Which Jesus?

by Andrew Forrest

I just read today’s reading to my 8 year-old son, and this is what he said:

“I don’t think John the Baptist did a good job telling the people about who Jesus would be because Jesus didn’t come with fire…he was gracious to the people, and John kinda gave people the wrong idea.”

Is that right? John is certainly a fiery fellow. See how he addresses the Pharisees (a conservative Jewish group who believed that the Jews needed to come back to the Torah and be obedient) and the Sadducees (the ruling group of priests who collaborated with the Romans):

“You brood of vipers….

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptist, Matthew 3:11-12

That image of a wrathful judge doesn’t fit with our typical picture of Jesus, meek and mild. And, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus does seem gracious and kind in many situations. In that way, my son was right.

But on the other hand, there are elements of the wrathful judge in Matthew’s description of Jesus. (To cite one example among many, see the famous parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.)

As we read Matthew’s Gospel, we’ll see that Jesus doesn’t fit preconceived notions, in his time or in our own. Yes, he is gracious and merciful (particularly towards the weak and downtrodden), but he is also forthright and condemning (particularly towards the religious and arrogant).

Jesus doesn’t conform to our expectations, and that’s the point:

We don’t fit Jesus into what we already think. Rather, we need to fit what we think into Jesus. That’s much harder, and much more important.

Today’s Scripture

Matthew 3

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4 comments

Sunny Kern January 7, 2019 - 7:08 am

I agree. It seems that we always tend to think of God as being only about justice, which was the emphansis when I grew up, or he is all mercy which seems to be the emphansis today. We are uncomfortable letting God be God showing mercy when he chooses to show mercy or executing justice when he chooses. If I can make him predictable with always justice or always mercy the I am in control, but I am not in control, but he is.

The word repentance conjures up different images. Maybe the most common one is being really sorry for my sins. But, the Greek word is a combination of two words “think + again.” I have come to think of the call to repentance as a call to get a second set of thoughts about God and about myshelf. When I do that it changes me and what I do.

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Mary Ann January 7, 2019 - 9:11 am

I have pondered the summary for today’s reading. I struggle with the concept of “fitting what I already think into Jesus”. One thing we know for sure is parts of what we already think are not good. For example, biases. Is the concept of fitting what I think into Jesus so he can show me a better way when I am wrong?

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Andrew Forrest January 7, 2019 - 9:23 am

Yes, I think that’s part of it. Another part is the idea that Jesus is the standard, not me. So, that means I can’t pick and choose what already pleases me or conforms to what I already think or do. If we are not aligned, he is not wrong, I am.

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Mary Ann January 7, 2019 - 9:37 am

My daily blessing. Amen.

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