June 17, 2019

Wednesday in Holy Week: Following Jesus or Drinking the Kool-Aid?

From 2008

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”….And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers* are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

• Mark 3:20-33

Most Christians aren’t like Jesus.

Should we even try to be? Isn’t that impossible?

None of us can be like Jesus perfectly, but the Gospel of the Kingdom calls Jesus’ disciples to hear his call and set the goal and direction of their lives to be like him. For a follower of Jesus, Paul’s words of “follow me as I follow Christ,” are translated simply, “follow Christ in every way possible.”

Ghandi said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” He’s far from the only one to have made that observation, and those critics aren’t holding anyone to a standard of perfection. They are simply looking for enough congruence that the claim to be a follower of Jesus makes sense.

Christians have gotten very good at explaining why they really shouldn’t be expected to be like Christ. At various points, these explanations are true. At other points, they start sounding like winners in a competition for absurdist doublespeak.

Perhaps many Christians don’t resemble Jesus because they don’t really know what Jesus was like. Or- more likely- they assume Jesus was very much like themselves, only a bit more religious.

Getting our bearings on being like Jesus will start with something very important: discarding our assumption that our personal and collective picture of Jesus is accurate.

One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus. The list of mistaken parties is long.

  • Herod the Great mistook Jesus for a political revolutionary.
  • The religious leaders mistook Jesus for another false Messiah.
  • Jesus’ family mistook him for a person who was “out of his mind.”
  • Nicodemus mistook Jesus for a wise teacher.
  • The rich young ruler mistook Jesus for a dispenser of tickets to heaven.
  • The woman at the well mistook Jesus for a Jewish partisan.
  • Herod Antipas mistook Jesus for John the Baptist back from the grave.
  • The people said that Jesus was a political messiah, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
  • The disciples….oh my. The disciples were certain Jesus was a political messiah/king who would bring the Kingdom through miracles, but just at the moment they were most certain of who and what Jesus was, he turned everything upside down. Only after the horror of the cross was past and the Spirit opened their minds and hearts to the truth did the disciples begin to see Jesus clearly.
  • Thomas mistook Jesus for a dead man.
  • Like the blind man in Mark 8, the disciples had partial, unclear sight that required a second touch for clarity.
  • I believe Judas misjudged Jesus. Saul the persecutor certainly did, as did Pilate and the Romans.

If you got all the people who misjudged Jesus into a room, you”d need a bigger room.

When our children were small, my son was a big fan of wrestling. Every wrestler has a “signature move” to end a match; a move that no one does exactly like they do.

When I read Mark 11 and the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the merchants and money changers, I believe Jesus’ “signature move” is turning over the tables of expectations about who he is and what it means to follow him.

Read back through the Biblical examples I’ve cited. In almost every instance, it’s Jesus who overturns the tables of expectations and preconceived notions. It’s not just a discovery by a seeker. Jesus is the initiator of the big surprises. Part of what it means to be a Jesus-follower is to have your notions of religion, life and God turned upside down by the rabbi from Nazareth.

So is Jesus like today’s Christians who so easily assume they know what Jesus is all about? I’d like to suggest that the answer is “No.” Jesus isn’t like today’s Christians at all, and a large portion of our failure of Christlikeness comes down to a failure to know what Jesus was like.

Do you like grape Kool-Aid? I’ve always loved the taste of grape Kool-Aid on a hot day.

Have you ever tasted grapes? Do grapes taste grape Kool-Aid?

No, they don’t. But you could easily imagine a child who loves grape Kool-Aid eating a grape and saying “Yuck!! This doesn’t taste like grapes at all!”

The real thing has been replaced by the advertised replacement so long that there’s genuine confusion and disappointment at the taste of a real grape.

So it is with Jesus. The version of Jesus that dominates so much contemporary Christianity is the grape Kool-Aid version of a real grape. And many, many Christians have no “taste” for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.

Where would the real Jesus perform his “signature” move of turning over our popular misconception of him?

Here’s just a few tentative and preliminary suggestions.

