Rereading my last post, I realize that I wasn’t terribly focused. I went from Shane Claiborne to the righteous rich kid (aka “the rich young ruler”) to God dealing with oppression throughout the Bible to a guilt trip because I’m in the classic oppressing group (white male American Republican evangelical Christian)…to trying to figure out how to battle oppression from within. Kind of a dizzying post, I must admit, so let me step back a bit and try to focus on two related questions: first, was Jesus serious when he spoke?; and second, what would it mean for me if he really was serious?
So, was Jesus serious when he spoke? I’m not talking about whether he was making jokes, but did he mean what he said? When he told the rich kid to sell everything, was he really asking the guy to do that, or was he exaggerating to make a point? When he said to turn the other cheek, did he mean it? Or when he said that you can’t be his disciple if you don’t hate your mom? I know there are hermeneutical principles we need to know and understand that will help answer these questions. I also know how easy it could be to explain away any significant meaning behind Jesus’ words; and in doing so, to justify my desire to not take him seriously. Which leads to my second question…
What would it mean for me if he really was serious? This is where guys like Shane Claiborne make me just a bit uncomfortable…because they take Jesus seriously, and they live it out. Not that they do it perfectly, mind you, but they’re trying. So when they read about Jesus taking care of the poor, they figure they ought to do that, too. When Jesus talks about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, they do it. And when they do, it really messes me up, because I figure if they’re taking him seriously, maybe I need to, too!
One thing about Jesus, though: he didn’t seem to say the same thing to different people too often. Not that he was inconsistent, mind you; rather, he individualized his message. Go figure – he met people where they were at and spoke to their particular need. So when the rich kid asks how to get eternal life, Jesus hits at what’s keeping him from having it: stuff. When he sees a diminutive tax collector up in a tree straining for the slightest glimpse, Jesus goes the distance by inviting himself over for dinner. When Peter boldly proclaims his undying devotion, Jesus points out the chicken within.
So to figure out what it means for me to take Jesus seriously, I have to open myself to his probing eyes and words. I have to let him look into my fears, my idols, my security blankets (which are little more than rags)…and I have to open my ears to him, to whatever he might say to me. And more than likely, whatever he says is probably going to be difficult in some way – it might mean giving up something I don’t think I can live without; or looking foolish to someone…maybe even someone I’d like to impress; or displeasing parents. It may look radical and unconventional and countercultural and…well, it probably is.
Take a look at Jer 42. Some people come to Jeremiah, asking him to ask God about something and promising to do whatever God says, good or bad. But when Jeremiah tells them the message, they respond, “you’re lying!” Not the most charitable or faithful response, huh? I wonder how many times I’ve done that?
I’m sure I’ll be pondering this some more; I hope I get a chance to write more, too.