Good News: Jesus Is Not Nice
If one makes a statement by the type of entrance one makes, then God made quite a statement with Jesus.
Jesus was born, says the Bible, with a virginal conception—decidedly not in accord with the normal order of things. Then there was a host of angels who announced the birth to some startled shepherds with what will turn out to be ironic words: "Peace on earth!" For the first memorable political act after the birth of Immanuel—"God with us"—is the mass murder of infants preceded by the exile of the holy family. The first sign of God's coming leads to disruption and confusion.
Even in his childhood, Jesus signaled that he was about something startling. He was only 12 when he disobeyed his parents, staying behind in Jerusalem to teach in the temple after they had started home. He flouted one of the Ten Commandments—"Honor your father and your mother"—apparently believing that the fifth commandment was not made for man, but man for the fifth commandment. His parents are naturally hurt at his disrespect: "Son, why have you treated us so?" But Jesus just rebukes them for not recognizing his mission (Luke 2:4149). Jesus was not a good, well-behaved little boy.
Things get really interesting when Jesus begins his ministry some 18 years later. His opening sermon—the one in which he announces his mission of liberation—sets the tone. He's in Nazareth, his home town. He has an opportunity to win the favor of family and friends, so they can send him off on his ministry with good will. Instead, he picks the occasion to shame them for their parochialism. He notes that God is just as interested in freely sharing his mercy with Gentiles as he is with his chosen people. You know Jesus has touched a raw nerve when his friends and relatives—the people who have a natural deep affection for him—drag him to the edge of town to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29).
We shouldn't be surprised subsequently to see Jesus time and again challenge the religious order of his day—sometimes openly flouting custom and law. He encouraged his disciples to break the Sabbath. He associated with the morally disreputable. He welcomed women, second class citizens in his day, to participate in his mission. He questioned customs of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.
Many examples can be given, but one in particular (Luke 6:6-11) reveals Jesus at his destabilizing best. One Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. In addition to the congregation, Luke notes that "scribes and Pharisees" were also present, as was a man whose right hand was withered. The religious leaders had come to catch Jesus breaking religious law, in particular, healing on the Sabbath.
Now, Jesus had a lot of ways to avoid a confrontation, and he'd have known these if he had read How to Win Friends and Influence People. First, the man with the withered hand does not actually ask for healing. Jesus is not backed into a no-win situation, where he either has to deny the request to heal or flaunt religious custom. Since the man never asked to be healed, Jesus could simply have done nothing.
Further, even if he felt compelled to heal the man, there is no reason Jesus could not have waited just a few hours, until the sun set. Then the Sabbath would be over, and the healing would be perfectly legal. The man had likely lived with this impediment for years, if not decades. He certainly could have waited a few hours to be healed. Jesus could have avoided working on the Sabbath, healed the man, and dodged controversy with religious leaders—a win-win-win! What ministry leader wouldn't strive for that?
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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