The Wrong Jesus: Why Christian Discipleship Sucks in Our Culture
I just got my "Jesus Was Homless" shirt from the Simple Way online store. I ordered it along with two DVD's (only one arrived, but I might let it go), some "Another World Is Possible" stickers (one currently presides on the front of my Mac) and some buttons for my back pack that have witty peace sayings on them. I will probably feel a bit like a poseur when I tote all these things around, but I am doing my best to make a shift. I may not be able to give up everything and go live among the poor, but I can support and admire those who are called to do just that. For now I am called to be a pastor of an historic Protestant congregation in a small town not too far from Disney World. And I've been called to continue stumbling after Jesus as best I can.
The Jesus I knew as a youngster was a lot like the one in the image I posted above. He was fairly white, almost assuredly Republican and supported the marginalization of the poor, didn't really care for ethnic or other sorts of minorities, hated Catholics and Jews, cheered on certain wars and demanded less government interference, taxation, etc in the lives of people who didn't really need or want for anything anyway.
I realize there is a whole bunch of baggage in that last, loaded paragraph. I have baggage. The bags are monogrammed, and easy to find in baggage claim.
The Jesus I knew as a youngster also loved to bargain. IF I was a good lad, who didn't smoke, drink, take drugs, listen to rock and or roll music, have "relations" with my girlfriend, went to church, didn't lie, read my Bible, prayed, blah, blah, blah... THEN Jesus would ensure that I would have a better than average chance of having good things happen to me in my life. IF bad things happened in my life, THEN that probably meant that Jesus thought that I was either living such a good life that I was like Job (which meant that Satan & God were playing tiddly-winks with me) or I was a bad person who had sin that needed confessing. Since I knew that I wasn't an upstanding, upright, holy person like Job... I figured that every time something bad happened to me, Jesus sort of figured I was to blame somehow.
I met this guy a couple of years ago who had a first generation iPhone. I was instantly smitten with unbelievable envy.
I had wanted an iPhone since the commercials had hit the airwaves. As I watched the commercials I decided that the only way that my life would ever be complete was if I had an iPhone. Until that time I was convinced I would walk around with a hole in my soul. Seriously. The little hands on the iPhone commercials looked so cheery as they did all sorts of amazing things on the iPhone while this sort of happy go-lucky Apple music played in the background. I knew my hands would not be happy either until they were caressing the screen of my very own iPhone.
I realize that this is probably something that falls under the Way Too Much Damn Information (WTMDI) file for you, but there you go.
So anyway, this guy notices me eye-ing his iPhone and sort of salivating as I did it. He took it out and let me hold it. My hands instantly began to move and jitter with happiness. The guy asked if I wanted one, and I told him I wanted one more than I had wanted just about anything else in the world. I had stopped short of saying "than anything else in the world," because I figured I might imperil my immortal soul if I didn't add the "almost" in there for good measure.
Well, the guy re-holsters his phone after I very nearly wept after holding it, and he says to me. "Listen, you deserve an iPhone." I found that I agreed with him wholeheartedly. "I tell you what I am going to do," he said. For a moment I thought the next words out of his mouth were going to be "I am going to give you my iPhone," but that would have been insane. Still... "What I am going to do is pray that you would get an iPhone."
With that, he put his hand on my shoulder and proceeded to pray. It went something like this:
God, Leon is your servant. He works hard for the kingdom, sacrificing his time, his energy, giving his all as a pastor. You know that he wants an iPhone, and your son Jesus told us that whatever we asked for in his name that he would do. So, I want to boldly pray in Jesus name to give Leon an iPhone. He deserves it, and you want your children to have good things. I pray this in the holy name of Jesus, Amen.
I didn't quite know what to do with all of that, to be honest with you. On the one hand, I felt as though one or both of us might be going to hell because we had just (well he did) prayed for an iPhone in the name of Jesus. On the other hand, I was sort of hoping that it worked.
As it turned out, I did get an iPhone just a few months later on my birthday. Since then, I have had it upgraded to the iPhone 3G---the 16 gig one, and yes, my hands are happy.
Just for the record, I don't think that Jesus gave a rip whether or not I got an iPhone.
If he did, I'm not sure if I would feel all that comfortable dedicating my whole life to serving him and the Church that I am told resembles him somehow.
