Why Do We Call Him “Lord”?

This is from an email I received recently:

Our “moderate” churches have eliminated half of the Gospel by “spiritualizing” its espousal of the poor and weak. As a recent SojoMail observed, anyone who says what Maria did in the Magnificat without indicating clearly that he’s only quoting would be arrested for class warfare nowadays.

Well, if not “arrested,” very likely reprimanded and dismissed as extremist.

So what did simple, spiritual Mary (Maria, Miriam) say? Here’s what Luke thought appropriate to record as the point of view of the mother of Jesus. [Luke 1: 46-55]

And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

Wow. Some of that does sound like what the political ‘right’ today calls “class warfare.” This reminds me of the theme of Howard Yoder’s book (from the ’70s, new edition in the early 90’s) The Politics of Jesus [p11].

I will … state the case for considering Jesus … to be not only relevant but also normative for a contemporary Christian social ethic.

That is, the teachings of Jesus (and his example) really are the standard for practical ethics in this world. It’s not enough to “believe” in His metaphysical status as Son of God or as Redeemer, or to “believe” that He is going to take care of you. In fact it is not possible to “believe in” him without desire to give careful attention to what he actually said and cared about.

As Dallas Willard once wrote,

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.”

Jesus is to be taken seriously. It was he, after all, who asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what I say?”

This is also a key concern of Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998).

It is the failure to understand Jesus and his words as reality and vital information about life that explains why, today, we do not routinely teach those who profess allegiance to him how to do what he said was best. We lead them to profess allegiance to him, or we expect them to, and leave them there, devoting our remaining efforts to “attracting” them to this or that …

We just don’t do what he said. We don’t seriously attempt it. And apparently we don’t know how to do it. You have only to look honestly at our official activities to see this. [p.xiv]

If … we understand the kingdom of God to be simply what God is actually doing … then the “kingdom” passages in the Gospels all make sense, and yet leave plenty of room to deal with future dimensions of the kingdom, including a millenial reign of a political nature. [p.45]

So maybe the problem mentioned in the email – that if you quote Jesus’ Mother you need to clarify that you are only quoting, you don’t personally mean it – maybe the problem is that too many of us who claim to “believe in Him” do not actually listen to what he said, or to what those said who were most directly influenced by him.

We should change that pattern; because He is surely asking us – and not only the original disciples – something very much like, “Why DO you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not care about what I said?”

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  • In the last resort of spiritual-moral analysis, yes.

    Though, I admit I didn’t at all give so much thought while applying this term. I used it on a rather vague, emotional basis for denominating communities anxious to not lend themselves to “gushy� interpretations of Christianity (“gushy� in the Lutheran sense as “treating the Gospel as an alternative new form of Law�, thus giving it a leftist-“revolutionary� genius). This usually IS due to such communities belonging themselves to the wealthier tiers of society, but it may also be the consequence of social respect or false (?, I tend to believe so) diffidence brought about by a somewhat too conservative interpretation of the concept of “being true to Scripture�.

    Moreover, in my spiritual surroudings, Larry, the notion of too less attentiveness to ethical Biblical teachings is very much associated with changing the (literal) commandment, the “Word of God� for your own “tradition� (cf. Mark 7:13; never mind that there Jesus was concerned with TOO LESS of human or care pity). The express commandments (i.e. all that can be derived as an “objective minimum requirement� for believers by applying dogmatic reasoning) are (a) the ten commandments, (b) bearing witness to the spiritual core of the Gospel and (c) the ethics of obedience to the “wordly powers�, which tend to positively include the prevailing social order (i.e. the rule of wealth). I should be fair at this spot, in my congregation there IS quite a lot of social activity and giving away for the sake of the needy, and there also is with many a distinct sensitiveness that true belief must be heartwhole, i.e. implies more than the above mentioned minimum requirements. But, on the other hand, the spirit of that self-evident identification of the two concepts of “obeying Jesus� and “honouring the poor� as practised by the administration of this site (and most of the bloggers) is also absent with my (conservatively) “moderate� congregation.

    And alas, I really am missing this spirit at home.

  • Ahh. So “moderate” means something like – being careful (moderate) about taking Biblical ethical teachings too seriously (unless they support your socio-economic status or aspirations in society)?

  • No, sorry Larry, it’s different. I am the person who may decide this question by knowing, not guessing, and I say he- I – just meant “moderateâ€? in the sense of anticipating the very sentiment of how such a none-quoting, heart-felt modern Magnificat would be received according to your own words: as dismissible for the sake of being “extremistâ€?.

    What I had in mind: It’s easy to pinpoint, but elusive to assess: Jesus told the rich “youngster� (Matthew 19:16-26) and his disciples that it’s near impossible for a “rich man� to enter into heaven. Is there any difference, in terms of exact logic, to stating that it’s practically the same thing as with non-believers? Yet, which church, seeing itself as “bible-believing�, would translate this into cultural terms in modern capitalist societies, thus establishing a commandment for Christians to warn their fellows to not accede into the upper income brackets – just as they warn them to not just stay a “Christian by the term�?

    There are such persons, in my opinion (but also with biblical warrant?) who are able to possess a lot and yet manage to “walk humbly with their Godâ€? (Micah 6:8), but there are also such who “live in a state of sinâ€? (i.e. a homosexual living together with his/her friend, and, perhaps, regularly failing to keep chaste; – or a little thief, failing to take up an honest business from year to year; – or perhaps a person addicted to free-thinking opinions which do not accord with a proper understanding of Scriptural teachings, but amenable for God’s love when it shines through, say the ministry of a caring-cum-believing preacher), should we not judge them as much or less able to be rescued nevertheless by the grace of God, because “for God all things are possibleâ€? (Matthew 19:26)?

    But who, if not “extremists�, tells the upper half of our society that they are almost certain to end in hell for the simple reason of being rich? Unless they should know for sure within their heart that their riches are put to the service of the Lord and their “treasure is in heaven� (Matthew 6:20). “Moderate� churches (including my own German Baptist congregation, and my former Lutheran one) go the other way around, thus proffering an unasked service of their own reasoning: They say “Make sure the Lord reigns in your heart� and then try to be chary with your riches.

    If we were really to think in terms of that truth to which we profess believing, we must wonder who much our society is playing foul and hating the likes of the rich landlord of Lazarus (Luke 16).

  • I suppose “moderate” is to be taken in this usage as average or most popular, most well-known, or most characteristic – maybe like “moderate” attention to the super bowl or other common and characteristic American presumptions / preoccupations. Not exactly how we usually use the word, I know…

  • Moderate churches?? The moderate churches (ie ones that are not ultra-right-wing) DO take Christ’s teachings seriously and so are called “liberal” and “left wing” by the right-wing churches. I don’t understand why the writer uses the term “moderate” to describe the churches that don’t believe in applying Christ’s teachings to all aspects of life including the economic and the political.