By Ronnie McBrayer
A friend shared a letter with his congregation that I have yet to get out of my mind. It had been written by a parishioner who had become quite disgruntled with her pastor. She recounted his failures, demeaned his family, compared him to other great pastors that had gone before him, and pretty much read him the riot act. It was the conclusion of the letter that rings in my ears. She wrote, “I pray that you will come to know Jesus as I do, rather than just knowing Jesus like you do.” When we need ammunition against our enemies, any bullet will do. Even Jesus.
Since his incarnation, Christ has taken on the form we require of him. The zealots of his time wanted him to be a revolutionary with sword in hand. The legalists tried so very hard to make him a traditionalist. The anxious masses, and those closest to him, attempted to make him their king. In fact, Jesus’ eventual crucifixion was due largely to the fact that he would not play by the rules. He would not be the kind of Messiah people thought he should be. He would not conform.
We continue the tradition. If needed, we will wrap Christ in the red, white, and blue and send him out, before our armies, waving the flag. We will use his words to strengthen capitalism (or some other “ism”) and justify our greed. We will explain away his hardest sayings in order to get cozy with him or we will drop his name in the right circles if it will garner a few more votes in November. Yes, it seems we’ve got Jesus right where we want him: Shrink wrapped, canned, freeze dried. In an emergency just add water. The Jesus who walked the Palestinian hills of the first century was a far cry from these things.
I admit, just when I think I have Jesus figured out, he does something crazy: Like command me to love my enemies; or tell me to do good to those who don’t deserve it; or challenge me to give away my possessions; or instruct me to turn the other cheek; or allow himself to be crucified. He runs roughshod over my preconceptions. He overturns the established order of my life. He surprises me with his fierce grace. He calls me to himself demanding my soul, my life, my all.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated faith columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit him at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.