There are many religions in the world. If you are a Christian, undoubtedly at some point you’ve heard a form of this question: “There are so many religions in the world, what makes Christianity different?”
To some people, the mere suggestion of such a comparison becomes infuriating. But, this is a fair question. Especially in my position. The Eightfold Path of Buddhism includes right speech, right action, and even right thinking. Being kind, being loving, and doing good things for the right reasons. Confucius, the philosopher who shaped Eastern thought (but has for some reason is more well known in the West for having various fortune cookie sayings misattributed to him) was well known for espousing the ‘silver rule’ of reciprocity: Don’t do something to someone else that you wouldn’t want to have done to you.
So, what is it the sets Christianity apart? I think the most obvious answer, yet sometimes most overlooked, is our namesake. Jesus Christ. There are plenty of reasons for saying this. I think Jesus is all too often overlooked as our greatest apologetic. All too often we’d rather argue about philosophy with philosophers or science with scientists. Yet, Paul claimed to boast in only one thing, and that was Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.
Today, I want to focus on one particular aspect of this. Today, while studying with someone, I was contemplating what sets Christianity apart while reading the story of the Good Samaritan. I’m going to post it here. Please read it.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Luke 10:25-37 ESV
The things Jesus taught are difficult. Too often Christianity just gets boiled down to “Love everyone.” Which is 21st Century American for, “Accept everyone. No matter what bad decisions they make. No matter what dumb things they do. If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” What Jesus is saying has so much more depth than that and is so much more challenging than that.
The Jews hated the Samaritans. I think the lawyer’s response to Jesus story is fascinating because you can almost feel the disdain in it. The verses specifically say he was trying to “justify himself” to Jesus. Here, the lawyer is caught. It’s seems like he doesn’t even want to say the word Samaritan. When Jesus asks him who was his neighbor, the lawyer just says, “the one who showed him mercy.”
What is Jesus asking us to do here?
I hear an enthusiastic cry from across the internet shouting, “Love people!”
Sure. Love people, but what does that even mean?
We love so many things. I love pizza, I love my mother, and I love my dog. I try to love everyone, I love my friends dearly, but I’ve never fallen in love. Love is a burning ring of fire, love hurts, love makes the world go ’round, all you need is love, and apparently sometimes love is a battlefield. According to some catchy pop songs love can sometimes be a drug and you can be addicted to it. Have I made my point yet? Eventually you reach a point of over saturation where words lose their meaning. So, what is Jesus saying?
Jesus is calling us to do something incredibly difficult, which is something I think sets Christianity apart. Jesus wasn’t concerned with gaining followers, and he wasn’t concerned with preaching some nonsense about accepting everyone. There were times while he was here on earth when Jesus said things he knew others would find challenging. So challenging that they would leave him. But, he said them anyway.
The Jews hated Samaritans. In this story, the Samaritan man is helping someone who looks down on him at the least and hates his very existence at the most. What kind of compassion would it take to help that sort of person? How much mercy would you have to show? That’s the kind of compassion and mercy Jesus is asking us to have when he says, “Love your neighbor.”
Inevitably, as we finished reading together, the question came. The person I was studying with asked me if I could show someone that kind of compassion and mercy. That’s a hard question. I pray that I could, but I don’t know if I could or not. I hope I don’t ever find myself in that situation. It’s a big task. I pray that I could show that kind of altruism.
That kind of generosity and kindness is a moving gesture, especially today. While the message of acceptance seems to be everywhere, in every camp it seems there are those it’s okay to hate. Be tolerant of everyone accept the intolerable. That’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says to love the intolerable. Bless those who curse you. Show compassion and mercy to those who show you nothing but animosity. I also think this goes further than, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.” Rather, proactively love other people as much as you love yourself. I’ll go ahead and admit I fail at that daily.
But you know who didn’t fail at that? Jesus.
Jesus didn’t just prattle off a bunch of feel-good sayings. He lived and died by them. Even as he was being executed, he cried out, “Forgive them father, they know not what they do.” He died for people who would never know him. He died for people who would reject him. He died for people hated him and the people who loved him, who were also the people he loved.
That is something that truly sets Christianity apart.
There are a lot more reasons I think Jesus is the best Christian apologetic. I could go on for quite some time. For now, I’m going to end my thought here. If you’ve never read “The Case for Christ,” I’d encourage you to do that.