Jesus really confuses me at times.
When I look at his life, I see that he got pretty frustrated a lot of the time. He would say things like, “how long do I have to put up with you?!”, he called a Gentile woman a dog, and he seemed to always get angry pretty quickly at the Pharisees.
When you disagree with someone, the worst thing you can do is attack them. They’re just going to become more defensive and hardened in their position. Surely Jesus would have realised this. He seemed to have wisdom beyond his years, and he never lost debates. So what was his purpose in calling his enemies snakes and hypocrites? Surely he realised it wasn’t going to go down well with them.
Most of us realise that it’s best to reason with someone when you disagree with them. You try to find points of commonality where you agree, and go from there. You don’t attack them personally. You tell them that you see where they might be coming from even though you disagree, but you’re open to being shown to be wrong. Even if you have a strong conviction about what you’re saying, you attack the argument, not the person.
So, why would Jesus just provoke more animosity and inflame already tense situations? It doesn’t sound very mature. It just sounds hot-headed and reactionary. As someone who has decided to follow Jesus, this sort of reaction is not something I think is a wise idea to emulate.
One reason I have been told as to why Jesus responded like this was that he was basically wrong. The idea is that what we are seeing when he does this is his full humanity, where he, like any of us would, gets frustrated at times, loses his cool and doesn’t respond like he would want to. We all do that. This is not saying he wasn’t divine, but it is saying that he was subjected to the same human frailties we are.
Part of me is attracted to this type of Jesus; I can relate to him. But another part of me is disillusioned by him, and confused. Jesus is someone we are supposed to follow; being Christlike is what I have dedicated my life to. So, if I find that Jesus made mistakes along the way, which parts of him should I follow and which parts should I not? And, if he made mistakes, does that mean he wasn’t perfect? Does it mean that he sinned?
We all have our own images in our heads of what the people we want to emulate are like. I remember being terribly shocked once in my teens when, as a conservative young Christian, I saw a photo of my hero, Martin Luther King, smoking a cigarette. When I saw that photo, the first thought that ran through my head was, “maybe he wasn’t a Christian after all?” In my circles at the time, Christians didn’t smoke. If you did, you weren’t really fully surrendered to God.
I’m still not really sure why Jesus responded in certain ways to people. I struggle to see how him being fully human still means that he did things wrong. Is my idea of perfection all wrong? Did he really need to be sinless to be the Son of God and die for our sins? If he is not the perfect example to follow, I just feel more lost.
A book I’m reading at the moment attempts to provide some answers to my conundrum. It’s called ‘Jesus Behaving Badly’, by Mark Strauss. The book looks at Jesus’ apparent anger issues, his apparent sexism, racism, disdain for the environment (cursing the fig tree), and other areas of his life in which he behaved ‘badly’. It’s helpful but it still leaves me with questions.
In the end, I still believe Jesus was sinless. I have to admit though, that I need him to be sinless so that I can have something to anchor my life on, that I can follow him in trust. That doesn’t mean that I have to respond in exactly the same way he would; Jesus after all had his own personality and was a product of his environment. If he was here in person today, he might respond differently in what is a completely different culture to the one in which he lived 2,000 years ago.
The bottom line I know is that I too, just like Jesus, am trying to grow into maturity. I can hang onto the ultimate command to love, knowing that I am loved unconditionally, despite the huge sins I have committed in my life. And I know that the Spirit of God within me guides me to be more loving, and gives me the power to live as I ought and as I really want.
When I am surrendered to God’s Spirit, more of my true self is released, the self who has the courage to love, whether or not I am loved in return, to live with courage and not self-protection.
This, for the time being at least, helps me deal with some of my confusion.
The insanity of resentment is that it is always about us, it is always us that is hurt by it (because often the person we are resenting doesn’t even know about it), yet we think that our resentment is going to show them how wrong they have been.
On top of that is the fact that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I think it was Einstein who said that we can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that gave us the problem in the first place.
When I resent someone, it is really all about me. The other person has generally done nothing wrong, and even if they have, my resentment is still all about me. It is about how hurt I feel about not feeling heard or understood.
