Wolves and Revolutions
Audio: Wolves and Revolutions
We all see the results of external revolutions – sometimes peaceful, often times with people in the streets shouting, sometimes violent. The whole idea of a revolution is, of course, change. But behind every external manifestation of revolution, there is an internal revolution. Sometimes it comes through revelation that the status quo is corrupted, sometimes it comes when ego supersedes good instincts. Revolutions may end up benefiting or destroying large groups of people, but so often they start with just one person.
In the sixties it was fashionable to cast Jesus into this revolutionary mold, equating his 1st century ministry with 20th century radical movements. While this correlation is correct in one way – Jesus profoundly changed billions of lives – it also reduces Jesus to a mere street-peddler, someone who simply shouted louder than everybody else. The correlation also, conveniently, helped elevate modern street-peddlers to a holier status.
How do we know the difference? How do we separate the selfless from the self-seeking? Jesus talks a great deal about his followers being like sheep, easily led astray, and in truth we are. Jesus taught us to be kind and forgiving, which opens the door wide for those who would take advantage of our kindness in order to take advantage of us. But Jesus also warned us to watch out for the wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). Before following someone, figure out if they are a wolf. Or, and perhaps more pointedly, figure out if they are just playing to the wolf inside each of us (Matt. 15:21).
The method for discernment that Jesus sets forth is simplicity itself: examine the fruits of their teachings. Good trees bear good fruit, bad trees bear bad fruit. But in order to discern good fruit from bad fruit, you have to know which is which. This is why we start with Jesus. Clearly his “revolution,” even though it contained violence and death, has brought about salvation from the consequences of sin for billions of people. He told his followers plainly what he would do, and why it was good – even holy – then he did it. The fruits of his labor and sacrifice were good.
We can start with that very high standard to evaluate purported leaders in our own times. The spirit of kindness and forgiveness based in truth allows us to strip away the sin that touches every human endeavor and helps us to expose the person within. If they are bathed in forgiveness and still seem sinful, they are probably a wolf. If what they are proposing sounds unholy, they are probably a wolf. If what they are proposing seems well beyond their ability to deliver, they are probably a wolf. If they promise perfection, they are probably a wolf. While no leader will ever rise to the level of Jesus, there’s a big and very discernable gap between a flawed hero and a ravenous wolf.
It has become fashionable lately to erase leaders who made tangible contributions for the betterment of humanity, but who are condemned for their flaws and sins. Their good works are deemed tainted and unworthy because they themselves were flawed. Weren’t they sons and daughters of Adam and Eve like the rest of us? Why must we obviate all they did that was good, even extraordinary, simply because they too had feet of clay?
Martin Luther stands out in this field of flawed heroes. It would be difficult to think of anyone after Paul who so profoundly changed Christianity. Yet he started with a personal conviction, an inner revolution, one he was willing to sacrifice for and one that surely would bring him no material benefits. “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.” “Here I stand, I can do no other.” An obstinate faith, one could say, but the absolute truth must perforce be absolutely obstinate. Should we toss out the opening up of the Word of God to millions of people via the Bible because of Luther’s flaws? How easy that would be for the flawless among us but, oh wait – there aren’t any.
In the demand for “perfection or nothing” lies evil, the serpent in the rhetoric. Statues of American leaders who helped bring liberty and economic freedom to millions who would otherwise have remained impoverished are dragged down as if they were statues of Stalin. Monuments to flawed heroes are despoiled by “flawless” revolutionaries who have freed themselves from sin by declaring that sin does not exist. Based on our prior criteria, these sinless revolutionaries sound like wolves to me.
Of course, being sinless, these revolutionaries must turn their increasingly violent intentions towards the One who would hold them accountable for their sins. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are vandalized, covered with graffiti and set on fire, too often with impunity. Recently “activists” have broken into Catholic Churches and stolen or destroyed the Tabernacle, the vessel that holds communion wafers – the Eucharist – that represent the Body of Christ himself. The revolutionaries are not simply attacking a building or an institution; they are trying to tear Jesus apart limb from limb because they know his perfect light can expose them as the wolves they are.
When the only Perfect One among us is attacked like this, it is time to question whether our own inner revolution needs to remain private, something only between us and God. We know only too well how the crowds turned violently on Jesus, but it is also easy to imagine large numbers of people who, like Peter, sat by and did nothing. Most of us aren’t called to be Martin Luther, or Martin Luther King Jr., but the world is in desperate need right now of the visible grace and beauty of Jesus Christ practiced by those eager to forgive but absolutely obstinate in their faith.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote to James Madison, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing . . .” Although talking about the nascent American Republic, the sentiment holds true for our inner revolutions as well. Jefferson believed that without a little pushback, people would grow lethargic about their freedoms and thus fail to protect them. How easy it is for us to become lethargic about our faith and thus fail to protect it. For the sake of our own souls as much as for the Body of Christ, if faith is not worth defending, what is? And, if you are still uncertain, ask yourself this: when standing in final judgment, which would be worse for you: admitting to God that you failed in your attempts to bring the grace and beauty of Christ into the world, or admitting to God that you never even tried.