church body. We think he's a poor representation of Christ to the world, but the world seems to actually see Christ in him.
I am not here to turn Bono into a saint. The man certainly is not perfect and just like me probably fails a thousand times a day. But saint or no, it is wrong for us to sit in judgment of him because he doesn't fit our expectations. God is the only judge of salvation. It's time we took off our religious leaders garments and showed a little more grace, whether it be to another person, the different church denomination down the street, or the Christian band who wants to do things a different way. Our own particular ideas of dos and don'ts are not equal to God's, and unless we want to put ourselves at His level we need to hand over the gavels.
I do not want to be a Pharisee, but I still do not know what I would have done were Jesus to have come today. I cannot put myself in that situation. But I can see Jesus in those around me and treat them accordingly, with the grace and the love that He has given to me.