Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jesus, the Unlikeable

It hit me recently, actually while I was speaking before a large group of people, that to most people nowadays Jesus would not be a very likeable person.

So, as I often do, I just came out with it before my listeners.

"You know what?" I asked them.

"I have a hunch that if you didn't believe that Jesus died to keep you out of hell, you really wouldn't much like him."

My audience was very kind. I even heard an "Amen" or two.

Most looked at me with a strange, thoughtful gaze moving across their faces.

I mean really, what's to like about Jesus?

Think about it. Think about his life, his words, his actions, his companions and his whereabouts.

He said such uncomfortable things about wealth, greed, forgiveness, peace, turning cheeks, giving to the poor, who you should invite to dinner, faith, government, sex and religion.

I mean, he hit all the polite dinner conversation, must-avoid, hot buttons.

He was the kind of guy who could split a church in one service!

And the people he hung out with, oh my goodness!

Prostitutes--think about that for a moment. What could the media do with his little black book?

Drunks--I mean the guy went where the riff-raff gathered and he didn't sound particularly 12-stepish in his conversations there! Actually, he used these dinner parties to castigate the moral majority!

He ate with Gentiles, for heaven's sake! He drank after Samaritans! He touched the rotting flesh of lepers and taught those who followed him to do the same.

Can you translate his actions into today's language?

He ate with Muslims, treating them as fast friends.

He drank after immigrant laborers who were "illegal" and he made it clear in the process that no one God made could ever be considered "illegal."

He touched the bleeding sores of homosexual males who were dying of AIDS.

He owned nothing and told his followers that they should divest for the sake of the poor.

He lived dependent on others and on God.

He rattled the bureaucratic hierarchies of organized religion.

He wouldn't have liked church much, if at all. I expect church wouldn't have appreciated him much either!

With Jesus, people always trumped tradition, and in some cases even the black and white, book chapter and verse of the Law of Moses!

He included, front and center as key players in his movement, the poor, the oppressed, the left out and left behind. I mean, he brought the scandalous to church!

He forgave those who were dead-to-rights, without a doubt guilty. A convicted thief at the hour of his execution. A woman from the street, with a reputation to match, who came to wash his feet.

A woman caught in bed with a man who was not her husband was excused, while her accusers were sent home to consider their own issues!

He talked about setting the prisoners free, liberating the captives, turning the economic system upside-down.

He elevated woman, considered to be not much more than chattel, to positions of leadership and importance.

He did not discriminate.

He consistently spoke truth to power.

And, they killed him because of who he was, what he said, where he went and who he loved.

Jesus was lots of things, but to his world and to the powers that ran it, he was anything but likeable.

Like I say, if we didn't think he died to save our souls from hell, I'm not really sure who would like the guy either.

Strange savior. Or, was he?


Saipan Chamoale said...


What you say almost makes me want to come back to the church. Now if you can only get the 59 million people that voted for Bush to agree with you...

Steve Jr. said...

Wouldn't it be like God to usher in his earthly reign with someone most of us wouldn't recognize as that medium? Your words are powerful today, Larry. I assume the reason why comments are low is that people are speechless -- I almost feel bad commenting on it myself. There's just not much you can say except "Amen."

Blessings today.

Greg Taylor said...

Each Wednesday night I meet with people who are learning what it means to engage our city, families who are different from ourselves, how to learn from one another and accept that we are not just ministering to "them" but we are redeeming one another as Christ redeemed us.

Thank you for your insights and time putting this down on your blog. I'm going to recommend your blog to our class.

I enjoyed being with you last week at ZOE, picking your brain for ideas, and I still want to talk more about what God through us can do to transform Tulsa.

c hand said...

just a few points
1) Jesus is traditionally understood to be anti-sin, that's why he hung around sinners... to change them.
2) Jesus was power. He showed it by healing the sick, blind, and lame anytime he pleased. The pharasees tried to speak their "truth" to his power, but to no avail. You will notice the pharasees nosing around poking into Jesus' business, not the other way around.
3) Some people apparently liked Jesus. He had a pretty big following before his death and one that changed the world after it.

Anonymous said...

If churches approached Christianity the way you (and the Bible) describe that Christ did, I think I really might get excited about church for the first time in a long time. If you find a church out there like that, will you let us know?

jduckbaker said...

Larry James-
Thank you for your blog. I have never commented to you, but have read it repeatedly, and have directed people to it many times.

I just wanted to thank you, and thank God for all of the discussion and meat that I am able to tap into and learn from here.

Have a blessed day.

Brandon Scott said...

WOW! Powerful post today. Thank you. I love how upside down the Kingdom of God is. It's CRAZY!

Drew Battistelli said...

Jesus not welcome.

For some reason, my life in the recent past wouldn't have liked Jesus, but since I've listened to you, Len, Wade, John, Mike and Cynthia... The Kingdom is so freakin crazy that I thirst to see what God's going to teach me about it each day. Thanks for being a tool for God!

Have mercy on us for having our "make believe Jesus."

Ofelia said...

I just want to add my thanks for your insights. Your session at Zoe with Leonard Sweet was one of my favorites, certainly not because it made me feel good. In fact, it brought up so many questions and feelings of discomfort.....but combined with the session on incarnation, has helped me make some behavioral changes in my life. Thanks for the spurring on.

Milton Stanley said...

