Jesus' parables are Hebrew, not Greek. The Hebrews had no concept of intellectual belief separate from participation with the whole of life. The Greeks did. The Greeks—so philosophical, so removed, so proud of their lofty ideas—cleverly batted around concepts from a distance, untouched, unscathed, uninvolved. Jesus was not like the Greeks. His teachings were Hebrew: they demanded participation, action, anger—anything!—on the part of the listener.

Jesus knew the nature of truth. That mere ideas are not truth. That reality is truth. And getting humans to step into this realm of reality with their minds and thoughts and hearts and fears and hopes and joys was the real path to truth. This is why he sowed seeds of reality, not mere ideas or concepts. This is why Jesus ended a teaching with the simple but crucial phrase: "Go and do likewise."

Remember Jesus' response to the lawyer who wanted to debate, discuss the law, and talk theory (Luke 10:25-37)? Instead of playing that man's sophisticated game, Jesus answered him with a kindergarten lesson about the law, a seemingly simple story and that one, chilling, brilliant phrase: "Go and do likewise."

The difficulty of submission

We often claim to "wrestle" with a passage of Scripture. But doesn't our wrestling usually end with us claiming victory over the text? We "pin" a passage, getting it to stroke our preexisting assumptions. Why not just lay down our assumptions and submit ourselves again and again to Jesus' words? And let them pin us.

Let us major in Jesus' teachings, then. And submit all to them.

Sounds great, right? So why don't we study Jesus and submit to his words more often? If Jesus really is so brilliant, then why do we hesitate to submit to his teachings? I think it's because, when it comes right down to it, we just don't like what he's teaching.

After teaching his disciples one day, Jesus asked them: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46). It's an important question because I believe it has an answer.

Why do we do that? Why hear words from the lips of Logos and yet not submit ourselves to them? Well, when you study the beginning of Luke 6, you get an idea of why. You see, Jesus is asking his question at the end of a time of teaching. And when you back up and look at all he had just taught the people, the answer to his question becomes as plain as rain: Why do we not do what you tell us, Jesus? Well, have you been listening to what you've been saying? All your teaching is upside down and nonsensical and weird.

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We call you "Lord, Lord" and do not do what you tell us because you tell us to do such strange things.

Consider a few of his teachings there in Luke 6: The poor are lucky. The rich are unfortunate. Congratulations to those who mourn today. Give to everyone who begs from you. Bless those who curse you. Do for others what you would want them to do for you … And that's just a sampling.

Why do we not do what Jesus tells us? Because (when we're perfectly honest) our common sense makes more sense to us than the words of Jesus. His teachings may be well intentioned and inspirational, but it doesn't seem like they would really hold in everyday life.

"Blessed are you who are poor" sounds sort of nice and spiritual, but when it comes right down to it, it's really the rich whom we think are lucky. "Give to everyone who begs from you" is inspirational talk, but it's overly simplistic and doesn't really work on the streets of our broken cities. "Do to others as you would have them do to you" is admirable sounding, but when I'm really honest about what I want done to me (lots of gifts, surprise parties, regular encouragement, care about my needs, a ready ear to listen to me), I realize what an impossibly high standard of love this is.

Why do we call you "Lord, Lord" but not do what you tell us to do? Because when we're really honest, we have to admit that you sound genuine, but what you tell us to do is just undoable. It will destroy our lives. It's not good advice, Jesus.

But it works

This may all sound really harsh, but when I'm honest, I have to admit that this is what I've thought about Luke 6 and the rest of Jesus' more strange teachings for most of my life.

I distinctly remember the first time I realized that Jesus' weird advice in Luke 6 wasn't just inspirational and spiritual sounding but genius. It was a Christmas morning several years ago, and I was sprinting through the snow on an icy road leading to a prison in Ontario, Oregon.

You see, I had been reading Luke 6, and that part about doing to others had caught my attention. I felt vaguely warmed by this teaching. There was something poetic in it, I remember thinking. It sounded so religious and memorable that I had begun to reflect on it and be haunted by it.

At that time my brother was in prison at Snake River Correctional Institute in eastern Oregon, and I knew he was going to be alone all during the holidays. I figured that if I were in prison, I would want family to visit me on Christmas. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"—it was kind of staring me in the face. So I went. I didn't tell him I was going because … well, I would want to be surprised if I were in prison at Christmas. Do unto others, after all.

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I didn't have a car, so I took a Greyhound bus (always an adventure) from Tacoma, Washington, to Ontario, Oregon. It was late on a dark and windy Christmas Eve when the bus screeched to a stop in "downtown" Ontario. I trudged through the snow and ice to the edge of town and got a room in a dingy motel next to the interstate.

Early Christmas morning (way before the sun even thought about coming out) I woke up, put on every stitch of clothing I had brought with me, and left behind my warm motel room to greet the dark, snow-swept plains of eastern Oregon. Six miles to the prison: four miles along the interstate, two miles along a small road leading over a hill to the prison.

