This picture was painted on a garage door…
Those of you who have attended Manna and Mercy will remember that the first key that we learnt to help us to live out the Scriptures in Christ-Like (life-giving) ways is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to our interpretation?” or “Would Jesus be pleased if we were to imitate the Word as we understand it?” So for example, Samson may have killed 10 000 Philistines believing it was God who equipped him to do so, but would Jesus (who instructs us to love our enemies) say ‘Amen’ to that behaviour? Surely not, and therefore we should not be imitating Samson in our relationship with any Philistines.
This question: “Would Jesus say amen?” is a simple enough question to ask — but which Jesus are we referring to? You see the question presupposes that we know who Jesus is and what would either please him or trouble him. Our answers will largely be influenced by how we see Jesus’ overall purpose.
For example if we see Jesus’ primary purpose to secure our place in heaven — then it is likely that we are going to interpret his teachings and actions in that light. In this light the parable of the vineyard owner (Matthew 20) who kept employing labourers throughout the day and paid them all the same — would mean that no matter when we give our life to Christ (early or late) we all receive the same reward. In this heavenly light we are blinded to any relevance the parable may have with regard to the payment of a just wage on earth.
There are other “Jesus’”. Jesus the miracle worker who aims to prove the existence of God in whom we are to have faith. Jesus the ethical teacher calling us to live a morally upright life. Jesus the spiritual guru offering us inner peace. Jesus the motivational speaker promising rich rewards for doing things his way. Jesus the doomsday prophet coming to notify us of the end of the world and urgently pleading with us to repent or perish.
This can leave us confused asking: “Would the right Jesus please stand up?” To help us apply this “Jesus test” we need to remember the most important thing about Jesus’ life, namely his death. No doubt this is the reason why the Gospel writers all spend a disproportionate amount of text describing Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. To help us have “the right Jesus to stand up” we must check whether our understanding of Jesus would give the Roman authorities and religious leaders any cause to have Jesus crucified. Why would the Romans be threatened by someone who promised to get you into heaven if you just believed in him and his heavenly father? Why would they kill him for performing miracles or teaching ethics or promising peace and prosperity. Even announcing the end of the world would not disturb them. In fact, all these “Jesus’” would probably have been welcomed by them because it would have distracted the peasant masses from their oppressive struggles and calmed their desire to revolt against the powers.
So even though there are aspects of truth in all of these pictures of Jesus, none of them even remotely account for his crucifixion and this should make us wary of holding onto any of them too tightly. If the Jesus we are praying to or preaching about was not enough of a threat to get nailed to a cross among criminals, then the odds are we are not speaking about Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the political power and economic privilege of the ruling classes. Therefore, whenever we interpret Jesus’ words and deeds we must ask how our interpretation threatens the rich and powerful — if it doesn’t, we need to look again and again…
Parables as Subversive Speech, by William R. Herzog II is a book I highly recommend to assist us in interpreting Jesus as a threat to the powers.
Grace in the disturbance, Alan