(This is your warning that I’m discussing the forbidden topic of religion. I’m even going to quote Bible verses. If you’re cool with that, keep reading. If religion offends you, you should probably keep reading anyway. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
After reading my very rushed blog yesterday, my husband pointed out that it was both vague and somewhat accusatory. I knew it was vague— to be honest, I dashed it off quickly because I had other work to get done— but I didn’t mean for it to be accusatory. So, since I have more time today, I wanted to expound a bit on my statement.
I spent a few hours the other day reading through sections of three of the Gospels: Matthew, Luke, and John. As I read, I marveled that, if asked to describe Jesus, most people, Christian or not, would probably say that he was a good teacher who taught us to love each other, be nice, and do good things. This is because some of his most famous teachings follow these lines (all quotes are from the NIV translation):
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
As a Christian, I believe everything that the Bible says is true. Therefore, when Jesus says that he is gentle and humble, I believe him. Most people would agree. But if you read his teachings long enough, you begin to notice that his overarching themes are much darker than happiness, niceness, love and peace. They are severe. They demand a giving up of life, not just a change of behavior. They are anything but feel-good.
Here are just a sampling of his teachings— and while many of them make more sense in context, most are just as difficult in context as they are out.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38)
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)
“But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:9-10)
“I came to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:49-51)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters— yes, even his own life— he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
When Jesus interacts with people, he is often compassionate, and/or, more commonly, cryptic. Other times, though, his dialogue is dripping with sarcasm:
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day— for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:31-33)
Sometimes, as when he healed ten lepers and only one came back to thank him, he sounds arrogant:
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17)
Other times, he just chews people out:
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:54-56)
And he has no problem being impolitely blunt:
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (John 8:42-44)
In short, Jesus said a lot of nice things that can be written in fancy font on bookmarks to give us warm fuzzies— but the majority of his teaching isn’t like this, and many things he says are controversial or difficult enough to make anyone squirm. Cherry-picking the things we like and ignoring the things we don’t is an act of either disbelief or idolatry. It gives us an incomplete picture of who Jesus was, and what he was trying to tell us.
Jesus’ teachings do not exist to make his followers happy— they exist to make us more like God. That is not an easy or popular path. But it’s the only path he offers. Or, in his own words:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)