(Here’s another snippet from the book I’m working on- “The Tired Christian.” It comes from chapter 3. Enjoy!)
If Jesus were incarnate today, walking around America, proclaiming his message, living the way he called on us to live – would he be welcomed, or would we execute him again?
Jesus’s message wasn’t the nice message we hear in so many of our churches today. You know the message – Jesus is the steady rock who will be there for you in a time of need. Jesus blesses people with material things. Jesus didn’t rock the boat. Jesus calls on you to be a good person. Jesus is there for you when you need to find a parking spot at the grocery store. Jesus picks sides in sporting events.
All of this is Jesus, the white, middle class American who lives in the suburbs and is a pretty good neighbor. Someone you’d like to have living down the street from you that you can wave to as you walk your dog every day. Someone who you are familiar with, enough to recognize, but not know well enough to actually have any impact on your life.
All too often, we have preferred to have a tame Jesus that fits in, that maintains the status quo, that is a good American citizen, that hangs out with people like me and you. A Jesus who doesn’t get his hands dirty and stays away from “bad” people.
Except none of this is who Jesus was, or is. That kind of Jesus would not be recognized by his followers. Nor should that kind of Jesus be recognized by modern-day followers.
The Jesus we are called to follow is none of these things. Jesus was a dark skinned Middle Eastern Jew. He was poor. He was a carpenter, which means he worked with his hands. He was homeless during his ministry. His ministry upset the established order of the day – the religious authorities and the empire authorities. The religious authorities were mere extensions of the empire. They had their positions because they paid the Romans for them. And Rome allowed the temple authorities to exist so that order could be maintained – the status quo of Rome being in charge. The religious authorities benefited from this arrangement too – following the lead of their Roman occupiers, they exploited the people, just like Rome.
Jesus was often in conflict with the religious authorities – just read Scripture. Ultimately, Jesus was a threat to the established order, the status quo. His proclamation of the Kingdom of God where the poor were favored, where the rich and powerful were uprooted, and where violence, exploitation, oppression, and fear were shown to be against God’s order, unsettled the powers that be that used these things to control the population. Jesus proclaimed values that conflicted with the common practices and lived beliefs. While the established order believed in might makes right, that only the strong survive, there is an us and a them, and the ends justify the means, Jesus taught and lived by a different set of values and beliefs – that the weak shall inherit the earth, that God favors the poor and weak, that there is no them and there is only an us, shalom wholeness had always been God’s preference and direction, and that the image of God was in all people – thus in order to fulfill the great commandment to love God, one must also love one’s neighbor. And who is our neighbor – everyone. That includes those we like and those that we consider to be our enemies.