Every narrative, every act, is a call and response related to faith. Faith in—or for some, faith in nothing at all—is a thread that weaves throughout our lives. Jesus of Nazareth recognized this and questioned the religious status quo; he confronted people who used religion for power and gain.
Jesus was a rabbi whose followers believed he was God incarnate and who sacrificed their own lives to represent his teachings—they refused to back down from his message of love and the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. This is how incredible Jesus was—that he prompted a movement of people dedicated to living sacrificially for the sake of others. In their minds, love had come down as Jesus and changed everything about their lives. They believed that Jesus’ resurrection had given them freedom to live in full relationship with God and to spread his message of love and peace over the sword and hate.
Jesus articulated the incredible power of love. He spoke of how religion can and should be used for bringing love and peace to our world (Matthew 5:9; 22:37–40; compare Matthew 26:52). Because God is love, as Jesus' follower John put it (1 John 4:8).
Religion, though, tends to distort the eternal message of love for power and individual gain. Religion has been wrongly used to justify the Crusades, slavery, segregation, and acts of terror.
Each of us needs to represent, in our actions, a better solution. We need to express our belief in self-sacrificial love.
Jesus is an example of someone who faced oppressive religion and said, “You've heard this ‘hate your enemy’ and ‘get an eye for an eye’ ... but I tell you this: Love your neighbor, including your enemy” (see Matthew 5:38–48).
We can summarize much of Jesus’ message as: Be generous to those who persecute you, condemn you, stand against you. Live sacrificially, for the betterment of the impoverished, marginalized, outsider.
Jesus called the rich, the powerful, and each and every person, to account (see Matthew 5–7; 23). He says to live self-sacrificially for the marginalized and to practice a faith rooted in serving others. Jesus even claims that this type of love is how he will recognize his true followers (see Matthew 25:31–46). Something to ponder there—sacrificial love is how Jesus recognizes those who know him.
In one of Jesus’ last messages to his disciples before his crucifixion, he focuses on serving others. With his carpenter’s hands, he washes the dirty feet of his disciples (see John 13:1–17). This is a living testimony of sacrificial love. He shows them what true love means.
Just prior to his arrest, Jesus says, “love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13 LEB adapted).
These teachings are, in large part, what led to Jesus being crucified. He called those in power to change their ways and they killed him for it. Jesus died for this love and for the full weight of every wrongdoing we commit against our brothers and sisters.
Later, the book of James will summarize this message of love as: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 LEB adapted).
Let us live as people who don't give into the pressure of our world to place ourselves before others—let's not let that nonsense stain our vibrant colors of love. Let's place the refugee, outsider, impoverished, imprisoned, and voiceless before ourselves. Let’s answer the call of love in word and deed (compare the book of James). This should be the narrative of religion woven through our lives, through our existence.
Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. And his currency is love. This is true religion.