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The real Jesus - truly following

I wonder how accurate a picture we have of Jesus? there is that phrase ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’; is that how we see him? Yet an honest read through the gospels shows Jesus at times being anything but mild. For instance, read though Luke chapters 11-13. Do we truly take on board every part of this passage? There is the teaching on the Lord’s Prayer (11:1-13), the lamp (11:33-36) and the ravens and the lily (12:22-31), all of which might be quite well-known. But what of the passage from the pharisee’s house (11:37-54); how much time do we spend meditating on this, or do we pass over it as irrelevant to today? Jesus is, after all, speaking to pharisees. Or what of the fire on earth (12:49-53); do we truly see our Lord as someone who comes to divide our household? Or read chapter 13: 22-30: have we ever thought about this: do we assume that we are the ones going through the narrow door? Or do we identify with the ones left outside once the door has been locked?


Part of the problem can be that all this is tied up with our own self-image: we may identify with one passage or another depending on how we feel about ourselves, rather than how God feels about us. None of this is to deny the fact of God’s real love for us. But that love does not deny or excuse wrongdoing. It is important (if difficult) not to let any negative feelings about ourselves influence our pondering of the gospels. But, equally, we should not deny that some of Jesus’ more challenging statements might apply to us as individuals, and certainly to us as a church. This is part of God’s love for us: not to ignore or to pretend our sin and unloving behaviour doesn’t happen, but to point it out to us. Not to judge us, but to enable us to see the truth, and to come to God in sorrow, for help, healing and change.


What of the ‘woes’ passage (Luke 11: 37-54)? We could take it literally: I don’t grow mint and rue, so don’t tithe them; I haven’t ever built, or contributed to the building, of the tombs of the prophets. So, I’m safe. Moreover, Jesus was speaking to a specific context, to a specific group of people, which isn’t relevant to me, or the church, today. I really don’t have to focus on this passage. Yet … why was it included in the gospel? We could argue that it has to do with the setting in which it is written. Knowing (as far as we can) the context of the passage, both in origin and when it was written, is important. But it is not an excuse to ignore the passage; rather, this should bring us closer to what Jesus meant, and to what it might mean to us today.


Do we focus on rules, on externals, and ignore what might be going on underneath (39-41)? Do we exalt the importance of minutiae and ignore the demands of justice and the love of God (42)? Do we seek the best places, or the nicer seats, for our own reasons (43-4)? Do we load those who come to us seeking God with burdens that we ourselves do not bear (45-6)? Do we honour those killed or persecuted in the past, while doing the same to others today (47-51)? Do we prevent others from seeking and knowing the love of God (52)? The answers might be yes, or might be no; for ourselves and for the Church. But these are passages which bear meditation on, as much as those others which are ‘nice’.


What might be the ‘woes’ Jesus would speak to the Church today? ‘Woe to you Christians for you have allowed the vulnerable to suffer while protecting those who abuse them’; ‘woe to you Christians for you argue about minor matters and ignore the suffering in your streets’ …. Some of which might be true, and some not. (We may argue about minor matters, but we do also often respond to the suffering around us). Of course, it is also difficult to tell what Jesus might say, without exposing our own biases in the process. It is almost certain that what Jesus would say would be different from anything we might imagine. Nevertheless, it seems to me important that we don’t bypass the issue.


Then there is the narrow door (Luke 13:22 onwards). Do we see ourselves as entering through the narrow door … or not? What matters is that we know we cannot take ourselves through that door, but that only following Jesus, only trusting in God, will take us through it. If we find it shut, it is because we are not known (see verse 25). Yet, we are known; we are known and loved by Jesus. But the Jesus who knows and loves us is a Jesus who will not hesitate to call us out and convict us when we are wrong. We are followers of Jesus; but, in order to truly follow, we must truly know the real Jesus, not a fictional Jesus of our imaginations.

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