By Cole Hartin
My wife sometimes reminds me of Jesus.
Let me tell you what I mean:
Based on years together, I have built up a picture of my wife, Amy, in my mind. This includes what I imagine about her preferences, opinions, and choices. I am taken off-guard, then, when suddenly something she actually says doesn’t match up with what I had previously thought about her. I find it disorienting.
For instance, Amy does not like cherries. That’s fine, I thought. But then, over a holiday weekend a few years ago, we visited my parents. My mother made cherry pie. I was certain Amy wouldn’t like this, because she had told me she didn’t like cherries. She tried the pie (probably to be polite). And she enjoyed it.
“You probably don’t like this,” I said.
“Why? What do you mean? It’s delicious,” she shot back.
“But you don’t like cherries.”
“Normally, no. But this is really good,” she replied.
My mind was blown.
And my wife reminds me of Jesus because things like this happen all the time.
With both Amy and Jesus, I have an idea of who they are, and then they, being more real than my thoughts about them, shatter the illusions I’ve made in my mind.
I have acquired, over a lifetime in the Church and reading the Bible, a stock of images of Jesus. I have an idea in my mind about what Jesus is like, how he acts, and what he values. And then I read a passage of Scripture once again, and I am confronted with the reality that my preconceptions of Jesus need to be corrected. The real Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture, is far more interesting and complex than my fuzzy visions of him.
If you are a Christian like me, you might have the same tendency. We have a long history of making God into our own image, and the passages that pop up in Mark 11:1-13:13 remind me that I don’t always have quite the grasp on Jesus that I think I do. Moreover, they remind me that I don’t always like Jesus, not because Jesus is wrong, but because he’s not the kind of God that does the things I think he should.
Just a few examples:
Jesus asks his disciples to do awkward things. In Mark 11:2, he tells his disciples to go borrow someone’s colt without any real explanation other than, “The Lord has need of it.” I thought Jesus might have given a more thorough explanation, and maybe provide the disciples with some documentation in case the situation got dicey.
Or Jesus upsets the tables of merchants who are selling their goods in the temple in Mark 11:15-19. I understand Jesus’ sentiment, here. But could he not have politely asked the merchants to leave? Did he really have to upend their tables? I thought Jesus would have been less passionate about his people glibly doing business in a holy place.
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12) is also disagreeable to me. Jesus tells this whole story about the tenants a master puts in charge of his vineyards. And when the master sends his servants (and finally his son) to collect from the tenants, they kill them. I find that this parable implicates me with the murderous group a little too much. I don’t like the parable’s tone of judgment either.
And then, of course, we have the instruction that Jesus gives to his disciples in Mark 12:13-17 to pay taxes to an unjust empire. What if I don’t want to pay taxes? I would have liked it better if Jesus told me to support the government that holds the same values as I do.
I could go on and on.
Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Son of God, invites me again and again to challenge the assumptions I have about him. Scripture humiliates me by reminding me that God is not so easy to contain in my mind as I would like. Though I sometimes find Jesus to be acting “out of character,” I pray that I might have the wisdom to allow him to break my prejudices about what I think is acceptable for God to do or not.
Christians believe that Scripture is inspired by God. We believe that it has the power and authority to communicate what God intends it to. This means that we have always to subject our own preferences, likes, and dislikes to the narratives of Scripture.
Of course, interpretation is important here, and there are passages of Scripture that are less clear. Moreover, learning how to apply Jesus’ teaching takes years. But I pray for the wisdom to be enlightened by the Word of God, rather than wresting it to fit into my own little compartment for it. I pray for the openness to the Holy Spirit to shape my heart to be more like Jesus, rather than turning away when he does things I do not like or I do not expect.
The Rev. Dr. Cole Hartin is assistant curate at St. Luke’s in Saint John, New Brunswick.