The Surprising Jesus
We live in a rural part of the state of Connecticut. Small town USA. It us not unusual for us to find ourselves behind a very slow moving vehicle. I’m talking about a School bus, or a NETTS truck (New England Tractor Training School-student driver), or a farm tractor, or the worst—a truck full of manure that is not only slow but leaking!! This usually occurs when we are running late! FRUSTRATION ensues.
Well there is a highway in San Diego, CA. where one exit leads from one highway directly onto another—like 84 to 91 in Hartford. Only this exit in San Diego leads to a steep upward hill grade on the second highway. This stretch of highway is frequented by cement trucks. Imagine you are driving at 65 mph and you take that exit only to find a cement truck trying to make it up the steep hill at 20 mph or less.
The following is a story of a woman who experienced that scenario. She found herself on that highway behind a large red and yellow cement truck. The truck was moving so slowly that she had to watch the ire tread to be sure the truck was even moving. Time seemed to be standing still. Then both she and the truck approached the same exit. After what seemed like an eternity the woman finally was able to pass the red and yellow cement truck. She wasn’t just angry she was LIVID! As she passed the truck she looked up at the driver. A hand puppet appeared in his window as the truck driver smiled. Well, that unexpected gesture completely defused the woman ire. She laughed and smiled. She was no longer angry. In fact she now says that as she travels that section of the highway she looks expectantly for one red and yellow cement truck.
As I read this story, I was as surprised as the woman was. I was expecting some kind of expression or exchange of anger from her toward the driver of the truck. Perhaps angry words or gestures. But when you think about it, life is full of unexpected moments. Unfortunately not all unexpected events turn out as well as our story did. Unexpected happenings can upset us sometimes. We like to be in control, and when something unexpected happens we lose that control. There are some who don’t like surprises at all even good surprises.
Our biblical story today introduces an unexpected Jesus to the crowds and to us. They expected him to be more like a King not someone who ate with housewives, fisherman, tax collectors, the poor, and widows. Despite Jesus’ immense popularity it was clear that his ministry was unconventional. His teachings sometimes went against the conventional wisdom of his time.
As is sometimes the case even now with families, Jesus’ family didn’t understand his ministry. He was doing these unconventional healings—Oh my goodness— even on the Sabbath. And his teachings of the Law went beyond what had been given to Moses. His family was concerned about him. He must have a problem. So when he came home his family thought this was a chance to talk to him, to get him to back off all this radically new stuff that made him seem like he was out of his mind. Jesus wasn’t what the people expected. They had very different ideas of what a Messiah would be like. Jesus didn’t quite fit the bill.
If Jesus returned today what would we say about him? Would Jesus be a republican or a democrat. Where would Jesus stand on abortion, gun control, undocumented immigrants, food insecurity, climate change?
We call ourselves followers of Jesus. Is it possible he might be an embarrassment to us? Or even more appropriate, would we be an embarrassment to him?
Timothy George had the radical nature of Jesus’ ministry was revealed to him in an unexpected way. He was in his first year as pastor of the First Baptist Church in, Chelsea, Massachusetts. Chelsea, says George, is one of the most isolated, economically deprived, inner-city sections of greater Boston: there are 27,000 people crowded into less than two square miles. Chelsea is a receptacle for all kinds of dropouts ” prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts, all the people who have not “made it” and probably never will.
“Every new minister to Chelsea at that time soon became acquainted with one of these drop-outs, an alcoholic known to everyone as Johnny Cornflakes because he often rummaged through the trash, looking through the cereal boxes or whatever to find a bit of food. George’s church sometimes gave Johnny Cornflakes food and clothes and tried to see that he had a place to spend the night.
One Sunday after church Timothy George and his wife held their first dinner party in Chelsea for out-of-town guests. They had worked very hard to make everything perfect: they had brought out their best linen and their finest dishes in order to make a good impression. But right in the middle of the main course the front door of the parsonage burst open. Into their dining room in all of his inebriated glory sauntered Johnny Cornflakes. Everyone was startled!
Timothy later wrote that he suddenly knew what the Pharisees must have felt like. “Johnny Cornflakes was someone you’d hand a sandwich to at the back door, someone you’d deliver a CARE package to at the inner-city mission, but definitely not someone you would invite to a Sunday dinner! Yet,” George continues, “this is exactly what Jesus did, he invited all the Johnny Cornflakes of Jerusalem to Sunday dinner with the best linen and the finest dishes.”
His family and religious officials who had also heard reports of Jesus unexpected activity wondered if he was controlled by the devil. Jesus’ mother and other family members came to talk some sense into him because they thought he was over doing it a bit.
Sometimes I wonder if the same thing would happen today. Religious officials would still be uncomfortable. Those who think they have Jesus all figured out would be really upset with his activity. Jesus is too complicated an individual to put him in a box and tie it up with a pretty bow and say we have Jesus all figured out.
There is one thing that I know for certain about Jesus: JESUS IS CONCERNED ABOUT PEOPLE. I have no idea what political party he would vote for. I can’t tell you what stand Jesus would take on the major issues of our time. Jesus was far too complex for us to be able to say this is who he is. I can, however with confidence tell you that: Jesus is for you and for me and for every woman, man, and child on this planet.
I believe Jesus would not be doing his ministry only in the church, if he were here today. No he would be out at LaCrosse games , Little League ball games, offices, soup kitchens, food pantries, living rooms, around dinner tables, any place he could be with and get to know people. Jesus cares about people.
Jesus was not what the people his time expected. He could not be easily defined. But one thing we know. Everything he did “every lesson he taught” every indignity he suffered’ we designed to bring you and me home to God.