Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Note: This blog continues a series that started with Jesus:counterculture.

Jesus’ teachings baffle me sometimes. Consider a few scenes from his life.

First, in the temple. Jesus and the disciples are loitering about, when Jesus pauses. Look. Quick, look! The disciples scramble, looking about. What is Jesus pointing at? Where? There! That old woman? Yes! Why? She just gave her last two pennies. So? She gave her last two pennies. It was everything she had. (Lk 21)

Then in a home, while Jesus is eating, (Jn 12) a single woman, of no status in that day, brings some spendy Calvin Klein Eternity and douses Jesus’ feet in the perfume. Judas, of betrayal fame, couldn’t believe it: That was a year’s wages! That money could’ve gone to charity! But Jesus blows him off, “Leave her alone….You’ll always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

So Jesus watches a poor, old widow give up everything and then accepts a year’s worth of cash poured on his feet?

In his famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus warns his audience, “Unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:20).

But on another day, Jesus is having lunch with these Pharisees and said, “You crush people with impossible religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Lk 11:46).

Jesus accuses the pastors and leaders of demanding too much from the Jews, but then he calls the people to even higher standards. Isn’t that hypocritical?

On another occasion, hoping to catch Jesus in a subversive mood, someone asks Jesus, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar of not?” Finally, let’s hear it straight from Jesus about the government.

You know the rest (Lk 20:20ff). Whose image is on the coin? So then give Caesar his money. Jesus the revolutionary isn’t sounding too rebellious at the moment. Strike that story for the cause. So what’s the deal? Is Jesus for or against the government?

Two more scenes. The first is the woman at the well (Jn 4). She was a Jewish half-breed and a slut. To her, Jesus offers a life worth living for, the “living water…giving [her] eternal life.”

The second is an obscure story (Mk 7). The woman is a Gentile, an outsider like the first woman but subject to less racism. “Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, and she begged [Jesus] to cast out the demon from her daughter” (7:25-6). Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from [the Jews] and throw it to the dogs.” Yes, he was referring to her, a Gentile, a dog. (But see how it ends.)

This countercultural Jesus offers life to a half-breed no-status slut but disregards the needs of a humble Gentile widow. Was he only compassionate if you caught him on the right day?

Doesn’t Jesus make you mad? Not like angry mad, like insane mad (well, maybe that last one would make you angry mad too). He seems so evasive. At every turn, his words seem to contradict themselves.

This question of the countercultural Jesus strikes at deeper problems; these scenes paint a maddening, apparently contradictory, picture of Jesus. It’s not just a question of whether Jesus is countercultural but whether he lives by any principles at all. It’s about something more than (or other than) being subversive or countercultural. But what is Jesus about then?

1 comment:

Christopher Kou said...

Ah yes. Historical, situational and textual context are key in everything. Apparent contradictions, as you called them, are often easily resolved when the purpose of the action is discerned.