The Disturbing Jesus, Part 1
A Closer Look at Someone I Thought I Understood
For many, the person and ministry of Jesus has become a very comfortable part of life-- so comfortable in fact, that we can almost function on automatic when it comes to thinking and talking about him. One of my tried and true remedies against taking Jesus for granted has been to read the gospels more closely. When I have done this, I have found a depiction of Christ, which at times, has both startled and troubled me. Here are some examples of what I mean.
Jesus, the Friend of Outcasts. The religious establishment of the day regularly criticized Jesus for associating with the wrong people. He spoke with, ate with and spent time with a variety of those labeled as “undesirable” by the religious establishment, including swindling tax collectors, prostitutes, the severely diseased, Roman officials, and Jews lapsed from religious practice. Understood properly, this might disturb our view of Jesus for a couple of reasons:
First, it challenges the typical comfort zone of middle class people (like me) because we rarely come in contact with these types of people. Many of us have been raised in a circle which largely excludes people whose lifestyles are considered unsavory or improper in some way. We have come to consider ourselves as somehow a cut above those people and immune from their situations. The fact that Jesus would deliberately invite Levi the tax collector (otherwise known as Matthew) to be one of his inner- circle disciples, is so outside of the way we choose associates that it almost seems incomprehensible.
Then there is the very mindset from which Jesus befriended these social misfits. He cared about them, but he also expected that they would not remain in a lifestyle of selfishness, immorality, victimization or self-destruction. It is noteworthy that though Jesus did not condemn the woman taken in adultery, he gave her permission to become something new by commanding her to “…go and sin no more.” (John chapter 8). Change was both possible and required as proof of her repentance and faith.
It would seem in my own experience as one raised in the steady, consistent, hard-working and respectable middle class, that we are often willing to have compassion on outcasts as long as it costs us little. When we are involved with those in what would seem to be destructive lifestyles, we expect very little from them in terms of the ability to be other than what they are. A dishonest person is basically stuck in their dishonesty. The same goes for an immoral or physically disabled person. To many of us, a person who has a mindset of dependency will always be that way simply because they aren’t up to making the cut into our class—the respectable, stable, competent people. Jesus’ treatment of people turns these notions upside down.
The Jesus Who Loves His Church. During his ministry, Jesus gathered a group of followers and forged them into a community which was to be sacrificially devoted to one another. Upon his departure from the earth, this community became the Church. The book of Acts records the fact that as new people heard the good news about Jesus and believed, they became members of the community. Jesus taught them that his good news would only be demonstrated powerfully as the truth when his people are devoted to one another: “People will be convinced that you are my disciples through your love for one another.” This was no social club, no casual fraternity. This was a profound change of allegiance.
Many people in the Twenty-first Century are highly individualistic. Such a sacrificial community doesn’t suit either our personal sensibilities or our cultural patterns. Even when we do belong to a congregation of Christians, many of us are almost as likely to change our affiliations as we are to seek different employment. We complain about how the church doesn’t meet our needs. We seldom volunteer to help in any meaningful way. We are unconcerned when fellow Christians suffer. It is little wonder that outsiders aren’t terribly excited about the Christian faith. Why would they be intrigued about Christ’s Church when they see us behaving with such apathy towards something Jesus loves?
Conclusion: As I think about it, there is much more to the disturbing nature of Jesus than there is space for in this little article, but for now, I’ll leave things like this. But if you think you know all there is to know about Jesus, maybe a serious and informed look at the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) might upset your comfortable views. Jesus isn’t someone you can easily categorize and put on a shelf. He still has the ability after all these centuries and across cultures, to make people squirm a bit. He also has the ability to call forth our deepest admiration and even devotion, just as he did twenty centuries ago. If you are content with some kind of dumbed-down Jesus, then you needn’t read the gospels with any kind of searching eye. But if you are brave enough to do so, brace yourself for some discomfort and perhaps a whole new life!
Michael Bogart For more articles like this one, check out my website at mbogart.com
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