Bob Woods: Who's the greatest?

Again today, I will be telling you what I believe about Jesus and religion. I hope you will remember that the words I use are my own and that I offer them to you for your consideration.

I encourage you to decide what your own truth looks like, even though it may differ from mine.

A great theologian, Francis David, a Calvinist Bishop who died in prison in 1565 after being imprisoned by Christians because he had different ideas about the Trinity, said, “We do not have to think alike to love alike.”

I agree with Mother Teresa in that, “We all belong to the same family. Hindus, Muslims and all peoples are our brothers and sisters. They, too, are the children of God.”

At 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 5, 1997, Mother Teresa’s long and eventful life journey came to an end.

By midnight the same evening, 4,000 people congregated at her Calcutta headquarters. They came to grieve the woman they simply called “Mother.” Most of the mourners were Hindus and Muslims.

Mother Teresa’s greatest distinction, I think, has to do with the fact that she worked primarily among Hindus and Muslims rather than Christians. She clearly had a sense of respect for the religious beliefs of others.

“Then they came to Capern-

aum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the 12; and he said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:33-35)

Mother Teresa was unique in her ability to disavow her own ego. She understood what Jesus meant when he said the two Greatest Commandments were love to God and love to neighbor.

She understood that Jesus expanded the meaning of neighbor to mean all of humanity, not just fellow religionists.

The sacred narratives of all three Abrahamic religions feature many of the same figures, histories and places in each, although they often present them with slightly different roles, perspectives, and meanings, we meet at the top, with the same God, and we all have a common view of getting back to the garden.

Jesus’ teachings were courageous and radical. They were a great departure from the teachings of the day. They are still courageous and radical. Do we do a good job of following them? Especially this one: “If you love those who love you, what is the merit in that … you should love your enemies.” (Luke 6:32)

Buddhists have similar instructions from their holy leader. Buddha (Siddhartha) said, “Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile, you are not following my teaching.” (Kamcupamasutta, Majjhima-Nikaya ~ 28-29)

The Dalai Lama more recently said, “Hatred will not cease by hatred, but by love alone. This is the ancient law.”

Who is the greatest? Have we stopped fighting? Stopped putting others down? Have we demonstrated the teachings of Jesus, the Son of God?

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision carries any weight, the only thing that matters, is faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6)

Bob Woods is the pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ.

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