One of America’s core blessings and foundational values is freedom of religion, and that means we have a delightful diversity of religious traditions in our country. My family’s faith tradition is Methodist, one of the very large number of branches of the Christian church. Christians, for those of you who may not know this, worship a man named Jesus of Nazareth as their savior. I grew up studying and revering the teachings of Jesus, and I still do.
So in this season, when Christians celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, I would like to encourage people to study Jesus’ teachings perhaps a little more than some people who call themselves Christian have been doing lately, to meditate on them, to take them seriously. For those of you who aren’t Christians and don’t know much about Jesus, you might be surprised to learn about what he actually believed -- I know the impression sometimes given by some of the most prominent so-called Christians would not make you think Jesus was someone you would want to emulate.
According to Christian scripture, when Jesus’ mother, Mary, was pregnant with Jesus, she predicted that her son would “use the power of his arm” to rout the “arrogant of heart;” that he would “pull the princes from their thrones and raise high the lowly;” that he would “fill the starving with good things” and “send the rich away empty.” When Jesus launched his ministry, he was clearly following in his mother’s thinking. In his first sermon (according to the Gospel of Luke) he proclaimed it to be the year of favor from the Lord, which in Jewish tradition meant a year when all the debts of the poor were forgiven, and he said his mission from God was to “bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, and let the oppressed go free.”
In Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, here are the people who he said were blessed: the poor in spirit, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted in the cause of righteousness.
The one time in the Gospels that Jesus was specific about telling people exactly how God would judge who gets to heaven, he said it would be those who fed the hungry; gave water to the thirsty; welcomed the stranger; gave clothes to those who didn’t have them; and visited people in prison. Those who failed to do these things, according to Jesus, would be judged lacking and not allowed to enter heaven.
Perhaps Jesus’ most famous parable was about the good Samaritan. Among Jewish folks in those days, Samaritans were the unpopular minority, immigrants who were looked down upon when they moved into Israel. Jesus said that the Good Samaritan was far more likely to go to heaven because he helped an injured stranger on the side of the road than the Jewish leaders who did not help.
Overall, Jesus talks about mercy to those weaker and needier than oneself 24 times; tells people not to judge others 34 times; tells people to love and forgive even their enemies 53 times; tells people to love their neighbors as themselves and treat others like you would want to be treated 19 times; and tells people to help the poor and/or spurn riches and the wealthy 128 times.
In Jesus’ parables and teachings, he also teaches about humility, and braggarts don’t come out well at all.
One final note before I leave the teachings of Jesus, about the things he never discussed. He talked about greed as a sin a lot. Pride was on the sin list. Adultery, lying, cheating one’s workers all made it. Taking from the poor was at the top. But somehow when he put together his list of sins, abortion and homosexuality never came up. Not a single time. Even though both were done frequently and discussed openly in the Roman empire and in highly influential Greek culture before that. He also never denigrated women or said they were to follow men’s leadership in church or society. He emphasized welcoming the stranger and the worth of immigrants like the Good Samaritan, and he never complained about immigrants or non-Jewish people.
I note all of this in the Christmas season in part because I see polling that my evangelical Christian brothers and sisters still support Donald Trump by astonishing numbers. They are far and away the most loyal demographic group in terms of Trump’s favorability. So I’m calling the Christians who support him to account. In terms of either the policies or the character of Donald Trump, there is no one further from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than this man you support. His administration’s policies have been to take health care away from those who are sick, to rip babies from the arms of their mothers, and to enrich millionaires with massive tax cuts. His words stir up hatred and division. It is time to go back and read the Gospels, friends. It is time to worship your Lord Jesus, rather than the man in the White House.
Whatever you believe about the dogmas and metaphysics of Christianity, Jesus was one of the greatest moral teachers of all time. It is clear from everything he said in the Gospels that he would be repulsed by everything Donald Trump stands for and believes. Christians, in this time of celebrating the birth of your Lord, come home and read what he had to say. Meditate on it. Take it seriously. And stop your foolish worship of this false prophet, Donald J. Trump.