Friday, October 07, 2011

Uncomfortable with Jesus

The only thing I remember from my college biology class is reading Lee Stroebel’s Case for a Creator. And then, the only thing I remember from the book was a testimony from a scientist, whose name I now forget. Every time I read one of the Gospels, I recall what he said and I again agree with him. Here was the gist of it: “If the Jesus of the Gospels were fictitious, then I would want to worship those who made him up. “

Jesus startles me. It doesn’t matter how many times I read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—I am left uneasy, keenly aware of an energy, a goodness that I cannot predict or control. Jesus does not fit into my ideal of goodness and love; he efficiently shatters any marble statue I shape for him in my mind. Those static print words on a page bear witness to one who electric-cracks with dynamic, shocking love—decisively counter-intuitive to my paltry ideas of love. He is the cold water on my face to wake me up from dreams of reality.  I am not comfortable with him, but I love him.

I am not comfortable, but I love that he delighted in the faith of those who didn’t wait in line, but pushed or tore holes in the roof on their way to him, confident that he would heal. I am not comfortable, but I love that Jesus gently rebuked the one who dutifully served and commended the one who neglected duty and sat at his feet. I am uncomfortable, but I love that he defended and rejoiced in the prostitute who anointed him with ridiculously expensive oil out of her ‘excessive’ love. I am uncomfortable, but I love that Jesus broke the law of righteousness in order to do righteousness. I am uncomfortable, but I love the parable of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount. I am uncomfortable with the way that Jesus saw to the heart of the matter—whatever was keeping anyone from following him—“let the dead bury their own dead,” “deny yourself,” “go and sell all you have and give it to the poor.” He sees to my heart and that makes me uncomfortable. He is certainly not safe or tame, as C.S. Lewis said, but he is good.

We read Graham Green’s novel The Power and the Glory in high school and this statement by the “whiskey priest” has always haunted me: “ ’Oh,’ the priest said, ‘that’s another thing altogether—God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us—God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.’ ”

Carravagio, The Calling of St. Matthew
I feel this when I read the Gospels.  I am scared and fascinated by this Love, by this Jesus. If he were fictional, he is so counter-intuitive and yet so unquestionably good that I would worship the one who made him up. Nonetheless, I do believe this is the one on whom God set his seal of approval, vindicating his life of self-giving love by raising him from the dead. The Jesus of the Gospels compels me. Whenever I doubt, I come back to him, and I again affirm Peter’s words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69)

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