Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The messiest life

I often wonder why we like Jesus so much.

Most people in Jesus' own day didn't like him. At least the people that mattered didn't like him. He was trouble. They said he drank too much and ate too much and did both with the wrong people. He came from the wrong side of the kingdom, from Galilee, where young men had a reputation for being trouble. Spend any time at all with Jesus, and you could tell he was going to come to a bad end.

Yet when we tell our flannelgraph stories about him ... I suppose it's a sign of the times that spell-check doesn't recognize the word "flannelgraph" ... we make him out to be "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" and if there was ever a boy you wanted your children to hang out with, it's this blue-eyed blonde guy from Nazareth.

Not a biblical picture, however much we like it.

Jesus' life was messy. MESSY. I mean, think about it. Imagine this is the guy who is hanging out with your thirteen year old son, or worse yet your thirteen year old daughter.

He goes to a party and somehow manufactures 150 GALLONS of wine. The good stuff.

Okay, that might just be fun. And if we keep him away from the minors, he's a great guy to have around, right?

Not so much. Don't take him to church. He'll throw the furniture around and offend people.

He breaks the law. That's so much of what this comes down to -- we have people in positions of power to tell us what is RIGHT and what is WRONG and somehow Jesus always gets on the wrong side of things.

If you know anything at all about the world in which Jesus lived, or even if you just read the stories and pay attention to who is getting offended by Jesus at any given moment (usually the Really Good People) you realize that this Jesus is not necessarily going to get voted Most Likely To Succeed.

Instead, Jesus is a rabble rouser. He offends EVERYBODY. He offends the militants who want to kill Romans. He offends the Sadducees who want to placate the Romans. He offends those like the Essenes who want to withdraw into the wilderness and ignore the Romans. He offends the Pharisees who think the reason we have issues with the Romans is because we need to obey the law better. He offends Herod, whose kingly position was granted him by the Romans. He seems to offend everyone except the crowds, who love him until after Palm Sunday when somehow in a few short days they're crying for him to be crucified.

He offends his brothers and his mother, for crying out loud. So much for blood being thicker than water.

In the end, Jesus even offends his own disciples, who run away into the dark trying to save their own skins because Jesus won't take care of them or himself properly.

Jesus' only defender in the end is Pontius Pilate who declares him innocent. But rather than thanking Pilate, Jesus offends him, too, and gets himself crucified as a pretender to the kingship of Israel. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" the sentence over his head reads for all to see. His strange kingship offends everyone from the patriots to the collaborators, the peasants to the wealthy.

A generation later, writers and followers were still trying to figure him out. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews, right near the end of the letter written to a group of Jews who were being excluded from their religious communities, pondering the Old Testament sacrifices that had to be disposed of outside the Israelites' camp, wrote, "Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured." Despised and rejected, said the prophet Isaiah six hundred years before Jesus fulfilled the words.

So why is Christianity today such an insider religion?

Why is it that we try hard to figure out how to get more people to belong to our clubhouse churches, because if we have more people, we're more successful, we're more "In"? If you get really good at drawing people In you can write a book, host a seminar, develop a podcast. And people will flock to be In like you are.

But where is Jesus in all this?

He is still despised and rejected more often than not. He is still outside the camp. He is still doing ministry among, as a dear friend told me not long ago, the tax collectors and sinners. The holy people, the good people, the moral ones and the righteous ones are generally still offended when Jesus shows up and invites all the wrong people to the party.

For messed-up people, Jesus is nothing but mercy and hope. For the moral, the upstanding, the righteous, the in-crowd, however, his is still an abhorrently messy life.

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