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Jesus said a lot of compelling and difficult things when He walked the earth. A reading of the four Gospels in the New Testament portrays a man who had divine insight into the inner workings of the human soul.
Jesus avoided the superficial and offered explanations that went to the core of whatever He was addressing. After people encountered Jesus, they were typically left with feelings of either awe or disgust. Despite what we may think or believe, the Jesus of the Gospels was a polarizing person. He was loved by the down-and-out and hated by the religious establishment and those in authority. He was a walking contradiction of everything that the Jews were looking for in their promised Messiah. He called a tax-collector to be one of His disciples. He healed lepers. He dined in the home of known sinners. He continually did things that enraged the upstanding religious people of the day.
As we read the Gospels, we discover that those Jesus offended were never shy in verbalizing their criticism. After Jesus called Matthew to discipleship and joined him in his home for a celebration meal, the religious people complained, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” After Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, they grumbled, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
After Jesus healed an injured man’s hand on the Sabbath, many were “filled with rage.” After Jesus allowed a disreputable woman to pour perfume on His feet, a Pharisee said, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” After Jesus encountered the wealthy tax man Zaccheus and went to his home, the crowds began to murmur, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Jesus was even said to have been “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
As I contemplate the criticism that Jesus endured, it has occurred to me that followers of Christ are also criticized for many things today. We are criticized for trying to push one particular ideology or political agenda. We are criticized for being judgmental and condemning. We are criticized for failing to love and accept people. We are criticized for being narrow-minded and intellectually shallow. We are criticized for lacking compassion and for failing to respond to the needs of the poor and hurting. In other words, we are criticized for reasons that are very different from what we find in the Gospels.
Jesus was criticized for loving too much. We are criticized for our lack of love. Jesus was criticized for being too inclusive. We are criticized for excluding. Jesus was criticized for tearing down walls and breaking down barriers. We are, and often rightfully so, criticized for building walls and erecting barriers.
A friend in the church I pastor recently recommended a book for me to read by the late Michael Spencer who taught at Oneida Bible Institute. In his book he argues: “What evangelicals in North America call Christianity is, ironically, largely disconnected from Jesus as He appears in the four Gospels.” At first glance, this statement may seem offensive. But I think the author is on to something. I believe that if those of us who claim to follow Christ and if those of us who pastor churches today would really compare our lives and our churches to the Jesus we find in the Gospels, we would easily and painfully discover that a disconnect does exist. And this is not a good thing.
If we are going to be criticized today, let it be for reasons that we find in the Gospels. Jesus never compromised truth and neither should we. We are to love and serve people and point them to Jesus. What we need is less religion and church tradition and more Jesus imitation. Our goal as followers of Christ is to be “Jesus-shaped.” Spencer wisely wrote: “Jesus-shaped discipleship produces people whose lives, habits, commitments, and words resemble Jesus more than the cultural ideals of comfort, convenience, and economic prosperity.” If this offends people, so be it. We are in good company.
The Rev. Steven Scherer is pastor of Worthville Baptist Church in Worthville, Ky.