In his book “Vanishing Grace,” Philip Yancey quotes a frustrated fourth century Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, as he commented on what really griped him about the Christian movement. He said,
These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also…Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity.
The worst thing that this emperor could conjure to insult, defame and put down the early Christians was that they were too generous and too compassionate in their dealings with both their own people and everyone else.
So, considering the acidic tone that many Christians in our Western culture take toward the world, perhaps we’ve got some room to grow in our present expression of Christianity.
Paul, the most famous and prolific of the Apostles, told the Corinthians something interesting that I believe to be a connected idea to Julian’s “complaints.” In attempting to deal with the divisions and bickering taking place in the church at Corinth, Paul appealed to something other than the general need for peace or serenity as he directed and disciplined them. Paul said that when they argued and fought with each other, usurping the hope for unity in their community, they were acting like “mere humans” (1 Cor 3:4).
Mere humans do things like argue over petty nonsense.
Mere humans focus on who happened to be preaching when they were saved.
Mere humans believe that subtle points of doctrine should be enough to create fissures in the community of faith.
Mere humans continue to do these things, and more, today.
Mere humans see their political views as equally important to their spiritual beliefs. Mere humans believe that angry words emerging from wounded pride and disappearing comforts can turn people toward the love of Jesus. Mere humans are notoriously impatient, believing that a thousand enormous results should be the harvest for the doing of a single good deed.
Mere humans are just as wrong now as they were in Paul’s day. But we who are pursuing Christ, who have been reborn, are not mere humans; at least in Paul’s understanding of things.
Mere humans were what emperor Julian of Rome was expecting to find in the ranks of the Christian movement. But what he found instead was something different. These people were not mere humans, they saw life differently, they valued humanity uniquely and their ethics were not of this world. They longed for different things than everyone else. They spoke in ways that made little sense to pragmatists, politicians and platoon leaders. And, not only were they not looking for success in the same venues as the rest of the world, but they were largely indifferent to any definition of achievement that bore a resemblance to the popular culture around them.
We who pursue Jesus and actively live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven are not mere humans. We dip our toes back into the pool of average, mundane existence on those occasions when we demand others to honor us, respect us or give us our rights no matter the cost. We wade back into the sea of mere humanity as we fraternize with greed, materialism and the all-encompassing pursuits of self-satisfaction. We even drink from the brackish wells of plastic reality as we attempt to mitigate our legitimate desires with imposters like raw knowledge and instant gratification. But as Bunyon’s character Christian found out in his trip to Vanity Fair, these are only foolish excursions not actual destinations, they are capped tubes not limitless trajectories.
It is enough to think on these things. I’m not attempting to offer answers when it is the questions that seem to be most powerful in this situation. Is it not enough, for now, to wonder and ponder what would Julian say of us?