I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Mohandas Gandhi

Ghandi's rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practicing law in South Africa. He had become attracted to the Christian faith, had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. And so he decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. “Where do you think you're going, kaffir (South African equivalent of the “N” word)?” the man asked Ghandi in a belligerent tone of voice.

Ghandi replied, "I'd like to attend worship here."

The church elder snarled at him, "There's no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I'll have my assistants throw you down the steps."

From that moment, Ghandi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.

It’s a shame that Christians can’t act more Christian. We’re certainly not a Christian country, no matter what the evangelicals say. Of course, they’re all ready to forgive Sarah Palin’s daughter for her youthful indiscretion, but they sure weren’t willing to forgive Bill Clinton for his oval office oral activities. The religious right is very selective about with whom they are Christian. Of course, the Christian Church was bound to have problems putting the teachings of Jesus into action. I mean, it’s not like Jesus left a really clear blueprint of how to run his church. In fact, he only ever said the word we translate as church (ekklesia) twice. He said it once to Peter, “On this rock I will build my church (ekklesia), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And the other time in the reading we’re exploring today.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

Honestly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”

Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew, Chapter 18, 15-22)

Here, as always in these books about Jesus, the word translated as “sin”, means to miss the mark, or to fall short. It does not mean to do a specific action. In other words, somebody sins against you when s/he fails to meet your expectations. And when that happens, Jesus says to go and talk to the person. That’s really good advice. I wish I had a dime for every time I heard somebody complain about someone, but never go and talk to the person about what it was that was bothersome. So when people bug you, tell them…in private. And if that fails, take a couple a people with you and try again. It’s good to have witnesses.

If that fails, Jesus says to go to the church. Now this word for church, “ekklesia”, simply means assembly of people. It was a political word originally. It has nothing to do with what we think of as a church. And in this case, he is specifically referring to a local assembly of people. So this is not some kind of religious justification for excommunication or anything. The words ascribed to Jesus indicate that if the church can’t change the behavior of the person pissing you off, then that person is to be treated as a “gentile or tax collector.” Man, that sounds cold. But it’s not as cold as it sounds.

In first century Judea, tax collectors and gentiles were to be avoided, not punished. So even to a Jewish community, these words would mean that you should avoid the people who bug you. Well, that just sounds like good advice. Don’t try and force them to change. Just walk away. But if we look at the some of the other things Jesus has said, we can see that we should not even avoid the person. Jesus says to treat that person as you would a gentile or tax collector. But Jesus also said to reach out to the gentiles. And one of his own students was a tax collector. In other words, when people hurt you, you forgive them. And you keep on forgiving them. You keep on reaching out to them. How long? As long as it takes.

Jesus says that what you do here on earth, you do in the spiritual realm also. Remember, he said that the kingdom of God was within each one of us. It’s all karma, baby. Jesus says that whenever two people are in agreement, God will do whatever they ask. The Greek word here is the same root from which we get the word symphony, sounds in harmony. So in other words, when people act in harmony, they can do anything.

But if you’re going to be in harmony with anybody, you better learn to be forgiving because there is no limit to the human animal’s potential for fucking up. That’s why Jesus tells Peter to keep on forgiving time and time again. That’s something we could learn in our society. We don’t seem very forgiving at all. Forty years later and people are still pissed at Jane Fonda. And for some reason, it seems like those people who yell the loudest that they are Christians seem to be the slowest to forgive. Christ, the Bible belt south still hasn’t forgiven the north for the fucking civil war!

This entire section of the Gospel According to Matthew, what is called the fourth discourse (the fourth of five speeches given by Jesus all of which end with the sentence, “After he said these words, etc.), the church discourse. It is this section which speaks to how his followers are to act after he is gone. This section of that gospel asserts that Jesus is the one to come, the Messiah. The entire concept of Messiah was a fairly new idea even to the Jewish people of that time. It really didn’t grow into the idea we recognize as Messiahood until a hundred years or so before the birth of Jesus. It is speculated that much of this section was added to this gospel by the early church fathers in Syria where Matthew was written for a mixed audience of traditional and Hellenistic Jews and gentiles. Yet, even if parts were added, there is clearly a theme of forgiveness in the teachings of Jesus.

If we want to grow as spiritual beings and in happiness, ultimately, we have to learn to forgive. We have to forgive others, and, most difficult of all, we must learn to forgive ourselves. We have to learn to forgive ourselves for missing that mark and failing to be the sort of person we want to be. Once we forgive ourselves and others, we can set about to the task at hand, building paradise. Another great religious teacher, Gautama, the Buddha, said, “Anger will never disappear so long as thoughts of resentment are cherished in the mind. Anger will disappear just as soon as thoughts of resentment are forgotten. Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

The late great comedian, Bill Hicks, once told some very funny, but rather unflattering things about Christianity in one of his stand-up routines. After the show, two big burly bruisers showed up at the stage door and said, “Hey buddy! We’re Christians!” Bill looked at them and said, “So forgive me.” They didn’t. But then, isn’t that just what Ghandi said? He also said this:

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”