One of the things that people often point out in the Jesus story is the way the religious elites of Jesus’ day responded to him–to his teaching, his healings, his message about God’s Kingdom. Their continual posture toward Jesus and what he was doing was one of criticism and judgment. What’s worse, they weren’t satisfied by just conducting a negative PR campaign, time and again they tried to find ways to trick and trap Jesus so they could find a reason to arrest him and have him killed.
Their main issue with Jesus? He messed up their cookie cutter world. In their mind people who were loved and accepted by God were just like them.
And Jesus continually associates–over meals, which were actually about more than just food–with sinners [people who were ritually unclean] and tax collectors [even worse than sinners], the exact opposite of the kinds of people the religious leaders’ world view allowed them to see as loved and accepted by God.
Jesus announces and celebrates God’s kingdom as a present reality, and he does it among the last group of people you’d expect. He’s with the outcast,
the one with the rap sheet that’s a mile long,
the one who would never darken a church door because he knows the building might fall in,
the one who’s been wounded by the religion that was supposed to connect her to God,
the one who doesn’t measure up.
Jesus sits with them, eats with them, and announces to them that God is with them right where they are. That he loves them and accepts them and invites them into a new life, a new way of reconciliation, peace, joy, love, and community.
And this drives the religious leaders nuts.
See, Jesus was controversial. His message was inflammatory.
But notice who it inflamed!
It wasn’t the tax collector, sinner, or prostitute.
It was the religious, the one who was so sure of their own acceptance, and equally sure that God would never accept anyone who didn’t meet their standard.
I love how Rachel Held Evans put it on Twitter last week:
The gospel is offensive, not because of who it cuts out, but because of who it welcomes in.
This reality is clearly present in even a cursory reading of the Gospels. Jesus’ message is offensive to the religious elite because Jesus’ message is one of grace, acceptance, and inclusion.
Lots of Christians today love to talk about being offensive,
willing to ‘tell the truth’ no matter ‘who it offends’.
We’ve got all the bravado, all the swagger of those 1st century opponents of Jesus’ message. Except we have Twitter and Facebook.
Yet, if we really read the Jesus story and seek to be like him, who will we offend?
It we preach Jesus’ Kingdom message, who will most likely resist us?
Won’t it be us?
And shouldn’t that cause us to stop, to think, and to ask serious, difficult questions?