“What a friend we have in Jesus.” I love that old hymn; but there are days . . . .
There are days I’m just not sure what to do with Jesus. Unlike those folks of old who were so bothered by him they were willing to kill him to silence him, I wouldn’t go that far. I don’t even want to go that far. Most days I like him and some days I even want to be like him.
While I tend to reject the idea of the total depravity of man (and women, but those that espouse this doctrine don’t tend to use inclusive language, though many would be quick to blame women for their depravity) . . . . Pardon me, I digressed. While I tend to reject the idea of the total depravity of man, I do understand my sinful nature. I need a Savior. I understand the sentiments expressed by a church member this week in an email sent to me: “I know that I have reached this point in my life with all my hopes riding on His sacrifice on the Cross and His love for all of us as my only true hope for salvation.” So why would I want to get rid of Jesus?
Actually, there’s in no way do I want to get rid of Jesus. I just want to tame him a bit. His radicalism may have been okay for his day . . . maybe even necessary, but today is a different time. Radicalism can get you branded as a weirdo, a right- or left-wing politician, and a fanatic. Radicalism like his can cause otherwise sane people to do weird and risky things. Consider my neighbor and friend Wendell Berry.
Wendell tends to take the biblical ideas of justice and care of creation to the extreme. While he’s motivated many of us to be less wasteful, some of us to grow at least some of our own food, and a few of us to actually care about place enough to stay in place, he sometimes gets carried away. As I write this, seventy-six year-old Wendell and a few friends are camping out in the reception area of Governor Beshear’s office at the Kentucky State Capitol. Wendell and friends are upset about the effects of strip mining in Eastern Kentucky and about Kentucky adopting looser rules than the federal government. They had thought they would be arrested on Friday and come home shortly afterwards; but the Governor apparently hated to see nicely dressed folks go to jail. He gave them a pass to spend the weekend. If Wendell were less radical, he could have merely written another stinging essay about the evils, cleared his conscience, and been home this weekend to attend church with Tanya. If truth be known, this may all be Jesus’ fault. Wendell, contrary to what many of those folks who tend to discount women think, is a Jesus-follower. I suspect that while I sit comfortably in my study, Jesus has joined Wendell and his friends at the Capitol.
Jesus, you see, isn’t satisfied with our keeping the letter of the law. He wants us to go deeper and for our actions to be motivated by something older and more powerful than the law. Thus he equates calling a person a fool with murder, saying that both put us in danger of judgment (Matthew 5:21-26). Surely, he is joking. Goodness just because I think you’re a fool doesn’t mean I’d kill you. Of course, it might mean I’d dismiss you as unworthy of love, and I might not mourn were you to die of some cause other than my own hand. Jesus apparently believes my name-calling could go one step further, that having dismissed you as a fool, I might just eliminate you.
Crazy isn’t it? What are we going to do about Jesus? Reject him? Tame him (which is just the “civil, Christian way of rejecting him)? Or will we follow him? If the latter, you might want to get into shape. This isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Doubt that? Read Matthew 5-7 and meditate on those chapters for a few days.
What a friend we have in Jesus . . . he keeps pounding away at us and throwing grace at us. What are we to do?