Jesus Wasn’t Always Nice

Jesus Wasn’t Always Nice January 13, 2021

By Giotto di Bondone – Unknown source, Public Domain

There seems to be a recent movement among some Christians who think that Jesus played nice. They’ll see what I write on Patheos or on social media, bristle at the words, and then conclude that I am not very Christlike (recently labelled “self-righteous”) because in their minds, Jesus was all about love, was all about meeting people where they are at, all about listening and not judging others. And look, to some extent, Jesus was all about those things. Sometimes. And in some contexts. But he was also a rabble-rouser. He wasn’t always nice. And I’m guessing he wasn’t all that liked by a large group of his contemporaries.

Take, for instance, that time he had no interest in listening as he laid into a group of Pharisees and “teachers of the law.” It’s not so nice. Go ahead and read Matthew 23 for yourself. All of it. It’s not pretty. He calls religious leaders – those who in today’s world would be pastors, celebrity Christians, televangelists, prosperity preachers – hypocrites. He calls them a “brood of vipers.” Whitewashed tombs. He basically says they are all fake and care for nothing except how they look in front of the crowds. He also says they are “blind fools.” Blind fools! Not nice. Not likeable. Not “just love each other, maaaan!”

Then there’s Luke 11. In this chapter, Jesus is quite insulting. In fact, one of the lawyers in the crowd tells him so. To his face! What does Jesus do? He doubles down. He charges them with all the blood of the prophets since the foundation of the world. All the blood! Since the foundation of the world! Got-dyamn, Jesus! Where’s all that hippie love? Where’s that “It’s all about meeting people where they are at” stuff? Nowhere! Instead, it’s go time. Mano a mano.

Of course, who could forget the time he flipped over a bunch of tables in protest of the sacrificial system that was at the center of his religion? Apparently a bunch of people who think it’s “self-righteous” to criticize and critique one’s faith tradition. And look, I don’t think Jesus was being violent in that situation, even though that story is used to justify a violent depiction of Jesus by many a conservative Evangelical. But, in typical prophetic fashion, he was being dramatic. He was making a scene. He wasn’t meeting people where they were at. He had had it. And people were gonna know it.

Now listen, I’m not saying this should give us license to be total assholes. But sometimes you gotta call things like you see them. You gotta call out systems of oppression wherever you see it. Sometimes the Jesus thing to do is stand your ground and stand up for the truth, even if it’s not gonna make you very popular among either the so-called religious leaders of your day or even the “woke” crowd with an obvious axe to grind. Sometimes calling shit out is the loving thing to do.

Think about it: How can you claim to love others if you aren’t willing to challenge the very systems that oppresses those “others?” How can you “play nice” when people are starving in the streets, when governments are bombing city streets, or when black folks are being killed by those who are supposedly there to protect our streets? You can’t! So don’t you dare tell me to play nice and meet people somewhere in the middle when somewhere in the middle is still somewhere in hell. And God almighty, stop playing the Jesus card as if Jesus wasn’t stirring shit up, politically, ethically, and theologically. Or, continue to do so, if that makes you feel better about things.

At the end of the day, we all sort of believe in the Jesus we want. If we want a violent Jesus who’s gonna turn up at the End of Days to lay waste to everyone who isn’t on our team, then that’s what we’re gonna see in the Bible. If we want a ’60s hippie Jesus who smokes pot and listens to the Grateful Dead, then we’ll probably see that Jesus in the text. I, for one, see a Jesus who was part Jewish mystic, part healer, part socio-political agitator, part wisdom teacher, and part movement founder. And Marcus Borg agrees with me. Let me rephrase: I would agree with Borg because who the hell am I? He was the man! I’m just a dude with a blog.

So, have your Jesus. Just know that if you play the Jesus card, so can I. Jesus was a complex fella, one who was tough to pigeonhole, and who also learned a lot as he went through life. He didn’t always play nice, and that’s okay. It’s okay to also not play nice, and it doesn’t mean you’re not Christlike or that you’re “self-righteous.” Plus, doesn’t it take a bit of self-righteousness to flippantly fling around that term at people you don’t really know personally? Oh, but I digress.

Peace. Until next time.

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About Matthew Distefano
Matthew is a best-selling author, blogger, podcaster, long-time social worker, and hip-hop artist. He is an outspoken advocate for nonviolence, happily married, with one daughter. Outside of writing, his interests include gardening, hiking, and European football. He lives in Northern California You can read more about the author here.

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