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Jesus’ counterintuitive gospel

For most of my life, I’ve been trying to separate the Americanized Jesus I grew up with from the Jesus I keep reading about in Scripture. The American Jesus doesn’t ask much of me. But the Jesus I see in the gospels makes me uncomfortable. His first shot across the bow of humanity was the Sermon …
By Seth Barnes

Jesus with skinFor most of my life, I’ve been trying to separate the Americanized Jesus I grew up with from the Jesus I keep reading about in Scripture. The American Jesus doesn’t ask much of me. But the Jesus I see in the gospels makes me uncomfortable. His first shot across the bow of humanity was the Sermon on the Mount, a three chapter red letter speech that left his listeners scratching their heads.  In it he directly challenged his listeners’ conventional religious thinking. And it doesn’t seem to be any easier for us.

We who want to follow Jesus would do well to sit with those listeners and allow him to challenge our religious thinking as well.  He begins by listing nine separate groups of people who, though they seem powerless to us, actually because of their humble position, are in a position to flex/their spiritual muscles.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is a counterintuitive statement. If I’m feeling depleted and low, it doesn’t make sense that I’m in some way blessed.

Next, Jesus lists six pieces of conventional wisdom that need debunking.  Check out when he says, “You have heard it said.”  It’s not that the conventional wisdom is wrong, it is just incomplete – it needs to be understood in the light of grace.

Yes, murder is bad, but just thinking hateful thoughts will lead you down the path to murder, so begin there.  Adultery is bad, but it’s preceded by wandering eyes.

We want to be told what to do, we want a simple gospel of right and wrong.  But Jesus is interested in our freedom.  He wants us to choose to love with our whole hearts.  It’s a maddening thing to have such freedom.  It requires a whole other level of accountability – accountability not just for actions, but for thoughts and motives.  Jesus introduces a lot of gray into a black and white world.  Jesus says, you thought religion was about following a list of rules, but it’s about a heart of giving that reaches out to the weak – to the widows and orphans.  “Move into the ambiguity of a weak position,” he says.

Are you there with Jesus on that mountaintop?  Do you hear him telling you to stop judging and to show mercy instead?

We Evangelicals often want to begin with right and wrong thinking.  For example, we want to begin by saying, “Homosexuality is wrong,” when Jesus is saying, “Begin by loving the gay person in your life.”  We want to point our fingers at the lawbreakers around us when we ourselves are in need of grace.

It’s an upside-down kingdom led by a man whom few could follow.  He constantly challenges me all these many years since I first started following him. How about you?

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