But there are other things that I've asked for---even bargained for, and each time I asked or bargained I sort of had this idea that Jesus probably owed me, since I was such a dedicated disciple. And since Jesus owed me for all of the awesome things I have done and would do in his name for the sake of the Church, he sure has hell better come through.
Now most of these conversations with Jesus were fairly one-sided. I talked, Jesus listened. At least that's how I perceived it. I wasn't demanding, and I wasn't asking for iPhones or a new car or my best purpose driven life right now. I was asking for answers to life's serious dilemmas: "Who am I?" "What am I supposed to do with my life?" "Is this the right call?" "I need healing, can you heal me?" "My faith is wavering, can you help me?" Then I might bargain a bit. "If you give me a vision for what job I am supposed to take, I will increase my tithe." or "If you heal me, I will give up cursing completely." or "If you just let me know that all of this is for real, I will never doubt you again."
And deep inside, though I was afraid to say it out loud, I would sort of mutter beneath my breath through the clenched teeth of my soul, "You better fix this. After all I've done for you."
You ever notice that the Jesus that we choose to follow always seems to resemble the Jesus that we desire?
Something else that I have noticed is that I usually end up standing in the way of my becoming more genuinely in relationship with the Messiah that I truly deserve rather than the Messiah I believe I deserve.
In the Gospel According to Mark there is this whole passage where Jesus begins telling all of his followers, would-be followers and anyone else who happened to be standing around that he is going to die---more specifically that he is going to be put to death. Now, the guys who had become followers of Jesus got sort of upset about this. Many of them had sort of staked their fortunes, their lives on the fact that Jesus was THE Messiah, the one that was going to restore Israel to its rightful place among the nations (on top) and that they would be right near the guy in charge when it happened...which meant promotions, baby.
In fact, when Jesus begins spouting off about how he is going to die, Peter sort of takes him by the arm and leads him away from everyone. "Listen, man," he tells him, "this will never do. You have to stop talking like that." Peter is thinking, What the (bleep) are we going to do with this guy? Doesn't he see the potential that he has? Doesn't he know how many people he can get to come to worship? Doesn't he know that he could have fourteen worship services, seven satellite church locations, a television station and best selling books. We are on to something here and all of this talk of dying is just going to screw it all up!
I can't really back that exegesis up, to be honest. But it feels right.
Then Jesus goes and does something very strange. He turns on Peter and says, "Get behind me Satan..." Now I am not sure, but that probably had to suck for Peter. "Satan" was another word for "adversary," but it still meant about the same thing. I don't think for a minute that Jesus was equating Peter with Satan, but it seems pretty clear that he believed that Satan had pretty much co-opted Peter for a bit.
This whole exchange between Peter and Jesus sort of frightens me. Do you get the sense that it's a fairly dangerous thing to follow the wrong Jesus? To fashion Jesus in the image you think you deserve? To completely miss the mark as to what Jesus is all about?
Could it be like letting Satan infiltrate your thoughts, your minds, your motivations... your discipleship?
Jesus went on to address his followers and everyone else after he freed himself from Peter's "aside." He told them that if anyone wanted to truly follow him, they needed to "take up their cross and follow."
The cross... a symbol used by the Empire to heap shame, degradation and terror on those it sought to suppress. The cross... a symbol of death. Condemned people were forced by the ancient Romans to carry the cross beam of the wooden cross upon which they were to be hung from the place of judgement--a palace or a court--- and then through the streets and to the place of execution. There they would be hung on that cross, naked and forsaken.
In Deuteronomy 21 the Hebrew Scriptures declare that anyone who was hanged on a tree was accursed by God.
Jesus tells his followers that they need to take up their crosses and follow. Christians in our culture---the ones who follow the kinder, gentler Jesus, the politically powerful Jesus, the Jesus they think they deserve---tend to think that their "cross" is just one of the many burdens that they have been given in life to tote around a while. Admittedly, some of those burdens are pretty burdensome.
But they aren't a cross.
What Jesus was talking about was noting short of a painful, redemptive action that was voluntarily taken on behalf of another.
And here is the rub...
True Christian discipleship is dependent upon our discovering who Jesus is. We can't discover who Jesus really is, and what we are called to do as his followers if we have allowed ourselves to follow a false Messiah---a Jesus who looks and acts just as we want him to.