Taming Jesus

It occurs to me (as it has to countless others before me) that over the course of the past two millennia the church at large has done a pretty thorough job of taming Jesus. It’s easy to read the Gospels and see how he loved others and showed compassion to those who were hurting and in need and come up with a sanitized Jesus. That’s what makes reading the table turning incident (Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15) startling to many. After already taming Jesus it becomes shocking to see him act in an untamed way.

But I think a close reading of the Gospels shows precisely the opposite. Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to usher in the rule of God, which meant overthrowing the rule of the worldly powers. That’s why the crowds shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday (Matt. 21:5; Mark 11:9; John 12:13). It was a cry for salvation; a cry that anticipated a tangible deliverance from Roman rule. One of the many messianic expectations of the day was for a great military; a conquering king.

That’s also one of the chief reasons that so many people throughout the ages have missed Jesus. He didn’t come with military force the first time around although NT eschatology gives us confidence that he will when he returns. The point is that Jesus is a conquering king; a great military leader; and political figure. What he is not is the pushover that many of us have made him out to be.

Case in point; the other day I was discussing Matthew 5:38-42 with my pastor. I had said that Jesus was being subversive in saying:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Initially I had simply noted that going the “extra mile” with a Roman soldier could actually get them in trouble and my pastor asked if I thought that was really the spirit of Jesus. In other words, did I think that Jesus would want his followers to get a solider in trouble, or would it make more sense to think that Jesus wanted his followers to help out those who would compel them by going above and beyond what was required. Well, in the words of Public Enemy, “You gotta fight the powers that be!” I gave him a few examples to support my position, and in a subsequent post I’ll share them with you as well. Stay tuned…



3 thoughts on “Taming Jesus

  1. Tom: It’s definitely something I’ll want to read more scholarship on. My views have been shaped through my own reading of the text. When I read commentators they have a tendency to sanitize Jesus in a way that I don’t think the Gospel writers do, so I’ll be interested to see what I can uncover.

  2. I’ve realized this over the last year or two as well and that at times I’ve done the same thing to Jesus. It seems that the best way to avoid the uncomfortable depiction of Jesus in the Gospels is to pay attention to the parts that jive with us, but there are other parts, and they are as much a part of the proclamation about Jesus as the parts we like.

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