  • Jesus wasn’t building an institution or an organization, but an efficient, flexible movement with the Gospel at the center and grace as the fuel.
  • The church Jesus left in history was more a “band of brothers (and sisters)” than an organization of programs and buildings.
  • The message at the heart of all Jesus said and did was the Kingdom of God, which implicitly included himself as King and the status of all the world as rebels in need of forgiveness and surrender.
  • The movement Jesus left behind was made up of the last, the lost, the least, the losers and the recently dead. The world would never recognize this Jesus shaped collection of nobodies as successful.
  • Jesus treated women, sexual sinners and notoriously scandalous sinners with inexplicable acceptance.
  • Jesus taught the message, power and presence of the Kingdom. He did not teach how to be rich, how to improve yourself, how to be a good person or how to be successful.
  • Jesus didn’t teach principles. He taught the presence of a whole new world where God reigns and all things are made right.
  • Jesus rejected the claims of organized religion to have an exclusive franchise on God, and embodied the proof that God was in the world by his Son and through his Spirit to whomever has faith in Jesus.
  • Jesus practiced radical acceptance in a way that was dangerous, upsetting and world-changing.
  • Jesus calls all persons to follow him as disciples in the Kingdom of God. This invitation doesn’t look identical to the experiences of the apostles, but the claims and commands of Jesus to his apostles extend to all Jesus-followers anywhere.
  • God is revealed in Jesus in a unique way. What God has to show us and to say to us is there in Jesus of Nazareth. All the fullness of God lives in him, and to be united to Jesus by faith is to have the fullness of all God’s promises and blessings.
  • Jesus didn’t talk much about how to get to heaven, and certainly never gave a “gospel presentation” like today’s evangelicals. Nor did he teach that any organization of earth controlled who goes to heaven.
  • Jesus never fought the culture war.
  • Jesus was political because the Kingdom of God is here now, but he was the opposite of the political mindset of his time as expressed in various parties and sects.
  • Jesus was radically simple in his spirituality.
  • Jesus was radically simple in his worship.
  • Jesus wasn’t an advocate of family values as much as he was a cause of family division.
  • Jesus fulfills the old testament scriptures completely, and they can not be rightly understood without him as their ultimate focus.
  • The only people Jesus was ever angry at was the clergy. He called out clergy corruption and demanded honesty and integrity from those who claimed to speak for God and lead his people.
  • Jesus embraced slavery and servanthood as the primary identifiers of the leaders of his movement.
  • Jesus didn’t waste his time with religious and doctrinal debates. He always moves to the heart of the matter. Love God, Love Neighbor, Live the Kingdom.
  • Jesus expected his disciples to get it, and was frustrated when they didn’t.
  • Jesus died for being a true revolutionary, proclaiming a Kingdom whose foundations are the City of God.

Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in evangelicalism?

That’s the sound of tables turning over.

That’s the taste of a real grape, not the Kool-Aid.

That’s why so many Christians aren’t like Jesus.

They have no idea what he was really all about.

Comments

  1. Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in evangelicalism?

    Does this sound like Jesus as you’ve encountered him in Christianity?

    • flatrocker says

      Robert,
      I think this is the wrong starter question to ask, or maybe it’s a question that’s out of its proper sequence. The question is – does this sound like the Jesus that “I” want to follow? Not others, not you, not my friends, not my enemies – but me? What difference does it make – not so much for you, but for me? And no, this is not a self-focused, narcissistic question. It’s just the right place to start.

      Maybe it’s time to stop looking at how the rest of Christianity is encountering him – or not. The rest of Christianity, whatever that may be, is waiting for evidence of my answer. What it’s not waiting for, nor requires, is my judgment.

      • I actually agree, but the focus on the failures of evangelicalism that this blog deals with often overlooks that they overlap in many or most places with the general failures of Christianity; my comment was meant to point that out.

        • flatrocker says

          so where to start?

        • john barry says

          Robert F. , You are correct in my opinion, I think this is an informative blog and clearly has its own viewpoints which is great. However as you pointed out the shortcomings in this article could apply to almost every denomination that I am aware of, which may be due to by lack of knowledge.

          Just one quick example “nor did he teach any organization on earth controlled who goes to heaven”.
          Catholic Church teaching “no salvation outside the church”. Do not want to get into a discussion about the statement but it shows what I consider the cherry picking and slant of the article .

          There are many good thoughts to ponder in the article and perhaps even when appropriate to discuss but to limit the conversation to the shorting comings of the dreaded evangelicals and to Christianity in general to me serves no purpose.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I’m not so sure of that overlap. Other categories certainly do have other failures – but I see Evangelicalism as standing alone in some categories.

          And “Christianity” is too wide a brush to be useful. And the genre of this site is post-Evangelicalism.

          This focus is mostly just “staying in ones’ lane”; which is generally a good thing.

          • john barry says

            Adam, nothing wrong with that aspect and I know and respect it. Nothing wrong to preaching to the choir and reinforcing beliefs of like minded.

    • I think Michael largely felt he should critique his own tradition as a insider, and in a lot of ways he was the loyal opposition of evangelicalism.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Given that Evangelicals have redefined “Christian” without any qualifiers to mean themselves and themselves alone…

      (Just as in my part of the country, “Christian” has been redefined to mean “Calvary Chapel or Calvary Chapel Clone”.)

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    come down love divine
    we look through a glass darkly
    our sins call to you

  3. Susan Dumbrell says

    tears ask for mercy
    to whom can we sinners call
    Jesus grants us peace

  4. Susan Dumbrell says

    He dies, we ignore
    our sins hide us from our Lord
    the veil will soon tear

  5. Steve Newell says

    When you read either the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plains then you look at the Christian Church, what do you see? Too often, I see a Christian Church in the role of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, not the role of one following Christ.

