Friday, November 06, 2009

On Jesus and expectations

John Frye, in his ongoing series on Jesus and expectations, makes a good and painful point about Christian perceptions of our Lord:
Christians are expected to be nice apparently because they think Jesus was nice. To imagine Jesus as a hotly controversial, cultural rebel turns him, in their thinking, into a disobedient child of God. We just can’t have that. We can’t bring ourselves to follow a leader who was labeled crazy, a demoniac, a huckster, a fraud and a danger to society. He was labeled these things not by the secular, atheistic media, but by the honorable theologians of the the day. Godly people, mind you. Yet, we assume that our sweet Jesus was just not any of those things. Jesus was not called those things because he brought pies to the church bake sale. He was called those things because he was an intentional and regular law-breaker.

When we turn to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we discover some packaged episodes titled “controversy” and “Sabbath controversy.” Because we are so used to reading “nice church” into the life of Jesus, we do not connect with the shocking enormity of his lawlessness. For religious conservative leaders who idolized the Temple in Jerusalem because that’s where God lived and where forgiveness was granted to hear a scraggy little Galilean Jewish carpenter say publicly, “Son, your sins are forgiven” almost put those leaders into cardiac arrest. Then to their utterly sputtering amazement the little Jewish nobody healed the man to prove that he, indeed, had authority to forgive sins on the spot. No Temple, no priest, no sacrifice. Just a word. To the religious ones, Jesus had to be demonic. Too much of what they stood for was riding on Jesus’ being who he said and acted like he actually was.
You might quibble with a few of John's word choices in this passage, but his central observation is valid: too often Christians try to reshape Jesus into the image we prefer. But as the Pevensies learned, Aslan is not a tame lion.

And here, by the way, is John's conclusion:
A Christian life without controversy is not the Christian life…if Jesus has anything to do with it. I wonder if we’ve lost a generation of youth because the church and parents thought the aim of discipleship was to make “nice little boys and girls”?


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