“Jeremiah was a bullfrog.” And Jesus “had mighty fine wine.”
Ok, Jeremiah wasn’t really a bullfrog. (In fact, that catchy lyric in the Three Dog Night song was actually just supposed to be temporary.)
But Jesus was a rebellious, smart-alack, troublemaker for pretty much everyone who was in any position of authority.
(And at least once, he had some mighty fine wine — at his mother’s request, nonetheless).
We often think of Jesus as this soft-spoken, easy-going, happy, kind, wouldn’t-say-a-harsh-thing-to-anyone kind of person. And it’s not that he wasn’t these things, but he sure was quite a bit more. I often think that one of the reasons we have seen such a decline in male participation in our churches is because we have turned Jesus into a big wuss.
There’s no question, his message was one of love–but it wasn’t a weak love. It was a tough love. And sometimes, even an angry, passionate love.
Yes, Jesus told us the greatest commandments were to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22) He even went so far to say that every other law and prophecy told hung on these two simple statements.
He was the one who described himself as the “good shepherd.” He also said to “let the children come to me,” and that you must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.
And that’s what people generally think about Jesus.
What people often forget is that Jesus was a courageous rebel who took on the leaders and world powers of his day directly and forcefully and didn’t quit until they killed him!
He upended the “system!” He went against all the norms of his religion (the Jewish faith) and he basically told Rome, “you can have your little kingdom here–God is still in control regardless.” He completely messed with the heads of everyone who was in power in his society. He literally raised up a revolution that would not just excel past the murderous jealousy of the religious leaders, but that actually overtook the occupying kingdom of Rome. (Familiar with the term “Roman Catholic?” That’s where it comes from. Jesus’ teachings spread so far and to so many people, that the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as their religion.)
I find so often that people don’t think about the radical that Jesus was. And yes, he was a “radical!” He was outside all the norms, he went against all of the establishment and said, “I’m the one who is right!”
Here are some of the things Jesus did as a rebel, as a protester, and as someone who claimed the way that the leaders of his time behaved was backward and wrong. However, instead of using the terms for the Jewish and Roman leaders of his time, I’m going to paraphrase to reference modern religious and governmental institutions as best as possible, so you might see the parallels between what a historical and a modern-day Jesus could be.
(Please keep in mind, the situations I propose are purely hypothetical. Also, I am not necessarily trying to draw comparisons between those parties in the bible story and those in my illustrations; I’m simply trying to draw comparisons in the situations.)
Read the following and tell me this guy wasn’t a tough, bold, brave, and “manly” man. (I won’t even go into his physical suffering and death, and the strength of his faith and love that allowed him to forgive his own killers even as he died.)
Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17)
Jesus walks into Lakewood Church in Texas. Lakewood is the church led by millionaire pastor Joel Osteen. (Here’s a picture of his $10.5M home.) Jesus looks around. In the church, there are all kinds of books and goods, from which the profits of the sales go at least partially, if not directly, to Osteen. Jesus sees this and is enraged at how the pastor of a church has enriched himself beyond belief through the sales of goods and the Sunday collections from his congregation. He snaps and yells at all those people manning the sales tables. He chases after them and runs them out of the building. He then moves to the merchandise display cases and trashes them, flipping tables, knocking over product stands, pulling posters and fliers off the wall. He screams for all who can hear him to stop perverting God’s church–that is it not a place for profit and that its leaders should be modeling humility, love, and forgiveness–they should be helping the poor and those in need–not enriching themselves on the backs of its congregants.
Jesus Denounces the Scribe and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-36)
Jesus decides to crash a national gathering of a mainstream church denomination. As the leaders are attempting to speak, he interrupts them from the crowd of thousands with a group of protesters and claims that those in power are illegitimate. Among the claims he and his demonstrators make:
Church leaders and members place all kinds of rules and responsibilities on their congregations, but they themselves do not follow them.
Church leaders and members make a big show of what they do in “God’s service,” yet fail to do anything for the poor, the needy, and others who most desperately need God’s love and the help of their fellow humans.
Church leaders and members get wrapped up in a single social issue and as a result, miss the bigger picture and the bigger problems and needs that they should be addressing.
Pilate Questions Jesus (Matthew 27:11-14)
Jesus is arrested by federal agents due to charges that have been made up by his enemies, including that he has been planning a coup to oust the elected officials. While under intense questioning from the agents, he does not break down and cry and beg for them to go easy on him. Nor does he get furious and attempt to discredit his accusers. In fact, he’s so strong and confident in his mission that he simply answers questions with a smart remark or simply remains silent and sturdy under intense scrutiny.
Casting the First Stone (John 8:1-11)
(In this example, we’ll pretend Jesus is the white guy as so many people picture him as being instead of a brown-skinned, Palestinean Jew. It’s necessary in order for this analogy to work.) Jesus encounters a lynch mob in 1950s Mississippi that is preparing to hang a young black man for courting a white woman–something in that time was considered impermissible, yet a victimless “crime.” Before the mob has a chance to serve up their “justice” for the young man’s “crime,” Jesus is not only brave enough to stand up to a mob of people with murder on their minds (who could have just as easily killed him, too, without a second thought), but then also convinces them to leave the young man unharmed and to go about their business. Once the mob disburses, Jesus then counsels the young man, making sure he is ok.
Now, I realize some of these stories I’ve made up might sound a little, well, strange, out of left field, and maybe a little absurd. I get it. That’s ok. But do me a favor: with the ideas I’ve shared in mind, read the actual scriptures that are linked to each of them. You’ll see that Jesus was no wimp. He was BOLD. He was STRONG. He was BRAVE. He was more than willing to stand up and speak truth to power, fight for what he knew was right, and oppose injustice and hypocrisy wherever he saw it. Even in these acts, love was his motivation. But just because love was his motive and mission, it certainly did not preclude him from being righteously angry, being brave, and speaking truth to earthly powers–no matter how mighty those powers were.
You might say he was a “straight-shooting, son uva gun.”
So if and when you think of Jesus, remember—Jesus was BOLD, BRAVE, and STRONG. Know that the love of God is the ultimate power and that in the end, the only things that remain will be faith, hope, and love–which is the greatest of all.
And by no means, is love weak.