There is something in me that rages against the injustice that nobody understands. And sometimes that’s true. Too many people have not been listened to and heard as children, and it comes out as destructive behaviour in adulthood.
Martin Luther King said that violence is the language of the unheard. He didn’t condone the violence, but he did understand it. There is a huge difference. We can’t do anything about times in our childhood when we should have been heard but weren’t, but we can do something now.
I found a meme the other day that said that change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. That’s when we will deal with resentment and be able to forgive.
When I let go of resentment, by changing my attitude to one of thankfulness, or by praying for the person I am resenting, I am instantly liberated from my slavery to self-obsession. That’s the power of forgiveness. My burden is lifted and I feel free again. And I realise anew that this is how I want to live. I look forward to being reminded about this a few more times tomorrow.
I reckon humility is the hardest thing in the world.
From the moment we are born, we crave attention; we are desperate to be heard. It’s a normal human need. But even those who were brought up with the most loving and attentive parents have still had to deal with a deficit of attention. And so we spend our lives trying to get ourselves heard, our insides sometimes screaming for someone to just listen to us. We exalt ourselves, desperate to let people know how great we are. But humility teaches us the opposite; it teaches us that the ego has to die if we are to live.
When I am around people who have stuffed their lives up but are now recovering, I find their humility awe-inspiring and challenging. These people teach me what humility really is and in the process they show me how judgmental, arrogant and ‘superior’ I often am.
When you’re around truly humble people, those who know their own brokenness because it’s so obvious that there is just no hiding it, you see how far short you fall. But at the same time you don’t feel shamed by them. Humility has no interest in shaming anyone. It quietly, just through its actions, shows you a better way. That was the amazing balance of Jesus’ life. He loved people in their brokenness, and just by that, showed people how far short they fell. But he never shamed them. The only people he warned that they were in real trouble were the ones who were convinced they weren’t.
When I realise how far I fall short of the mark of humility, I actually can’t imagine myself ever being truly humble. My only hope is to ask God to do it for me.
I’ve made some huge mistakes in my life, with massive consequences. And yet I still find myself feeling judgmental and superior a lot of the time. That says much more about me than it does about those people.
To find out a bit more about what it might look like to actually be humble, I recently went back to a Christian classic from two decades ago, Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Towards the end of the book, Yancey recalls Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well in John 4. Instead of being moralistic and telling the woman how immoral she was by living with a man who was not her husband in that culture, he said, in effect, ‘I sense you are very thirsty,’ and proceeded to show her that the water she was drinking would never satisfy her, and then offered her something that would, forever.
Yancey then explains, “When I am tempted to recoil in horror from sinners, from “different” people, I remember what it must have been like for Jesus to live on earth. Perfect, sinless, Jesus had every right to be repulsed by the behaviour of those around him. Yet he treated notorious sinners with mercy and not judgment.” And yet I, who have caused so much havoc in my life, still have the gall to think I am better than others.
All this makes me want to sit at the feet of Jesus more. It was the rotten ones, the thieves, prostitutes and liars who flocked to Jesus because he accepted them for who they were. The Pharisees were shockingly offended when Jesus had the nerve to tell a story of how a tax collector, and not a ‘righteous’ religious person like a Pharisee, was actually more pleasing in God’s sight because the tax collector was humble and cried out to God for mercy.
It’s the notorious sinners who I want to be around, because I am one of them. I feel more comfortable with them than I do with the pious, self-righteous and judgmental ones; the latter remind me too much of myself.
I was watching an old episode of the TV show, NCIS, tonight. At the end of course, Gibbs and his team once again solved the crime, put the bad guys away, and right won out.
It reminded me that, as we enter a new year, I am convinced that the Christian story is still needed for our society. We need to be constantly reminded of the story that good wins in the end, where evil is never worth it and where we know it in our bones, just like we know that we need air to stay alive.
I don’t think our society has hope in ultimate goodness; we haven’t had it for a long time. Deep down we know we want it, and we teach our children about it. But we are so bombarded with the incessant messaging that money, sex and fame will give us what we want that it is no wonder that we chase these fleeting seductions to our deaths. The glitz, lights and glamour blind us to the reality that we are careering towards a powerful waterfall, getting ever closer to the edge.
