When we try to redefine Jesus for our own political or cultural needs, he defies us every time. This is my column on the topic in today’s Greenville News.
A good friend of mine from high school is fond of saying ‘more Jesus, less Leviticus.’ He believes that those of us who are Christians too easily apply legalism and too seldom apply mercy. I believe he has a point.
In fact, I believe that we would all do well to remember what Jesus did and said. He is, in my opinion, the best medicine for this diseased old world. But like so much medicine, his words can be bitter, even if they work wonders.
First and foremost, he loved. When I read the Gospels I am stricken and overwhelmed with that love. In fact, he loved so much that he did that thing we find so difficult. He spoke the truth. He gently spoke to the Samaritan woman and reminded her that she was living with a man who was not her husband (indicating He hoped for a better life for her). After healing a man, he later said to him, ‘stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you.’ He told the wise and influential religious teacher Nicodemus that a man has to be born again to see the Kingdom of God.
He did things that would not get him invited to parties in the 21st century. He called himself God’s son and said that only by believing in Him could men and women be saved. He performed miraculous healings and raised the dead. He fed the five thousand by blessing five loaves and two fish. He came to His disciples at night, on a lake, walking on the water. He told people they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life. He not only believed in demons, but spoke to them and cast them out of those possessed. That sort of thing will get you a psychiatric evaluation these days!
And talk about offensive! He called a group of religious leaders and legal experts ‘open graves’ and said they were wicked and greedy. One of them said ‘when you say these things, you insult us.’ And He went right on insulting. He didn’t stage a sit-in or Twitter campaign about people selling in the temple. He did what moderns find inconceivable. He attacked the merchants with a whip for disrespecting the holiness of the place.
He called for social justice for the poor, the widow and the orphan but also said that we should fear God, who ‘has the power to throw you into hell.’ He said that birds and flowers are valuable, told us not to worry, then warned us to be ready for His return. This Jesus who told us about the heavenly reward of poor Lazarus also reminded us about the eternal torment of the rich man in hell. This Jesus who loved and blessed children said we should be like them or we can never enter the Kingdom of God.
The Jesus that society invokes for tolerance said we are unclean because of ‘evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.’ And He spoke so forcefully against lust that he said for a man to look lustfully on a woman is the same as committing adultery with her.
This same moral teacher who told us to love and not to judge (a tough command for us conservatives!) made himself the great judge, and said that those who had seen Him had seen His Father, thereby calling himself God. And in the greatest shocker of all, He let himself be crucified, then resurrected. Not as a parlor trick, not as a defeat, but as a blood sacrifice to atone for the evil of the world.
To injustice and greed, Jesus says be fair and give to those in distress. And to immorality, Jesus says be holy, because sin is a real thing and our souls matter. In a world of beauty and wonder, Jesus says enjoy life, and food and drink and nature! And He says it will all go away one day and we’ll be judged, and live in heaven or hell forever.
I agree with my friend. We need more Jesus; at least, I know I do. Fortunately, I believe He is still here, ready to shake us, berate us, heal us, shatter our idols and love us into eternity.
The thing about Jesus, then and now, is that He’s seldom exactly what we think, and He defies all our attempts to manipulate Him.
But He’s always what we need.