Saturday, June 29, 2013

Responding to Jesus: My Thoughts on the Second Reading of the Gospels


At the beginning of the year, I made the rather hasty declaration that I intended to read through the life of Jesus sixteen times during 2013.  Believe me, I'm as shocked as you are that I've actually stuck with it, having just completed my eighth time through the life of Christ yesterday.  So far, it has been a tremendously enjoyable, if not somewhat tedious, experience.

Each quarter, reading at the pace of one chapter per day, I've read through the four canonical gospels once.  Each time through, I'm focusing on a different aspect of Christ's life.  My first reading focused on the teachings of and about Jesus.

This quarter's reading focused on positive and negative responses to Jesus.

One prominent response to Jesus is what I'd call "interested, but not committed"  This response predominately came from the crowds.  (Although certain individuals responded this way too, for example, the Rich Young Ruler [Mark 10:17-22] came to Jesus seeking advice, but ultimately lacked the resolve to truly follow Him.)  The crowds were a self-serving, miracle-seeking mob that seemed to pursue Jesus at every turn.  Yet, Jesus didn't view the crowd with cynicism or naivety - rather, he saw them with compassion. (Matthew 9:35-38)  And, it should be noted, He responded accordingly.

Some, primarily religious leaders, made no secret of their hatred for Jesus.  In fact, and don't miss this, Jesus' main opposition during his earthly ministry came from religious leaders.  While perhaps actual Pharisees were unique to Jesus' day - their spirit lives on, and their opposition to the work of God continues today.

If I were to paraphrase the driving attitude behind the religious leaders' response, it would be this - We will condemn, criticize, humiliate, persecute, and eventually kill ANYONE who challenges our rules.  The pharisees had monopolized the religious market, and they were going to crush any competition that threatened their self-aggrandizing control of the masses. (see John 9 and Mark 7:1-13)

Another intriguing response was one that tried to remain neutral to Jesus Christ.  I'm thinking of the parents of the man born blind, who, for fear of the Jews decided to avoid making a definitive decision about Jesus' identity as the Christ (see John 9:18-23)  And of course, I'm thinking of the infamous washing of the hands incident in which Pilate tried to cleanse himself of any moral culpability regarding Jesus' crucifixion. (Matthew 27:24-26)

And finally, there were those who responded positively to the person and work of Christ.  The mere writing of the gospels themselves, as Luke intimates in his preface, shows that there were at least some who cherished the earthly ministry of Christ.  Eleven men dedicated their lives to Jesus, choosing to sit under Him as a disciple. Simon the Cyrene, under compulsion, carried His cross. Joseph of Arimathea buried His body.  Women brought spices to the tomb.  And hope, crushed during the dark three days Jesus spent in the tomb, sprang eternal in the hearts of those who encountered the risen Lord.

On the whole, however, the response to Jesus was overwhelmingly negative.  The inn wouldn't accommodate Him, and Herod tried to kill Him.  A disciple betrayed Him, and the rest really didn't understand Him.  The crowds endlessly used Him, and a place to lay his head, evaded Him.  His own brothers didn't believe in Him, and his hometown refused to honor Him.  The Pharisees constantly opposed Him, and the demons cried out against Him.  A mob arrested Him, and then Pilate released Him.  The two condemned thieves mocked Him, and in the wilderness, Satan tested Him.  Soldiers beat Him, and, theologically speaking, everyone killed Him.

And perhaps, this is where our theology is most informed.

Most people do not respond positively to Jesus Christ.

In fact, Jesus made this statement in John 3

"and this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil."

Doesn't this find application in the reality that there are millions and millions who will die without ever hearing of Christ?  I don't want to trivialize a very somber and humbling reality.  Nor do I want to make a blanket statement regarding their fate.  However, isn't it more telling, not that there are millions of people who have never heard of Christ, but that there are millions who have heard and still choose to reject Him?

Don't most reject Christ?  Isn't this the picture we see in scripture over and over?  Not that God hasn't made Himself known, but that He has made Himself known, and we've ignored Him.

Haven't I rejected Christ?  Perhaps explicitly before I was a Christian, and now implicitly in my behavior after I've become a Christian?

Isn't it easier to reject Christ?

A polarizing figure, who demanded that we love Him above everything and anyone else?

Isn't that why He died?

And, if we're to successfully continue within the illusion of our own kingdoms on earth... doesn't He have to die again?

Either Him?

Or me?

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