Wednesday, December 14, 2011

pondering stuff Jesus said

I've been thinking a lot lately about stuff Jesus said, and how much of it has taken on entirely new meaning for me.  

For example, 
Mark 8:38  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. NIV
or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it,

If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels. The Message

Now, that passage is used to justify what I can only refer to as completely asinine behavior.  "I'm not ashamed of Jesus and to prove it I will wear my Christian status louder and prouder than a college football fan at a bowl game."

But what if we rethink what it means to not be ashamed of Jesus and His words.  I mean, what were His words any way?  Let's start with the words He spoke literally in the same breath as those above, just prior,

Mark 8:34-35 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 

Some of His other words went like this...

John 13:12-14  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
Mark 9:33-35  And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." 
Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 
I John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 

So that gets me to thinking, maybe being ashamed of Jesus and His words means being too embarrassed to live exactly the way He did.  Right?  It's hard deny yourself.  It's degrading to wash other people's feet, literally or figuratively.  It's painful to give up what is life-giving for you, in order that someone else may experience what is life-giving for them.  It's embarrassing, allowing yourself to be degraded.  It's sometimes humiliating to forgive. It's shameful to be accused by religious leaders and teachers, to have them click their tongues as they exclude you.  But it's the life we're called to.  

Which leads me to conclude that following Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with being in the majority or rooting for the winning team. Nothing.

Something else Jesus said that I think we just get all kinds of wrong is,
Matthew 10:37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

I've often heard this verse used to justify families disowning a member (or friends un-friending a friend) whose life does not live up to their Godly standards.  Maybe that person doesn't share their Christian faith, or maybe they've converted to a different (and therefore wrong) denomination.  Maybe they've embraced a "false doctrine".  Maybe they're gay, or (worse?) they're straight, but they embrace gay people.  To support them would be to love them more than we love Christ, right?  So one must speak up - one is required to voice disapproval, to avoid all appearances of condoning evil.  And so we've been told.

Well, the most striking thing I see about this verse is its context.  Once again, here's what we find Jesus saying in the exact same breath.  Sound familiar?  

Matthew 10:38-39 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Taking up a cross... following Jesus... losing our very life.  I hear sacrifice.  I hear giving up.  I hear humbling.  I hear lowering oneself to another's level, not building up walls of self righteous separation.

So what did He mean?  I have some thoughts on that.  Earlier Jesus had told His disciples this,

Mark 10:16-17 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 

See, the disciples had a message to share - a message of freedom, of good news!  And those in power - both political and religious - were not going to like this message one bit.  Not. One. Bit.  What they had to say went against all the established teaching of the day.  It broke rules.  It probably spat in the faces of people who they loved and had loved them.  It turned not only the world, but their worlds, upside down.  

Jesus' disciples had to trust what had been revealed to them - what they believed to be Truth -  despite a plethora of voices telling them otherwise.  Their conviction had to withstand not only the wagging, accusing tongues of naysayers, but also the concerned entreaties of people who genuinely cared and feared for them.  Turning a deaf ear to the former is much easier than ignoring the latter.  

I believe that might be what Jesus what getting at,  and - at least for me - it makes a world of difference.  Because the first interpretation has to do with obeying the rules, even if it means breaking relationship.  But the second has to do with following Jesus, even if it means breaking the rules.  And since we find Him in the face of the other, following Him almost always involves opening ourselves up to relationships.

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