And they never got any farther.
Mark 6:3 – The Message
We all have prejudices – automatic systems that judge and label others according to our home culture’s biases and the preferences instilled in our upbringing. And when someone acts outside our expectations we can have one of two responses: a pleasant surprise – or deep offense. With Jesus – on this day, it was the latter.
He was only familiar to them by profession and family. And in a humble town the size of Nazareth – everyone knew everything about everyone else. There were no secrets. Early on such scandal centered around Mary and Joseph – pregnant out of wedlock – off to Bethlehem while so far along in her pregnancy. They were away for a few years – and a bit of hubbub surrounded their return after a few years in Egypt. Most of that had died down. Until recently. When he decided to preach in the local synagogue on the Sabbath – they were somehow deeply offended and refused to believe. “Who does he think he is? He is only a carpenter – the scandalous son of Mary.”
The ability to judge can be useful – like when you see and sense a dangerous stranger approaching you and you are able to steer clear of trouble. Sometimes discernment can prevent unwanted and unwarranted difficulties. More often than not, however, we trip over what little we know about people. It is easy and within our human nature to judge the book by the proverbial cover – not opening ourselves to understanding the humanity beneath – the Imago Dei – Image of God that resides within both white trash and Harvard grad. And just as we so easily trip over ignorance of people – we can so easily trip over our preconceived, yet incomplete notions of who Jesus is.
Philip Yancey, in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew unpacks how his childhood Sunday school lessons on Jesus were far different than the one he was experiencing now:
In physical appearance, Jesus favored those who would have been kicked out of Bible college and rejected by most churches. Among his contemporaries he somehow gained a reputation as a ‘wine-bibber and a glutton.’ Those in authority, whether religious or political, regarded him as a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace. He spoke and acted like a revolutionary, scorning fame, family, property, and other traditional measures of success.
Jesus, I found, bore little resemblance to the Mister Rogers figure I had met in Sunday school, and was remarkably unlike the person I had studied in Bible college. For one thing, he was far less tame (15-16, 23).
Michael Card calls Jesus the Scandalon – the one on whom every person shall sometime trip: “The stone that makes men stumble and the rock that makes them fall.” Card writes:
The heart of our offense with Jesus is that He fails to meet our expectations… Everyone who comes to know Jesus stumbles because of Him. He fails to meet our wrong expectations. He calls us to do impossible things or to become something we think we could never become. This is His way of teaching us how much we need Him. He breaks us to pieces so that He can put us back together in His image.” (Another Jesus is preached in America. He is different altogether. He never does anything unexpected He is safe and predictable and easy to follow. He answers every prayer that is formulated correctly and accompanied by the right ‘love gift.’ He is easily ‘stepped over.’ That is not the Jesus of the Bible. The last thing He is, is safe. (Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ, p. 85).
Where is the gentle shepherd who leads us beside still waters and restores our soul?
I don’t think Jesus is like the third grade bully at recess who intentionally trips you to make you the laughingstock of the playground. He isn’t tripping men and women to exert some sense of authority of power. Our own ignorance trips us – our misinformation, our laziness, our inability to let Him be astonishing and authoritative and powerful in our lives for fear we might be led into someplace uncomfortable and foolish (irrational, unsafe, unpredictable, threatening, etc.)
I am like the Nazarenes, at times. I can be so tempted to be astonished – but lazy. Afterall, pursuing and seeking to understand someone better takes so much effort – it’s easier to label someone – to write them off – to stuff them in a box that is manageable and degradable. I can measure my own success by their failures.
Or perhaps, we will courageously let Him reveal Himself with greater intimacy and power in and through our lives. This is the prayer of Paul for the Ephesians: That God would open the eyes of their hearts – to be given spiritual wisdom and understanding in order to know God better. In this age of infoglut, less of us are truly ignorant so much as we are lazy and fearful. Overwhelmed – naturally – this is a frenetic generation afraid to fall behind, afraid to get ahead, afraid to know and be known – to love and be loved. We say, “Information is power” but that is a misnomer. Info can change the outside – the buying habits, personal habits, and work habits.
Instead, more appropriately, intimacy is power. Knowing Him and being known by Him is power. Intimacy has the potency to strip our illusions, allay our fears, and call forth the courage that comes from knowing someone is for you – warts and all! Intimacy exchanges our preconceived and preferable labels and expectations with right and true, and yes, sometimes very threatening ones. Intimacy requires the greatest of valor – walking into the black cloud to where God is, rather than standing in the distance with the crowds who are discontented, fearful and would rather go back to the oppressive, yet predictable, slavery of Egypt. (Ex 20:21).
Lord I don’t want to trip over you because of my unwillingness to let you reveal more, because of my fear that you might be beyond my ability to manage,
because of my ignorance of your goodness and lovingkindness.
So I pray, too, that you’d open the eyes of my heart –
that I might not pigeon-hole you –
both for myself and as I teach and live out your love before others.
I want to go farther in relationship with you –
I’m inviting you to take me by the hand –
to reveal your mercy and might to me and through me.
And Lord, may you grant me grace and courage and wisdom to point others to You –
the Living Christ –
God with all authority –
God with us.
Not to the preconceived and pitiable,
deity currently preferable in North America.