Posts Tagged ‘gospels’

What Good Friday Says About Dialogue

It’s hard for me to compose a blog post on Good Friday and not write about Jesus. He is, after all, the central figure of the Christian faith, and his execution on a Roman cross is a key part of the central event. In Christian theology, the Crucifixion speaks volumes—innumerable volumes—about the love of God.

Does it have anything to do with dialogue? I think it does speak to dialogue, and the message is strikingly nuanced.

On the one hand, the Jesus of the Gospels waxes eloquent about the ideals behind dialogue. He blesses the peacemakers, commands us to love our enemies, calls for unity among believers, and identifies all these imperatives as a reflection of God’s very heart.  We cannot love people most effectively without knowing them, and we cannot know them without listening: deeply, extensively, in the spirit of dialogue.

Then there is the example of Jesus himself.  His mission, of course, involved delivering a message, so in the Gospels he does a great deal of talking. But he also listens and, I would submit, is changed by the listening. He listens in amazement to a Roman centurion and says, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:1-9). He listens to a Gentile woman who deftly argues that she too is worthy of his attention (Mark 7:23b-30). He asks his disciples who they think he is (Mark 8:27-30)—and I don’t believe it’s a rhetorical question.

That is the one hand.

The other hand brings us much closer to Good Friday itself. It is the end of a life lived not in dialogue with the religious authorities, but in conflict with them. His penetrating and sometimes caustic remarks offend them deeply. They see him as a troublemaker in a time and place where troublemaking could lead to Roman crackdown. And then, one Passover season—with thousands of pilgrims turning Jerusalem into a security tinderbox—this Jesus goes into the temple and creates havoc, overthrowing tables and chasing out moneylenders.

Here is what I take from all this. Dialogue is a good, to be sure. More specifically, it is a good to be used when it makes sense—and in service to something else. In Jesus’ case, that “something else” involved two higher goods that he practiced throughout his ministry: truth regardless of consequences and love that crosses taboos.

You would think that “speaking the truth in love,” as St. Paul puts it (Ephesians 4:15), would be uncontroversial. Not everyone, however, wants the truth to be proclaimed. At times, none of us want the truth to be proclaimed. Similarly, not everyone wants the unlovable to be loved (and we all have our own “unlovables”). The simple action of upholding truth and compassion, then, can get you in trouble.

Perhaps that is one good message among many to take from Good Friday. Pursue truth relentlessly. Spread compassion extravagantly. Use dialogue where appropriate to pursue these higher goods and others. Together with the other gifts that the Jesus of the Gospels has given us, this legacy deserves our commitment and our praise.

Christians and the Call to Dialogue

We Christians are notorious for fighting. We fight among ourselves over subtleties of doctrine. We fight with other faith traditions over what constitutes Truth. The Crusades, an extreme example of fighting if there ever was one, are a horrible stain on our history.

Fortunately, some Christians have made good progress in dialogue over the past few decades, especially in the field of interfaith dialogue. That is a very good thing indeed. It puts us in line with a Savior who, I think, would heartily approve.

It is true that the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life make no mention of dialogue. But Jesus in these accounts waxes eloquent about the ideals and objectives behind dialogue. In the Sermon on the Mount—perhaps his most sweeping single statement of his approach to faith—he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). A bit later in the same sermon, he exhorts his followers to “love your enemies…that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (5:44-45).

This label, “children of God,” fascinates me. It speaks, I think, not of mere familial relations but rather of affinity: people who, out of their deep connection with the Divine, reflect God’s orientation toward the world. People who reflect God are peacemakers. People who reflect God are committed to love.

What does this have to do with dialogue? Well, how can I love you most effectively—how can I act in your best interests, for your greatest good—unless I know you? And how can I know you unless I listen to you?

Listening also reflects what we read about Jesus. Among the numerous accounts of him preaching, challenging, probing, and delivering his message, several stories show him listening as well. He heard—and was amazed by—the faith of the centurion who asked for his servant’s healing (Matthew 6:5-13). He listened to the woman who cleverly parried his understanding of Jewish-Gentile relations (15:21-28). One might argue that he posed his famous question—“who do people say that I am?”—not as some test of his disciples’ understanding but honestly to seek their insight.

This same Jesus also prayed for another fruit of dialogue: unity. “I ask not only on behalf of [my disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21).

That’s what I hear when I read the Bible. What does your faith—Christian or from another faith tradition—tell you about the need for dialogue? I would love to hear your thoughts.