“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Supposedly that comment came from Mahatma Ghandi. The sentiments behind it are expressed quite a bit in our modern culture in a variety of ways.
According to the popular narrative, Christ was tolerant and loving while Christians are not. They have corrupted and twisted what Christ was about, primarily love, peace, and tolerance.
There can be no doubt that Christ was a revolutionary figure in history, but what if he wasn’t always nice? What if he wasn’t tolerant or peaceful? Are people actually arguing about what they want Christ to be or what he actually was according to the Gospel accounts? More to the point, are they arguing about what they want Christians to be like or, in a different way, arguing for a Christ that doesn’t make them uncomfortable?
When pondering the tolerance and peacefulness of Christ, consider the account of him making a whip and then using it to drive out the money-changers in the Jewish temple:
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’” (John 2:13-16)
Whether Christian or not, Christ, like Buddha or Mohammed, has had a tremendous impact on individuals and societies. We cannot overlook that influence in history and how his words even shape individual actions and societal discussions today.
Below are ten quotes from Christ according to the Gospels (the first four books of the New Testament) when he was quite pointed about topics such as divorce, man and woman, hell, adultery, etc. They certainly aren’t fluffy or nice, and most certainly wouldn’t qualify as tolerant in our modern society.
- “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6)
- “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
- “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)
- “Every man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18)
- “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:6)
- “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
- “Have you read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’” (Matthew 19:4-6)
- “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! …. Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…” (Luke 12:49-51)
- “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)
- “For you will always have the poor with you…” (Matthew 26:10)
- “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23)
- “Woe to those who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25)
- “Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:31-33)
- “…unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)
- “…go and do not sin again.” (John 8:11)
Without a clear understanding of the Christian ethos, it’s not so easy to balance the above words of Christ to more familiar lines such as “Love thy neighbor as yourself” and exhortations to be humble, to not seek riches, and to take care of the widows, orphans, sick and poor.
Furthermore, Christianity is grounded not just in the Bible, but also in tradition. As St. John concludes his gospel account:
“But there are also so many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
One wonders what Ghandi would have thought of the real Christ had he actually met him. When we read the texts honestly, the idea of being Christ-like certainly seems far more complex and nuanced than simply being nice.