The bumper sticker on the car ahead of me caught my attention: “My religion is kindness,” it proclaimed to weary commuters stalled at a red light.
I looked closer and saw the quote was attributed to the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader to Tibetan Buddhists.
Well, I’m for kindness; aren’t you?
It’s the underlying message that kindness is the apex of religion that makes me balk. At a time in our nation’s history when fewer and fewer people identify as followers of Christ, this kind of declaration shouldn’t surprise us. Instead, it should galvanize us.
Here’s the thing: Kindness won’t save you. Only Jesus can do that. And He accomplished it by allowing mankind to put Him to death in a most unkind fashion. After a cruel demise, He rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples and more than 500 witnesses.
They saw the empty tomb. They saw the nail marks in His hands and feet. And they believed.
Many would go on to suffer extreme persecution, from beatings to imprisonment to execution. Scripture tells us that after the disciples were flogged, “they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name (Acts 5:41).”
While the world puts away Easter after 24 hours, Catholics celebrate Christ’s triumph over sin and death for 50 days. In fact, we celebrate that glorious victory every single Sunday.
Does Jesus want us to be kind? Of course. In fact, He demands more than kindness of His followers. He asks us to forgive our enemies and bless our persecutors and turn the other cheek. He asks us to trust Him and step out on the stormy sea amid fierce winds.
He asks us to be as “shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves (Matt. 10:16)” as we share the message that His kingdom is at hand. He asks that we “go and make disciples of all nations (Matt: 28:19).” Kindness isn’t enough. We need repentance and baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need His body and blood in the Eucharist. We need His mercy and the grace that heals and transforms. We need His gift of salvation, bought with His precious blood.
“My religion is kindness” is sort of like the greeting-card view of marriage. You know. The dancing-in-meadows-as-birds-sweetly-sing kind of thing rather than the I’ll-change-the-baby’s-diaper-at-3-a.m.-because-you’re-exhausted sort. Christianity calls for sacrifice, for a love so strong that we die to ourselves and our own desires. It’s much more than kindness. It is self-immolation offered at the altar of Charity.
When we see pleasant-sounding proclamations like that of the errant bumper sticker, we should challenge ourselves to become even greater witnesses to the God who is Love itself, who did not spare His only Son but sent Him to redeem us. And did that knowing well the indifference, ingratitude and contempt that would be heaped upon Him.
Yes, that God.
We are Christians and they’ll know we are Christians by our love — a love built on sacrifice, not sentimentalism.