    When I read Jesus’ teaching, all I can say “Lord have mercy”.

    • –> “Too often, I see a Christian Church in the role of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, not the role of one following Christ.”

      I see this so much. Case in point, just last night, even! At the school board meeting of the Christian school my daughter attends, the president was telling us board members about an anonymous survey he wanted to give to all the staff so everyone could get feedback on performance. He then said, “The high school principal is pushing back, claiming anonymous surveys are unbiblical.”

      I nearly blew a gasket out of both humor and horror. I asked how in the world can anyone claim the Bible has anything to say about anonymous surveys, and was told that he trots out Matthew18:15-17 as his argument.

      Ugh!!! Do these letters of the Law Gospel people realize they will be judged by the way they interpret such things? And I’m guessing he hypocritically ignores scriptures that he chooses to believe he doesn’t need to follow.

      • Steve Newell says

        How sad. What I have observed is that many “Christian leaders” are quick to point out the “sins” of others but they are just a quick to claim that “we need to keep this in the family” when it involves one of their one.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I asked how in the world can anyone claim the Bible has anything to say about anonymous surveys, and was told that he trots out Matthew18:15-17 as his argument.

        “I Know I’m Right —
        I HAVE A VERSE!”

        • Do you ever have a reply that is not sarcastic ? I pray that you can move on from your go to put downs and meet Jesus as he is

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Sadly I have no trouble believing your story. 🙁

        • It is sad. Even sadder… I find myself having no desire to interact with him, be friendly with him, etc. If he’s going to trot out the Bible to examine every element of living and doing his job… I just can’t cope with that. (He’s a Bible literalist, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of him telling someone that a seemingly benign action (dating) “isn’t supported in scripture.”

          So if I, as a Christian, have no desire to interact with him, imagine how a non-Christian must feel about his representation of Christ!

          • Rick, he’s not so much a literalist as a legalist, with his own interpretation of what’s law. If he were a literalist he’d read the verses more carefully.

            Matthew 18:15-17 is one of the more abused passages. Watch how it’s also used to claim authority by elders—even though elders are not mentioned, only the witness of one or two others, then the church body. And this is directed at a brother who sins against you. Applying it to an anonymous survey would be a stretch of the imagination.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > then you look at the Christian Church,

      If we make this as wide as “the Christian Church” – honestly – when I look about I simply don’t see it/them. They are absent from nearly every conversation [unless it somehow concerns the pelvis].

  6. One of the constants in the Gospels is the misunderstanding of Jesus.

    Or maybe we have. That following list seems pretty consistent. But we impose our view on it.

  7. I can’t get much past that amazing statement in Mark that Jesus’ mother and his brothers thought he was out of his mind. Doesn’t our family know us best? No? (I like to think his sisters were more sympathetic.) If we “follow” Jesus will other people think we are out of OUR minds? Can you follow Jesus without it being thought that you are out of your mind? Doesn’t this safely inoculate most people from being followers of Jesus since most people do not want to be thought to be out of their minds?

    It’s been a scholarly commonplace for a century that both Matthew and Luke depend on Mark since they quote whole swaths of his text verbatim. But they also take some of his text and modify it to meet their own needs. I note simply that both Matthew and Luke independently dropped this story like a hot potato!

    There was some length of time between Mark and the other gospels. Imagine if all we had was Mark and all we knew about Jesus’ family was what we read in Mark? For a good chunk of time this was in fact the case!

    • Given that the apostle John was taking care of the Theotokos and Jesus’ brother James was a big part of the early church, I think a much more personal cant on Jesus family was definitely known.

      Unfortunately, the ancients did not believe in doing a great job recording the stuff we’re interested in now!

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > the ancients did not believe in doing a great job recording

        No joke! Someone with a time machine go back and teach one of them how to use and iPad.

        The stuff that is left out of Scripture….

        • The stuff we think is important (strict chronological order, exact accounting, isolated truths with no context) wasn’t even a blip on their radar.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Doesn’t our family know us best?

      Nope, not at all. A decade in youth ministry taught me that. There were so very many parents I encountered who had clearly never met their son or daughter, had no idea what-so-ever who or what they were; for better or worse. One as often as not could completely invert a parent’s perception of their child.

      That decade left me convinced that a parent is the person least qualified to raise a child.

      That verse leaves me unsurprised.

      • –> “That decade left me convinced that a parent is the person least qualified to raise a child.”

        I hear what you’re saying, and understand it up to a point, but for the sake of argument that line sounds a little extreme…LOL. Maybe “…convinced me that a parent is the least qualified to tell me about their child” would be a better way of putting it…?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          No doubt you are correct! 🙂 But that fails to emphasis how sad and distressing it can be to hear a parent completely fail to describe their own child now young adult.