You're right, Larry. Good post--I quoted it and linked to it at my blog today. Peace.

Bob said...

I just happened to find this, looking for Christian blogs, but I just wanted to make some points about your post:

1) I think the most important thing that you neglected is that the woman who cheated on her husband wasn't "excused" by Jesus, but forgiven. That's an important difference, especially in a world where sin is so rampant. Jesus didn't wink at sin and turn the other way

2) Jesus didn't talk of setting worldly "captives" free, only those who's souls were held captive by the world, by sin, and by death. Jesus never set out to save John the Baptist from prison because it was a worldly prison and of no true importance to Heaven or God

3) Jesus wasn't an anarchist who set out to shake the foundations of the Church or bring about an economic reform. On the contrary, Jesus kept the foundations of the Church firmly in place and fulfilled the scriptures, but He didn't back away from seeing through those in the Church who were selfish, false, and hypocritical. As for the economy, Jesus said little of it, for it was worldly and beneath His Heavenly mission, and He quite simply said "give to Caesar's what is Caesar's"

Jesus was neither Conservative nor Liberal, because He wasn't a political figure in the slightest bit. If you fear people turning Jesus into a conservative symbol, that's nobel of you, but don't turn Jesus into a liberal symbol. Take Jesus for what He is and don't try to paint Him one way or another to please people.

Larry James said...

Thanks for your post, Bob. In my view you overlook at least two realities.

One, we are not Jesus nor are living when he did. If we are followers of Jesus, we focus on his values and apply them, as best we can, in our life at this time on this earth.

Two, we have opportunities today that he did not have socially, politically, etc. to apply his values to life where we are. This realization is the basis for the current "culture wars" that many speak of here. Applying his principles to life in a democratic, constitutional political context opens up many doors to us today. Following the values of Jesus will mean the realization of a different sort of life on earth.

Jesus takes care of eternity. Our assignment is here and now and we should take advantage of our freedom to extend his values into the culture.

Bob said...

Ok, I agree our culture needs Christian values, but Jesus wasn't political, nor did He tell His disciples to be political. Jesus didn't compaign in Rome, or try to take the jobs of the pharisee's. My only question is about the idea of taxing people to give to the poor. I know this is an old and tired conservative point, but is it right to force people to be charitable? I really don't know the answer, but would appreciate your view, I've had plenty of conservative Christian takes on the issue, but no Christian liberal ideas on it. Thank you and God bless

Larry James said...

Thanks, Bob. Jesus wasn't political in the sense we speak of today because he couldn't be like we can today--thanks in large part to the acceptance of his values. I would argue though that some of his actions in his context were very political and were preceived as threats to Roman hegemony, as well as to the Jewish "arrangement" with the Romans. In this sense he was extremely political.

As to the government "forcing people to be charitable" via laws, it seems that God was eager to make such laws for the nation of Israel. The number of passages are enormous that regulate and tax the nation for the benefit of the poor, the oppressed and those who needed a lift. You can find many of these points explored on my previous posts here. Start with Lev. 25 or Deut 15.

Steve said...

Hi guys,

Bob - I nearly fell off of my chair when I read 'Jesus was not political', and about Jesus not coming to free earthly captives.

Jesus wasn't a politician in the sence that we know today, but he rocked the fabric of jewish society with his actions. He was by no means an anarchist, but he advocated turning Jewish society upside down, welcoming those who were unwelcomed, offering respect to those who were disrespected, and changing the accepted levels of social class.

He certainly didn't wink at sin, but neither did he lambast everyone immediatly. Given that neither of us are Jesus, I wonder how much grace we should have before speaking to anyone about sin - a lot more I imagine before we earn the right to speak ito someones life.

Jesus made mince meat of the religious and political parties of the day - but he did encourage his disciples ot overturn the established norms of exclusion in the same way he did. It's the very reason everyone was so upset with him. He was neithe rliberal or conservative in that established american sense - he was though a driuve for social justice. It's unavoidable.

On another note - Jesus saidf he was come to set the captives free. He didn;t specify spiritually. matthew and mark differ in the sermonon the mount. Mark says 'poor', while matthew says 'poor in spirit' - the one we often prefer.

In fact in 1st century judaism, poor and poor in spirit was the same thing - completely equated. He paid wealth no respect, and urged people to be poor, and tho through off the oppression of the poltical groups.

Jesus isn;t recorded about saying much about the economy? - He did advocate justice for all, feeding the poor, helping the disadvantaged. What's that if not an economic stament of principle.

As for the church, well the church didn't exist then, so it wasn't there to rock. Rhetoric perhaps, but important. Jesus built up a following (though we have reports of many people leaving when he taught - it was too hard), but didn;t advocate a church at any point that we know off. That came after, inspired by the disciples, after they were cast away from the temple. Whatever Jesus did - he didn't accept the status quo.

Jesus didn't lead an army, but he did lead a social revolution in his time. He let the excluded ito the temple - where they were anned form going, he gave dignity to the undignified. If that's not political, what is?

A long comment - I feel strongly about this. Cheers - Steve

Steve said...

I went of on one a bit there didn't I. Apologies if it comes across as intolerant.

:-) Steve

Neal W. said...

I'm a regular reader, but I missed this great post back in October. If you don't mind, Larry, I'm going to preach it. Fits pretty well with where I'm going with Advent.

And if Jesus wasn't political...he sure would have lived longer...