Ishmael and Jesus

There have been few people in the history of the world who have influenced human culture as much as Jesus of Nazareth. Born some 2000 years ago to what was a minuscule hillside community in Israel, Jesus went on to spend three years offering a ministry that has been analyzed, written about and even worshiped ever since.

What can Ishmael possibly give us in terms of an understanding that millions of other perspectives have not?

Well, to start with let’s keep in mind that Jesus was a Jew, and had zero inclination towards starting his own church outside of Jewish tradition. He did, apparently, take issue with the way his people were choosing to emphasize and carry out Jewish legal traditions, going so far as to pronounce that there were really only two laws that God was concerned with as opposed to the famous Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai or the myriad laws laid down in the early books of what his followers call The Old Testament.

Matthew 22: 37-40 tells us that Jesus taught is disciples that all of the laws and the prophets depend on two commandments alone: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”

Given the relentless violence of Jesus’ time, much of which was done in God’s name (or even by God), it’s understandable with Jesus would feel the need to call upon a very Ishmael-like perspective when teaching his followers about the will of God. You see, if you always act out of love, you won’t go around murdering people, stealing their belongings, judging them etc.

How well does this perspective resonate with Christians today? If Jesus were to return from the dead, would he be pleased with the legacy which has been built in his name?

Well, here’s the great irony.

Jesus was nothing if not a unifier, yet for most of the past 2,000 years we humans have done what humans do, constantly parsing and mistranslating both his words and the intent of his teachings to suit our own purposes.

Let’s take a couple of the more popular examples, starting with the Evangelical branch of the Christian church and their treatment of the LGBTQ community. For some reason this segment of Christianity is incredibly threatened by what others are doing behind closed doors. How else can we explain their obsession in light of Jesus’ own teachings about those who are wired differently than the accepted “norm.” Let’s review every word Jesus has to say about those who are non-straight:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”

That’s right…he said nothing specific, so we have to refer to his default position on pretty much everything.

How, then, do we carry out Jesus’ instructions on treatment of alternate communities? Simple. We love them. Period. End of story. If your personal bias or fear prevents you from doing as Jesus taught, then just do one of two things: 1) Get to know some LGBTQ people (nothing demolishes fear of the unknown like making it known, or 2) Lock yourself inside your own ignorance and keep your mouth shut.

Preferably the former.

Our second example (and there are so many more), is abortion. The range of hysteria surrounding this issue goes from the “life begins at conception” myth to the Catholic notion that, as the Monty Python crew once penned, “every sperm is sacred.” Megachurches and billionaire conservatives are filling the coffers of the political party that promises to take away women’s rights, but what did Jesus say?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”

You had already guessed that, hadn’t you?

In this case, showing love might mean offering to adopt a child that might otherwise be aborted. It might mean simply admitting that you can’t possibly understand what is going on in the life of a woman who is considering this course of action. It might mean something in between. If you can’t accept what someone else is choosing to do with their bodies/lives, you can also choose the route of trusting that God has everything under control and defaulting to love.

Why is it so hard for Christians to embrace the teachings of the guy they call Master, Son of God, even “God” incarnate?

Volumes have been written attempting to explain this dichotomy…and while I can explain it in terms of the various religious and political angles that have been exhaustively explored, I can’t say that I truly understand it.

I DO, however, understand Jesus’ teachings from an Ishmael standpoint. Take a step back, simplify, and stick to what’s there.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love you neighbor as yourself.”

That, dear reader, is Christianity For Dummies. When in doubt, choose love.

——B

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