There are few things that can both depress me and make me furious at the same time. This is about one of those things. A headline on the BBC news website is titled Christian Infighting in Jerusalem. The title does not even begin to hint at the appalling nature of the story that follows.
In short this is the story. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed by many to be the place of the burial and Resurrection of Jesus. The church that stands there has been around for 1700 years. Six different Christian groups lay claim to some part of the structure and have done so for centuries. They are highly competitive with one another and argue over everything. Any changes, even needed repairs to any part of the building must be agreed to by all parties. The arguing is so intense that there has been a ladder on the roof above the main entrance since the 1800’s. It is still there because they can’t agree on who has the right to take it down. Probably the most incredible disagreement is over which group should control the keys to the main door. As a result, for the past 300 years, two Muslim families have that job. One family unlocks the door in the morning and the other locks it again at night.
Well as things seem to do at the church every decade or so, a fight broke out a few days ago between rival factions of monks. Now we are not talking Bloods and Crips and rival gains in LA. We are talking Greek Orthodox versus Armenian Monks. It seems that some monks violated the turf of some other monks or disrespected them and their traditions in someway. Then again, maybe we are talking Bloods and Crips here. It certainly sounds the same and at the root it is the same, pride, ego, distrust, anger, and hatred. What makes it more shocking in this case is that the monks are supposed to be followers of the same Jesus. They are battling on the very ground at which He conquered sin and death by rising from the grave.
Jesus must be weeping, especially in light of one of His final prayers in which He asked the Father to “make them one, even as you and I are one”. (John 17:21) And that is without even mentioning His statement that the world would know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another. (John 13:35) It is that statement that really has me broken-hearted. The world will look at that story and have further justification for not believing or following Jesus. Why should they. His own people are punching it out over who has a right to control the space where Jesus rose from the grave. How crazy is that?
Maybe we need to read again what Paul wrote to the Philippians when he said, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit. But in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 Paul goes on to tell us that in this way we will be just like Jesus who counted us signifcant enough that he gave up His place in glory to become a man who would be our humble servant. As that servant He would suffer and die for us on the cross.
It is easy to point at some dueling monks and see how wrong they are. Yet in less dramatic ways selfishness, pride, and conceit are evident in the lives of followers of Jesus everyday. Why else would Paul have to write what he did to the Philippians? Why else would God has preserved it for us to read? I know that I must wrestle those things to the ground on a regular basis in my own life and suspect that you must as well.
Part of the reason for that is sin in general. Our nature leans that way. But more specifically it comes out of a culture that says look out for yourself first. Make sure you are happy and fulfilled. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. If your marriage is not fulfilling, get another one. If your in competition with someone for a promotion, cut their legs out from under them if you can. The list goes on and on of the ways that we are told to have a wonderful life by putting ourselves first. But then there is Jesus who says, “if you want to gain your life, then give it up. If you want to be great, become a servant, if you want to be first, then be last”. We have been made with a purpose, to glorify God in all we do. Serving others, thinking of them before ourselves, being more like Jesus, helps to fulfill that purpose. Only then will we be satisfied. Only then will be find fulfillment. Only then will we be truly happy. Only then will Jesus stop weeping and instead smile on us. Because in our oneness, the Father is glorified and the world is provoked, not to ridicule dueling monks, but to be in awe of a God who can have followers who so love one another that they consider others before they think about themselves.
Being a follower of Jesus is about becoming more like Jesus. That means being willing to suffer wrong, even when you are right. That means being willing to serve those who do not even like you not to mention those who hate you and even persecute you for Jesus name. How much more should it mean loving those who also call upon Him as Lord?