“To follow Christ means to learn the art of life. And the whole curriculum lies in the words, ‘Learn of me.” — Unknown
Were I to buy the idea of Jesus sold me to me by pop culture—the Sunday School portrait of a finely groomed man in a soft white robe holding a lamb, teaching only the golden rule—I’d have a mix of the Snuggles Bear, an Irish Spring shepherd, and a proto-hippie. Yet this limits him so much. He is, says and does more.
His explanations of life and how we should live it cause us to wonder where gentle Jesus originated. Luke 6:20-38. Luke 9:23-24. Luke 1-:16. Luke 11:23. Luke 12:49-53. Luke 13:24-30. Luke 14:7-14. Luke 14:25-33. Luke 16:18. Luke 18:17. Luke 19:11-27. These are just a few, and from only one of the four gospels. We could continue.
This Jesus offers us little room to think he’s just a feel-good guru. He’s teaching us something deep, hard and real. And he teaches in ways that are deep, hard and real. No matter how we understand these words of his, let us at least understand that he communicates something strong. He offers nothing cheap, easy or convenient.
So what do we do? Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, “The Brothers Karamazov” depicts what we’ve done. “Why hast Thou come to hinder us?” the Grand Inquisitor asks Jesus. “Don’t come back,” he says, in essence. “You’ll ruin everything with your hard sayings. We need to make them less than they are.”
Even modern theologians like to play theological twister with the teachings, contorting his words to something that doesn’t stand up under real pressure. Some of his words sound too harsh to take at face value, so we give them a different meaning that asks less of us.
Steve Chalke, author of “The Lost Message of Jesus,” recounts a scene from the film, “Gandhi” in which a minister, Rev. Charlie Andrews, walks with Gandhi through a street on which young men threaten them. When Andrews suggests they face a potential physical violence, Gandhi responds:
“Doesn’t the New Testament say, ‘If your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer him your left?”
Andrew replies, “I think perhaps the phrase was used metaphorically.”
“I am not so sure,” Gandhi counters. “I have thought about it a great deal, and I suspect Jesus meant that you must show courage. Be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show that you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside…it calls on something…that makes his hatred for you decrease and his respect increase. I think Jesus grasped that, and I have seen it work.”
Gandhi understood that Jesus’ teachings were neither easy nor dismissible. They required action.
We can accept a pseudo-rabbi/carpenter/teacher/redeemer and pseudo-teachings. But we will miss Jesus himself. We’ll miss the offer of life on the strictest yet most generous of terms: “Give up what you think is life but know is not, and I’ll give you everything that is life in return.”
When the disciple John put his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper, he did not find a soft man. He found a strong man, rigid in a way, demanding, but even more so generous in his offer.
He is a rocky man, a man of points and edges and hard surfaces. If we come up against the real man, it’ll break us. And then the tender Jesus, as over-simplified by the fashioners of the pop-culture Jesus, can receive us. And with this fierce, unrelenting, strong and even rocky love, he restores and teaches us, making our world and us new.
Do you gloss over or try to explain away the hard teachings of Jesus?
How do you reconcile them with the gentle teacher?
Why do some of Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable?
© Revolworks 2007