As we move into the thick of Holy Week, my morning reading today included this from Judas: “what will you give me if I hand him over to you…?” There are two intrigues evident in this small but profound passage:
1. Why did the authorities want Jesus? – We’re living at a time in history when lots of people, most people probably, respect Jesus – but not institutional Christianity. This is why we have bumper stickers like, “Lord deliver me…from your followers.” This begs the question: if Jesus is so cool, what’s he doing up there on the cross? Here are some thoughts:
He’s cool because we’ve reformatted Him. (like the picture) The luxury of 2000 years distance allows Jesus to become lots of different things to lots of different people. That’s why you find books titled, “Jesus CEO” written about a guy who had no permanent home, had a to borrow a room for his last meal with friends, and was placed in a borrowed tomb after he died. CEO? I think he’d more likely be mistaken for a homeless indigent. But hundreds of reformatted Jesus’ have canvassed the landscape of history and he makes us feel good about our own personal agendas, left or right, prosperity or liberation, environmental or pietist.
Truth be told, I suspect the real Jesus was hanging on a cross because his agenda was so utterly other, that it cut across the grain, in the end, of everyone. When he was physically present to defend his message and truth, people didn’t have the luxury of reformatting him the way we do today, and so his message offends, and people killed him. This reminds me that I need to be careful, that the real issue is this: Jesus is LORD, which means I need to do the hard work of continuing to try and understand him, and respond to his priorities and agenda not my own. Hard work? Open to the possibilities of misunderstanding? You bet. That’s why dialogue and repentance must be ongoing, and why I’m always suspicious of people who’ve got it all sewn up.
Still, you’d think there’d have been some who understand Jesus message and would have stood by him. In the end though, everyone abandoned him, except two women. Why? That brings us to the second point:
2. Why would followers abandon Him?
a. People abandon Jesus because he fails to meet their expectations. “We thought the kingdom would be now.” “We thought we’d be ruling already.” “We thought following Christ would make us happier than this.” “We thought that Jesus would heal her.” You get the point. Sometimes, on the front end of it, we come to Christ with expectations that are larger than, or other than, what Jesus is offering. This happens because we’ve been sold a false gospel. The good news is this: God is creating a new world and we’re invited to be part of this endeavor, both now and for eternity. That’s it! Stepping into the story offers no immunity from living in a fallen world; only capacity to live well in the midst of it. Miss this, and disillusionment will get you every time.
b. People abandon Jesus for personal gain. “What will you give me…” God’s people throughout history are blessed by God in various ways in order that they might be a blessing to others. But over and over again, we see how easy it is to use the blessings to further our own purposes, seek our own pleasures. Consider Ezekiel 16, where God’s people are likened to a girl made beautiful by God, who then uses her beauty to sleep with other lovers. The gifts we have, of health, resources, influence… I wonder how often I use them in pursuit of my own pleasures rather than my calling to make God’s life visible?
c. People abandon Jesus for safety. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3 that union with Christ means sharing in his suffering. The disciples missed that point on the night of his arrest. We know better. Following Jesus means just that: following – and as I shared this past Sunday, all of us will have our ‘hour of darkness’, just like Christ.
It’s Holy Week… a week of pondering, not only what Jesus has done FOR us, but a week of learning to walk WITH him.
Safety, personal gain, failed expectation? Which is the greatest struggle for you in following Christ?