        • How about, “…convinced me that many parents are the least qualified to understand their own child”?

  8. Christiane says

    “And many, many Christians have no “taste” for Jesus as we find him in scripture, especially the Gospels.”

    I once asked on a Southern Baptist blog IF their phrase ‘the gospel’ is not the same as the four Holy Gospels of the Scriptures . . . . and I was told ‘no’, it wasn’t

    after blogging with all of the folks who treasured misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Catholicism, anti-Mormonism, etc. etc.,
    I decided that their ‘gospel’ was indeed not at all found in the Holy Gospels of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. They were right . . . . . their use of the term ‘the gospel’ IS different indeed.

    I’m referring only to those who are die-hard right-wing ‘conservative’ fundies . . . . for them, a diatribe against building a mosque in their vicinity is considered a ‘sermon’ . . . . . nope, not the same as the four Holy Gospels of our Lord . . . . in fact, very much the opposite

    • I was still a Southern Baptist when I first read N. T. Wright’s ‘What St. Paul Really Said.’ He made a profound statement that I often quoted, which left most of my SBC friends infuriated or dumbfounded (and the Reformed folks went ballistic over it – e.g. John Piper).

      “[The gospel] is not, then, a system of how people get saved. The announcement of the gospel results in people being saved – Paul says as much a few verses later. But ‘the gospel’ itself, strictly speaking, is the narrative proclamation of King Jesus. . . . When the herald make a royal proclamation, he says ‘Nero (or whoever) has become emperor.’ He does not say ‘If you would like to have an experience of living under an emperor, you might care to try Nero.’ The proclamation is an authoritative summons to obedience – in Paul’s case, to what he calls the ‘obedience of faith’.”

      Paul understands that the ‘gospel’ is about the Jesus found in the ‘gospels’ – it is the same message of Jesus (and John before him) – ‘Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand’. The message, that is, as you point out, neglected in favor of something else – a sales pitch for eternal life insurance that has little to do with what Jesus taught.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Reminds me of Skye Jethani’s recent sermon about the horizontal gospel; horizontal precedes vertical.

        • “Horizontal precedes vertical” is a heresy to the Reformed. For them, vertical ALWAYS trumps horizontal. After all, God is God and we are not.

          • flatrocker says

            > “For them, vertical ALWAYS trumps horizontal.” Beware of any sentence with the word “trump” in it.

            And before we dis on the vertical too much, just remember the vertical provides necessary depth to the horizontal.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      It requires courageous and effective leadership to not have this happen – in any tribe. A courageous leader-teacher who can lead people out of themselves. American Christianity, and especially Evangelicalism, has a desperate shortage of leaders with courage. They will agree with you on a host of civic/civil issues . . . but their agreement is utterly worthless.

      • And more often than not, a manifestation of courageous and effective leadership will be met by an equal and opposite rescinding of your call by the board of elders. :-/

    • –> “for them, a diatribe against building a mosque in their vicinity is considered a ‘sermon’”

      Great point.

    • their use of the term ‘the gospel’ IS different indeed.

      Christiane, a few years ago when my church was undergoing an attempted takeover by the new-calvinist, complementarian, enamored-of-male-only-elder rule, one of the proponents was using the term “gospel” so often, and in ways that didn’t quite add up, that I kept thinking of Inigo Montoya’s famous quote: “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      That person left the church immediately after the vote to change the by-laws failed. He’s now in a church that’s essentially reformed Southern Baptist, if not in name—one of the few in Maine that joined the 9Marks network. His leaving is probably the only good thing to come out of that fiasco.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIP6EwqMEoE

  9. The thing that strikes me as most humorous about this account is this: Didn’t Mary KNOW who Jesus was? I mean, she had the whole virgin birth and an angel speaking to her (“The holy Child you give birth to will be called the Son of God”) and blah blah blah!

    Is this a case of, “How quickly we forget”…?

    I think so. And I think it fits with Michael’s premise of why others (and WE/ME) so easily misunderstand him. Seriously, if MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS SON OF GOD had her moments of doubt, it shouldn’t be too surprising when those who DIDN’T have an angel tell us that we would give birth, as a virgin, to the son of God have their moments of “not getting it” and “not getting him.”

    • The expectations that our culture, faith tradition, etc implant in us can make it VERY hard to process contradictory data.

      OF COURSE the Messiah is going to run the Romans out on a rail…

      OF COURSE the Messiah will recognize and bless the efforts of the Pharisees to inculcate holiness into the culture…

      OF COURSE the Messiah will pat us on the head and say, “You were right all along.”

      No man also having drunk Kool Aid straightway desireth wine: for he saith, The Kool Aid is better.