Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bully Jesus?

Lent 5 B
I think it is kind of cool.  I was looking over my friends from Facebook and realized that my friends cover all sorts of faiths, all sorts of beliefs.  I have friends who are Jewish, friends who are pagan, and friends who are atheists.  What is especially interesting is that no matter what, so often the conversation comes to Jesus.  Even the atheists know about Jesus!  And many of the atheists are, quite embarrassingly, more knowledgeable about Jesus than many of the Christians I know.  No matter what you may say about Jesus, it is almost impossible to live in America and not have some kind of knowledge of Jesus.
But even after all these years, and with all these people talking about Jesus, I still think we don’t really understand Jesus.  I really think we have a concept of Jesus in our head and then we do what we can to make Jesus fit inot our concept.  And actually, that is nothing odd; we do that to just about everything.  But the unfortunate thing is that so often we forget to look at our assumptions of Jesus, and when we fail to look at our assumptions, we begin to do all kinds of things and attribute those actions to Jesus.
A while ago, there was the whole WWJD phenomenon going around.  It sounds like a simple question to ask and a simple question to answer.  What would Jesus do?  But just a look at our gospel reading of two weeks ago should jar us.  Jesus was running through the temple with a whip!  Would we think that Jesus would be doing that?  Or how ‘bout tax collectors and prostitutes?  Jesus was eating with them.  Would we be wanting to do that?  I know, as a priest, if I am seen out regularly with prostitutes, most people are not going to be thinking, “Wow, he is doing what Jesus did!”  No, so often WWJD becomes, “What Would I Do and obviously that is what Jesus would do.”  We tend to want to turn Jesus into our follower instead of trying to follow the way of Jesus.
Now in Biblical times, they probably wouldn’t have had WWJD t-shirts, but they may have had WWTMD tunics and caftans.  WWTMD?  Well, of course, that stands for “What Would the Messiah Do?”  And during those days, there were some pretty strong opinions about what the Messiah would do once he showed up.  The Messiah, the anointed one of God, would be a strong warrior.  The Messiah would come in and fight the battle and lift the people up.  The Messiah would take out the evil king of the time and establish himself as the true ruler.  This is what the people were looking for, and this is not what they found in Jesus.
In Jesus, the people were getting something that was totally unknown to them.  Biblical people didn’t have Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. to help them understand the concept of the servant leader.  All they would have had were the warrior gods; the whole “might makes right” concept.  In their experience, the one who would save them was the one who would conquer those who were evil through a show of force.  But Jesus was not a “go out and attack” kind of Messiah.  And so, for the people of Biblical times, Jesus was an unknown quantity.
I would like to think that with time, we have become more able to understand Christ’s way of “being” in the world.  That over the past 2000 years, we have become more and more learned in the way Jesus has been leading.  I would like to say that, but, unfortunately, I don’t think we have.  I think we have continued to look for the bully Jesus.  We keep looking for the Savior who is going to “take care of” all those other people in the world.  And this searching for the big, violent, Jesus, keeps getting us in trouble.
How do we regain an understanding of what Jesus stood for?  How do we move beyond the tales that the world tells us and see the truth which is before us?  How do we do this?  Well, it is not easy.  Just about everything in the world tells us that those who have the most strength, prestige, or wealth have the most power.  In our society, those with the biggest guns, or the biggest fists, or the biggest bank accounts can hold others hostage.  And when we see these people seemingly succeed through these types of bullying techniques, we have to wonder if it is really worth it to follow Jesus in the way of servant leadership.
It is worth it, I will tell you that, but following the way of servant leadership requires we view the world from a totally different perspective.  Servant leadership means that we must bury our ego, our pride, our need to stand out, and look for ways to help others mend their bruised egos, build up others’ sense of self-worth, and help others to feel they are special and loved. 
So often, what I find is that when I go out looking for ways to make me feel better, make me feel more important, all I end up doing is feeling more alone and more down.  In trying to life myself up, I end up doing just the opposite of what I intend.  But when I allow myself to be a servant, when I move beyond myself and help to build up others, I find that I end up feeling better.
Now, of course, when Jesus speaks of the seed dying and coming back producing more fruit, we are correct to assume that Jesus is speaking of himself.  But also, we need to ask ourselves what might Jesus be asking of us?  I think Jesus is asking us to say “No” to ourselves.  I think Jesus is asking us to look for ways that we can be of service to those around us.  How we can stop asking, “What will happen to me if I help,” and start asking, “What will happen to them if I don’t help?”
This is a quite different way of looking at the world. The Messiah as a Powerful Warrior is the way the world believed Jesus would show up, and is still the way the world believes.  The world tells us that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and that “God helps those that help themselves.”  But Jesus models for us a different way.  Jesus models for us the way of reaching out and loving a hurting world.  As Christ laid down his life for us, he asks us to lay down our lives for others.
I think the hardest part of this whole thing is Jesus’ call for the seed to die.  This is so against the world’s call to be strong and tough.  Jesus asks us to be caring servants.  The world tells us to be self-sufficient Lone Rangers.  Christ calls us to act contrary to ways of society and beckons us to follow.
Lent is coming to a close.  I hope you have been able to use this time as a time of growth, a time of clearing those things that were preventing you from experiencing God in your life.  I hope these last weeks continue to be a time of growth and a time of discovery.  I hope that Christ’s love is a tangible presence in your life.  And I pray that as we approach Passion and Resurrection of Christ, you may be a instrument of Christ’s love in the world.

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