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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

Feb. 15, 2017

Conversations about Jesus: A way forward

In the current hyper-polarized political climate, American Christians have come in for a reckoning: Who do we follow?

I would hope that we would all say we follow Jesus, and not just because he is the author of our salvation, but also because he shows us and tells us how we should live, and he sets the example for us in the kinds of qualities we should look for when we follow others.

It occurred to me that having conversations about Jesus might be the place where Christians could sit down together and begin to untangle themselves from the consuming politics of our day. Talking about Jesus’ qualities, and where we see them in ourselves and in others could be a good way to start talking with each other and finding common ground again. It also might be where, just maybe, we could take a lead in helping our country as it struggles to sift through its ideals and its history to figure itself out.

Jesus’ integrity is as good a place as any to start. Jesus was a man of integrity—it’s one of the things even non-Christians find most appealing about him. He wanted those who followed him to be people of integrity also.

We all know integrity when we see it. It’s the person who has the guts to stand up to the bully. The man who refuses to lie to save his own skin at work. The woman who speaks her mind when all her friends have a contrary opinion. It’s letting the supermarket cashier know they missed ringing up that box of cat litter under your cart. It’s not cheating on your taxes. It’s running down the man who has dropped his wallet and returning it to him.

Integrity is central to the plot of hundreds of movies, thousands of books. We admire integrity, are inspired by it and are challenged to live our own lives that way.

I recently was struck by an unconscious display of integrity in an unusual place—an instructional art video. The artist, working with a student, corrected himself and apologized on camera when he realized he had made an incorrect statement that had put the student in a bad light. It was an incredibly minor error he was correcting, and he didn’t have to do so. No one would have noticed. But because of his integrity, he made the correction—and he did not have it cut out of the video. The fact that he did this caught my attention and greatly raised him in my eyes. What a simple, but powerful, thing. I resolved to do likewise myself.

Much of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 is Jesus’ blueprint to live as he did—a life pleasing to God; a life of integrity.

Jesus says blessed are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, who are merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart. He says that we are to be reconciled to each other. That our “yes” should mean yes, and our “no,” no. He tells us not to retaliate when we are wronged, but instead to treat well those who treat us badly. We are to to love our enemies and pray for them. And we are to forgive those who wrong us.

We are not supposed to call attention to ourselves, whether by trying to impress people with how religious we are, or by showing off our good deeds. We are not to make amassing wealth and things our goal in life, but to live in ways that bless others and please God. We should regard ourselves soberly, acknowledge our own faults, and work on them before we criticize others. We should treat others as we want to be treated.

This is what a life of integrity looks like. If we are following Jesus, this is what our own lives should increasingly resemble. We should also look for these qualities of integrity in others, especially in those we choose to follow in our churches and communities, those we view as role models for ourselves and our children, and yes, those we vote to be our representatives. Integrity is one of the qualities that should be most important to us, in ourselves and in others.

There is no shame, and everything to gain, in Christians insisting on integrity. We can start amongst ourselves. When people act badly in our churches and our communities, even if they are our church leaders, we should look to how Jesus would have us live and treat each other, and insist on integrity.
We can set an example for our fellow American citizens. If people we have put into power are not acting with integrity, we should look to how Jesus would have us live and treat each other, and insist on integrity.

We may find we are a lone voice or a small group in a vast sea of voices. Our concerns may be drowned out. But through the act of insisting on integrity, we will free at least some people to think and live in a different way. We will be modeling what a life of integrity looks like. We may inspire people to look to Jesus as their example and become his followers as well. We will be acting in ways that reflect God’s Kingdom.

But first, we have to begin talking with each other again. Might not discussions about Jesus’ own qualities and what he expects in his followers, discussions about what it really means to follow Christ and pattern our lives and concerns after his, be a good place to start? After we talk about integrity, we could continue our discussions, venturing into other traits like compassion, truth seeking, wisdom humility, seriousness… there’s a good, long list. By focusing our conversations on traits that all Christians should agree on, perhaps we can crack open a door to fellowship with each other again. And who knows? Perhaps our example could help our country move towards camaraderie and a common vision in this uncertain, vitriolic age.



But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
—Matthew 5:44