The Disturbing Jesus, Part 2

More things I have discovered about the real Jesus

I recently wrote an article called the Disturbing Jesus, Part 1. In it, I discussed the fact that for many people today, the person and ministry of Jesus has become a very comfortable part of life-- so much so that we can almost function on automatic when it comes to thinking and talking about him. This article is intended to be a continuation of the first one. As I wrote previously, 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.

The Non-Materialistic Jesus. It has been correctly said that Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than about heaven and hell combined. He once advised a wealthy and very religious young man to sell everything he had and give the proceeds to the poor before being eligible for entrance into the Kingdom of God. He warned that it is impossible to serve both God and material wealth because one will always win out over the other. There isn’t enough room in a person’s heart for devotion to both.

Jesus was known personally as one who frequently had nowhere to lay his head at night. He was supported during much of his ministry through the generosity of wealthy patrons. At the end of his life he literally was left with the clothes on his back, and even these were confiscated by his executioners.

How do we square all this with our obsession over money, possessions, comfort and even luxury? Obviously some people are going to end up wealthy because of hard work, smart investments or fortunate birth, but never does the New Testament condemn wealth or possessions themselves. It is, however, decidedly against the kind of devotion to these things which makes them the central focus of one’s life and the keeping of them at all costs. Need I explain how uncomfortable this makes most of us?

The Non-Political Jesus. Everyone likes to find in Jesus an ally for their particular political and social views. Marxist guerillas in Latin America claim Jesus as a fellow revolutionary and liberator of the poor. Capitalists claim Jesus as a friend of free enterprise. Homosexual activists point out that Jesus never married and theorize a gay Christ in an effort to support their social agenda. Yet it is dangerous to read such foreign concepts into the Jesus of the New Testament.

If Jesus is examined impartially in the gospels, his teachings are strictly non-political. When asked if Jews should pay taxes imposed by their Roman conquerors, Jesus’ enigmatic reply was , “..give Caesar what is due him, but be sure you give God what is rightfully his.” Jesus was careful to pay his own tax to the Romans, yet he refused to acknowledge Rome’s ultimate authority over his life when facing Pontius Pilate.

This is not to say that his teachings have no political implications: they most certainly do. However, Jesus’ goal was never to transform governments or the social order, but to transform people from the inside out. Jesus acknowledged that he was indeed a king (in fact, rightful heir to the throne of David) yet he stated clearly that his kingdom was not of this world. It was something that people brought into their lives by choosing allegiance to him. It would spread from life to life until all nations would be represented and then it would come fully on earth. No armies would bring it by conquest; no governing bodies would enact it by law; no violent revolution would establish it by force. Although at times, Christians have attempted all of these methods to establish or enhance Christ’s Kingdom, in every case the result has been less than satisfactory.

It is an inner kingdom. It is a kingdom taking form through a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a family of faith. It is a kingdom growing despite (or even because of) persecution and hardship. Christ’s kingdom is coming with such certainty that no army, no law, no natural disaster can postpone it by a single minute. This is a radically foreign idea to most modern people.

Conclusion: As with the previous article, there is much more to the disturbing nature of Jesus than there is space for here, but for now, I’ll leave things like this. So again, 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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