A minister pulled from his mailbox an envelope with no return address containing an incendiary piece of “hate mail.” It was from a parishioner who catalogued all the pastor’s mistakes; demeaned his family; compared him to other great pastors that had gone before him, and took issue with most every sermon he had ever preached.
It was unfortunate. Yes, ministers make mistakes. They are extremely human in spite of their collars, credentials, vestments, and stoles. But most pastors, priests, and rabbis do their best to honor their calling and help others. This particular letter-writer, however, had no such compassion.
It was the conclusion of the letter that I remember. It read, “I pray that you will come to know Jesus as I do, rather than just knowing Jesus like you do.” When you need an edge against your enemies, any angle will do — even Jesus.
For 2,000 years Jesus has taken on the form required of him. The zealots of his time wanted him to be a violent revolutionary. The legalists tried to make him a traditionalist. The anxious masses, and those closest to him, attempted to make him a king. Jesus, of course, rebuffed all these efforts.
In fact, Jesus’ eventual crucifixion was due largely to the fact that he would not play by the rules. He would not be the kind of Messiah people thought he should be. He would not fit into political, religious, or social categories. We continue the tradition.
If needed, we will wrap Jesus in the red, white, and blue and send him out before our armies waving the flag. We will use his words to strengthen our particular economic policies or to justify greed. We will explain away his hardest sayings in order to defuse him, and even drop his name in the right circles if it will garner a few more votes in November.
The Jesus who walked the Palestinian hills of the first century was a far cry from these things. Certainly he would have shocked us. The calloused hands of a carpenter; the dark, olive skin of a Middle Easterner; dirty feet, shaggy hair, and numbered among the poor and marginalized: He was nothing like the respectable, American, blue-eyed counterfeit we have been sold.
I admit I don’t always recognize Jesus. Just when I think I have him figured out, he does something crazy: Like command me to love my enemies; or tell me to do good to those who don’t deserve it. He challenges me to give away my possessions; to take sides with the vulnerable; or tells me to turn the other cheek.
Jesus might be subject to our individual interpretations, but he is certainly not subject to ownership or being tamed. He runs roughshod over our preconceptions, overturns the established order of our lives, surprises us with fierce, wild, grace. And he invites us, not to cling to our opinions about him, but to cling to him, and let our hearts follow where he leads.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.org.