On the way I began to doubt Jesus' teachings. Do unto others … Yeah, it sounded nice. Nice material for bathroom plaques and refrigerator magnets. But it had led me to one of the most painful, awkward times of my life. As I trudged along the interstate, trying to walk the narrow line between getting run over by speeding semis on my left and falling down the embankment on my right, I began daydreaming about that motel room. That warm, comfy motel room. Had cable, you know. But here I was: cold, tired, walking along an interstate in the dead dark of morning daydreaming about why sidewalks were never built along interstates.

Do unto others … What an upside-down, ludicrous piece of advice, Jesus. I thought about my girlfriend, about her parents who loved me and had invited me to spend Christmas with them. In their warm house. Far from any interstates.

But I was roused from my daydreams after taking the small road that headed from the interstate to the prison when I came over a small hill and saw the prison (razor wire gleaming in the rising sun) far off in the distance. Farther than I had thought it'd be. I looked at my watch and realized I wasn't going to make it on time. Visiting hours were limited. Get there late, you get less time to visit.

And something happened then: in my heart I longed to be there on time. I wanted my brother to get every possible moment out of his cell on that Christmas day. I longed for that. And so I started to run.

Slowly at first. A few cars would drive by, so I'd slow down and move to the edge of the road. I was self-conscious about running on the road. I was self-conscious about my three layers of clothes and my big army jacket. After the cars passed, I started running again. I checked my watch and began to run faster. Some more cars came by, but I didn't slow down or even give them much room to pass—I was running!

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I was just flat-out running. Eyes locked ahead on that prison, straining with everything in me to get there. Something inside my soul had clicked into place—this longing, this deep desire to lay down everything I had to make sure my brother got all his visiting time. I imagined him getting his name called and his cell door sliding open to his surprise. And I ran faster. My lungs began to ache, my legs were getting rubbery, cars were swerving around this weird, army jacket-laden guy who was taking up most of the road. But none of it mattered. All that mattered was getting there for my brother.

And that's when it happened.

As I ran along the road that morning, caring more about my brother getting all of his time than about my tired legs or aching lungs or embarrassing appearance, I felt more human, more alive than I ever had in my life. And I realized that Jesus had been right. That he was a genius.

A gift from brilliant Jesus

Jesus was right. Do unto others … My own common sense never would have gotten me out of that motel room. Well, let's be honest: I never would have left town on a Greyhound on Christmas Eve to begin with! But Jesus' upside-down, ludicrous teaching (which I had seriously started to doubt while trudging along the frozen, unwelcoming interstate) turned out to be right. It was right! I couldn't believe it! Do unto others … He wasn't just trying to be inspirational—he was being brilliant. It wasn't a clever idea, it was a seed of reality that was only waiting for my heart to be good soil so that it could grow and grow and grow and grow …

The rest of the day was a gift from brilliant Jesus. "And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold" (Mark 4:20). I got to experience fruit that day because I had submitted to Jesus' seemingly upside-down teaching.

I got to run the remaining mile and arrive breathless. Breathless in my body from having sprinted the last two miles. Breathless in my spirit from the staggering realization that Jesus had known all along. He knew that laying my life down would leave me blessed and joyful and feeling truly human. I was shocked at his genius.

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I got to have an unforgettable conversation with a very tense, very confused guard (apparently a skinny guy with a bulky army jacket sprinting toward the prison is on the guard's list of "questionable activities"!).

I got to see my brother's shock and surprise when he noticed me sitting at the small white card table in the visiting room. I got to laugh and sing and joke around with him on a bright Christmas morning. I got to talk about life with him and sit, peacefully, as brothers.

When my brother found out that I had walked (and run!) all the way out to the prison, I got to explain why I would give up a comfortable Christmas to run through the snow and visit a brother who had treated me so poorly while growing up. I got to tell him of Jesus and what I had learned that morning about his words.

I got to cry together with my brother that Christmas morning. And laugh. And sing. We filled the awkward air of the stiff prison visiting room with the sounds of heaven on that Christmas day. The looming guards and prison uniforms and razor wire faded away and we sat as brothers. And celebrated Christmas.

My favorite Christmas ever.

Now that day didn't happen because I was loving and clever and nice. Nothing of the sort. That day wasn't my idea. Do unto others … That day happened because I had dared to submit myself to the words of Jesus. And it turns out he is brilliant. And his words usher us into reality.

Taken from God in the Flesh by Don Everts.© 2005 by Don Everts. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.

Related Elsewhere:

God in the Flesh is available from and other book retailers.

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In Provocations, Soren Kierkegaard says, "All our Bible learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes. When it comes to existence, to obedience there is always something else we have to first take care of. We live under the illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the belief in perfect form before we can begin to live—that is, we never get around to doing what the Word says." The full article, "Kill the Commentators," along with the entire e-book Provocations, is available for free from The Bruderhof Communities.

For book lovers, our 2005 CT book awards are available online, along with our book awards for 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, and 1997, as well as our Books of the Twentieth Century. For other coverage or reviews, see our Books archive and the weekly Books & Culture Corner.