The notion of being "offended" by Jesus interests me. Jesus' words in Luke 7:23 pull me up short: "And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The word here is related to the idea of scandal or being scandalized. It means to "stumble."
This incident arises because John finds himself rotting in Herod's prison. He wonders if he's on the right track or not. Glad to pay the price of disruptive, civil disobedience, so long as the cause is right and the leader for real.
Here's how Luke records it:
Luke 7:18b So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20 When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them."
Reading this story makes clear the major focus of Jesus' mission. He intervenes to interrupt human suffering.
He cares about sick people and their suffering.
He cares about behavioral health and mental illness.
He cares about people who can't see.
He cares about those who can't walk.
He cares about the incurable and the stigmatized.
He cares about those who can't hear.
He cares about bringing the dead back to life.
And on that long list of radical interventions into very difficult life situations he ends by reminding these investigators that "the poor have good news brought to them."
Given who Jesus claimed to be, his lifestyle often offended people, often religious people who were in power and often addicted to power.
We find the same dynamic at work today.
I'm not sure exactly when the current fragmentation of the faith began. ActualIy, it has been with us since the earliest days of the Church. I remember how in the early 1970s, the so-called Christian Right known then as "the Moral Majority" stepped forward to articulate an extremely mean-spiritied theology of exclusion and judgment. Before that the Civil Rights Movement, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, faced stiff opposition from, of all groups, Southern, church-going Christians. Before that transformative era, lynchings were justified by Christian racists.
No doubt, these groups, and many others, found Jesus extremely offensive. Surprisingly, they found ways to step away from this offensive Jeusus while remaining people of religion and ritual. Some chose to remake Jesus in their own image, much like Bruce Barton did aboout a century ago in The Man Nobody Knows.1925. Barton made him into the ultimate businessman or salesman and avoided the offensive, socially engaged version of Jesus.
If you keep your eyes on the Jesus of scripture, at some point you'll want to know if it is true that he really put the pain and suffering of others above the rules of religion and the socially accepted
staus quo of the day. Given the limits of our compassion and our continuing refusal to fully embrace the commitment to justice our leader modeled, being offended makes a lot of sense.
Some of what he did and said trips me up in the worst way. But, I know he is right. God help me to follow no matter how offensive he may seem.