Friday, May 13, 2005

Thinking about Jesus

So, today I'm thinking about Jesus.

Hang with me here. My thoughts aren't all "holy" or filled with images of church or choirs or angels.

No, I'm thinking of the Jesus who seemed to specialize in "hanging out" with all sorts of people.

So much so that he made lots of powerful people nervous. Powerful religious people. Powerful political people. Powerful rich people.

The fact is you'd never really acquire an accurate understanding of Jesus by watching or listening to most churches.

Churches and their programs don't major in "hanging out." Most church members on their own don't either. Churches certainly don't encourage their members to spend time with the sort of folks Jesus did.

I'll take it a step further.

You'll never really arrive at a complete or true picture of Jesus by reading the apostle Paul.

Paul wrote more of the New Testament than any other author--at least that is the traditional claim. Paul writes lots about what he thought the life of Jesus meant. He doesn't spend much time on how Jesus spent his days.

If you read the gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--you get at least a glimpse of who Jesus was, what he did and who he spent his time with.

Most people who claim to follow him don't act much like he did.

Oh, they depend on him for their personal ticket to eternal life. But, as far as shaping their days as he did his, well, you can forget it.

Maybe that is okay.

But it would be refreshing to at least allow the very radical life of Jesus to inform the values and the attitudes of those who follow him, especially when it comes to how people should be treated, valued and heard.

Jesus was a radical dude.

Far out, off the charts radical.

He wasn't too comfortable in church. Or, maybe its more accurate to say when he was in church, most other folks weren't too comfortable!

He wasn't into the status quo.

He was far too inclusive not to raise eyebrows. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was welcome to be with him.

If he were alive today, he wouldn't be welcome in most churches. As a matter of fact, he wouldn't be recognized for who he really is.

I expect he would be ushered outside on a regular basis, especially when he started talking!

As my friend, James Walters (Professor of New Testament at Boston University) says, Jesus was a charismatic, itinerant revolutionary.

That's why he hung out so much!

He talked to everyone.

He reserved his judgment only for those who insisted on judging others and for those who felt self-sufficient before God and the pain of the world.

He touched everyone--including those declared by the powerful to be "untouchables." Lepers come to mind here, as do all the people and groups considered "outsiders" by the religious among us these days.

He elevated women, remembered widows, cherished children and argued for the poor as a very poor man himself.

He wasn't much into things . Fact of the matter is, he owned nothing.

Have you noticed? Jesus was always borrowing stuff. Food from the edges of grain fields, fish from lakes, meals at the tables of others, rooms and beds in the houses of others, a ride into Jerusalem on his last trip, even his final resting place was borrowed!

Yes, I'm thinking about Jesus today.

When I get discouraged, thinking about how he lived, who he was and what he was really like; well, it just keeps me going.


owldog said...

Boy did I need this today. It is okay to hang out with anybody. If they are doing things you do want to do don't do them but you can still hang with them.

Hard lesson for parents and teenagers.

John Greenan said...

Do you know the Ezra Pound poem "The Ballad of the Goodly Fere"? This is a piece of it:

They'll no' get him a' in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.

If they think they ha' snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
"I'll go to the feast," quo' our Goodly Fere,
"Though I go to the gallows tree."

"Ye ha' seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead," says he,
"Ye shall see one thing to master all:
'Tis how a brave man dies on the tree."

Probably not the same view of Jesus that you have, but certainly another one that's different from what you usually hear in church.

John Greenan said...

One more quote from Ezra Pound about Jesus Christ (so we can exhaust the subject):

A heroic figure … not wholly to blame for the religion that's been foisted on him.

It's too bad Pound turned into such a fascist. He was a very amusing poet.

Larry James said...

John, thanks for sharing Pound. Somehow all great thinkers and leaders, when domesticated, become something in the minds of their followers that they never, ever intended. Your work is very important, John. And frankly, in it I see this Jesus fellow every day.

Milton Stanley said...

Amen. I'm glad you're trying to see Jesus as he really is (not just the vehicle of nice folks conformity). Even more, I'm glad that who is really is gives you comfort. I'll be writing about this post at my blog this weekend. Peace.

David U said...

Larry, thanks for the reminder! I know you are probably too humble to acknowlege it, but most of us see you living Jesus every day in your ministry! You are an encouragement to ALL of us to be more about HIM and less about religious things, brother! You wash our feet daily.

And keep quoting James Walters! :)
We still miss him around here.


Chad said...

YOu don't know me but your words have challenged me consistently. Thanks so much for publishing your reflections here. I love how my vision of the kingdom grows as I come in contact with others.

Also, it's kind of sad that we've created this nice, cute image of Jesus to conform to our expectations. I don't think we realize how offensive Jesus is to us churched folk. Those were the very ones he seemed to be the hardest on in the gospels. It was the marginalized and outcasts that seemed to embrace him. It seems we've got this all backwards in our culture today.

Jim Martin said...

Larry--what a great post and such a practical reminder of what Jesus was about

Casey "C.P." McCollum said...

I enjoyed this post but we must remember the bride of Christ is to have our love, devotion, respect, no matter how off track it gets for it is just such love that will get it back on track.

Larry James said...

I think I agree with you, Casey. It is just that "the bride of Christ" may not be the institutional expression of the church that we see and by which we so often limit our vision of the kingdom. Post-modern expressions of communities of faith--that traditionalists would not see as "the church"--may need to be taken much more seriously if the church is to have any meaningful role in the future of our culture. I think that is my point. Jesus wouldn't fit in most of our organized religious bodies today. Most efforts to point that out and to make real change ends in real difficulty most times. Maybe I am wrong and maybe my experience is simply "warped" by my urban experience. So, forgive me if I am off base.

kurt boyland said...

Dear Larry,

I'm compelled to respond to this post. I've only read a handful of your posts over the years so I realize that my thoughts and words may not take into account the context of your words . . . much like reading the second chapter of James without reading the surrounding chapters.

I was surprised by your observations that most churches don't have an accurate understanding of Jesus, nor do most church members "hang out" with people Jesus would hang with. Your frequent travelers' miles must be quite high having visited most of the churches in the United States! It appears you and I have been attending different churches over the past 40 years. The lives of most church members I see and know are filled with pain, brokenness, fear, hurt, and addiction. They long for hope, love, and mercy. We long for a word and the presence of the risen Lord.

You believe that in most churches Jesus would ushered outside on a regular basis because of his message. On the contrary, I believe that he would be embraced (and asked to stay for pot luck) by most churches because his message would be one of unfailing love, the very thing that broken, hurt, and addicted people so desparately want to hear. We in most churches want to be understood, we hope for mercy, and long for acceptance and tenderness. We are aware and sick of our personal imposters.

You pointed out that Jesus was inclusive and that EVERYONE was welcomed to be with him. Amen! Everyone! Jesus would hang with all his church. Oh that Jesus would hang with me!

If indeed Jesus would not fit in most of the religious bodies today, let us consider how we can lovingly point that out, as Jesus would. It does not necessarily have to "end in real difficulty most times."

Your words are challenging. Your labor is appreciated. Keep up the Good work.