When we see immature people get elected to positions of world-influencing power, and other powerful leaders line the pockets of their rich mates while the battlers continue to struggle and get sold lie after lie about how they just need to suck it up and wait, it is easy to forget the ultimate story of goodness triumphing in the end.
Martin Luther King’s famous line that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice, is the hope the world needs today. We doubt this story, both in our own lives and through the avalanche of daily news we are confronted with. We become addicted to behaviours, substances and ways of thinking, desperate to regain that lost hope we once had. We are told that life is about economic growth because we no longer have hope in ultimate goodness.
I literally need a daily reminder of the story of goodness winning. Otherwise I forget. A line of a song from the brilliant John Mellencamp expresses it best for me:
“Hey Jesus this world is just too troublesome for me. I try to fight off all these devils but I’m just too weak.”
I need to be reminded daily that goodness will win in the end, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, we really will see ultimate justice one day. That’s why the end of the Book of Revelation, that most misunderstood and terribly misinterpreted of books, is so pivotal for me. In the second last chapter of the whole Bible, we are told that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the bold order of things has passed away.” Then we are told that he who is seated on the throne is making everything new.
I need to hear that for my own life, in my brokenness when I am yet again faced with my flaws. And I believe the world needs to hear it and believe it, to let it sink into our bones, that there really is hope, that we really can believe that good wins in the end, that we don’t need to doubt, that we can be freed from our compulsions and live for good because it is ingrained into us.
That is my hope and prayer for 2018.
For some of us it conjures up images of family, laughter, connection and fun. For others, just the very word triggers stress, busyness and just wanting it to be over with. And for others it only triggers pain, loneliness and dread.
A former pastor of mine used to remind us every year that Christmas is a time when the lonely are lonelier and the poor are poorer.
As I sit alone in my apartment, I know what it is to be alone, and sometimes I feel lonely. But then I sit still and remind myself that I am actually not alone, not in the sense of ultimate aloneness. I am loved, I am ok, I am good.
It can be hard though if you don’t have family around, if you’re old and no one ever visits, if you feel forgotten. Loneliness is an epidemic in our busy culture, and Christmas is the loneliest time of all for thousands of people.
As one of my new favourite songs says,
The air is so anxious
All my thoughts are so reckless
And all of my innocence has died
I wake at four in the morning
When all the darkness is swarming
And it covers me in fear
Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes
Full of anger and grieving
So far away from believing
That any sun will reappear”
When you wake in the middle of the night and there is no one next to you; that’s when you feel it. And all you can do is lie there with the aloneness. You can pray and sometimes you might have a sense of God being close and sometimes you might just feel like your prayer stops at the ceiling. It can be hard when you’re alone, especially at Christmas.
If you are lonely this Christmas, you are in good company. The baby whose birth we remember also found himself alone a lot in his life. From the very time of his birth, he was hunted. The Christmas story is good news, wonderful news, news of hope, but the occasion of Jesus’ entry into the world was nothing like what we see in the nice, saccharine, sickly Christmas cards in our shops.
Jesus was forgotten, denied, betrayed, and still he went forward in love. He personified what love is, because love gets rejected; love is often lonely because it is not returned. Jesus opened himself to rejection because he loved. And that rejection came, and he was lonely. He reminded his best friends of that when he said that “when you are hated by the world, remember that it hated me first.” He knows what it is to be lonely.
If you are alone you are never ultimately alone. And it’s because of Christmas. You are remembered, you are loved; in fact you are cherished.
It’s in the difficult times that I remember I need God, that I surrender and find the home my heart craves. Christmas is the greatest news in the world. If you don’t feel loved this Christmas, this is a love like no other. You are understood, you are heard, you are seen. And you are never alone.
Finally, read Romans 8:38-39.
Why do we run from love? Why do we run from what’s good for us?
In this life of contradictions that we are, sometimes we embrace love with all the courage in the world, and other times we run from it out of sheer terror and fear. I often tend towards the latter.
Deep down we don’t believe that we’re really worth loving. So we sabotage something that is really good, or we isolate ourselves when we’ve been invited to an event with good people who love us.
There is a profound little scene in the gospels where Peter has just caught a huge catch of fish after Jesus told him to put his net over the other side of the boat. Peter is not gobsmacked at the unbelievable amount of fish he has just caught; he is gobsmacked by the unbelievable generosity that Jesus showed him. He is so gobsmacked he can’t handle it. He tells Jesus to go away “for I am a sinful man.” Peter expresses the deep down belief of most of us, that we don’t deserve such outrageous love, especially when we haven’t done anything to earn it. But Jesus believes in Peter, knowing that Peter will stuff up (as he does later on, big time). Jesus says, no, I want you, with all your flaws, all your faults. Because I love you. In fact, you’re going to be the leader of this movement when I go. And Peter does, knowing his own weaknesses, but trusting in the love he has been given.
I heard a preacher say once that when we get to the end of our lives, one of the biggest things we are going to say is why didn’t we take more risks? We spend our lives turning ourselves away from love, keeping ourselves safe from hurt. Love is always risky, by its very nature it is open to hurt because it might not be returned. But as Mother Teresa said, love anyway.
C.S. Lewis said that we can lock ourselves away in our cocoon, safe from the world. In that cocoon we won’t be hurt, we won’t need to take any risks, and we can be sure that we will be safe. But in that cocoon you will slowly die, you will slowly rot away from who you really are, because you won’t know the freedom of living. Yes, when you love you will be hurt, but you will be alive. A heart that hurts is a heart that beats, sing U2, the band that more than any other has written the soundtrack of my life.
We run from love and find ourselves running toward the hell of our own loneliness. I do it so often I don’t even realise it. I don’t want to get hurt, I can’t bear the loss of rejection. But when I remember that love is the only way forward, and that I don’t need to prove my worth to anyone because I am already loved, then I can love others and be ok when that love is not returned. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt; it does and I hate it. But I can cope.
Why do I walk away? Why do I run from love? There is something in me that doesn’t want to take that risk. But when you do, when you move forward in courage, you will be ok even if that love is not returned, or if it is thrown back in your face.
We love because God first loved us. That’s the incredibly fortunate position we are in. We don’t have to make the first move. It’s already been done for us. You have nothing to prove. We already have what we crave; we just need to accept it. And when we reject it, we can get up again because that love never leaves us. Nothing can take it away.
Martin Luther King said the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It also bends towards hope and love.
I refuse to believe we are a meaningless conglomeration of atoms in the cosmic dark. I believe there is purpose in this universe, despite the hatred, despite the lies, despite the despair. Despite my brokenness, despite my lies, despite my judgmentalism, my fear, my resentments and my demand for affirmation.
God help me to run into the arms of your love, and to be not afraid to be held, to be weak, not afraid to give up my illusion of control. Help me to not run from love, but to surrender.
Sometimes you read a book and you get a sense that you want to be the sort of person the author is writing about. Drop The Stones is just such a book.
The author, Carlos Rodriguez, is a pastor, teacher and blogger who loves to write about his love of Jesus and of the grace he brings to broken people. This, his second book, is about the grace and forgiveness we see Jesus display in the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. Interestingly, this is a story that almost didn’t make it into the gospel narratives, and some think it may have been added later. Whether it actually happened or not, it is entirely reflective of the love and grace of Jesus and gives us a wonderful look at just who Jesus is. And it is this that Rodriguez wants his readers to discover.
The book is divided into three sections. It looks at the story through the lens of the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees who wanted her stoned, and Jesus who refused to condemn her. The emphasis of the book is on the fact that each of us can see ourselves in all three characters at different times in our lives. I know I certainly can and have, and the author is the same. That is actually one of the attractions of this book; Rodriguez is disarmingly honest and humble about his own weaknesses and where he has failed to be Christlike in his attitudes and actions at various times in his life. At the same time, he is glowing about others, especially his wife and others in his church community.
The other attraction of this book is that each chapter is only a few pages long and is generally told as a story of someone who has shown the love that Jesus showed to the woman. The shortness of the chapters makes the book easy to read and get into.