To see things Jesus’ way, you need a special lens.
We know that Jesus was misunderstood and misinterpreted in His day but have you ever thought that that was pretty inevitable? Consider this: he exposed injustice, he confronted every lie. He proclaimed a “Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees”, who revered the past, while systematically persecuting every new prophet who rose up to vindicate the spirit of the past against the institutions of the past.
He invented parables that were tough on the rich: the torment of hell awaiting rich thoughtless people; the rich who prosper in the world’s eye but are not ready to face God. He attacked the religious and the respectable and called them “whitewashed tombs.” He said God was against them; that Jerusalem’s day was come, and that she must fall. It’s not surprising that he was misunderstood. Suppose it took place here, that an unknown stranger, with no ordination, with no visible authority, had appeared uttering half the severe things he spoke against the selfishness of wealth, against ecclesiastical authorities, against the clergy – suppose that he should say that our whole social life is corrupt and false – suppose that instead of “you blind Pharisee,” the word had been “you stupid Christian!” Should we have fallen at his feet and said, “It’s a message from God, and He is a Son of God; perhaps he is God himself?” Or should we not have rather said, “Loonie! Dangerous fanatic!”
Well, that was exactly what they did say of Jesus.
The sober, respectable inhabitants of Jerusalem, very comfortable themselves, and utterly unable to conceive why things should not go on as they had been going on for a hundred years thought it excessively dangerous to risk the subversion of their quiet enjoyment by such outcries. They said, “If He is permitted to go on this way, the Romans will come and take away our place and nation.” The priests and Pharisees, against whom He had specially spoken, were fiercer still.
But also, His own friends and followers misunderstood Him. They heard him speak of a kingdom of justice and righteousness in that every man should receive the due reward of his deeds. They heard Him say that this kingdom was not far off, but actually among them, hindered only by their sins and dullness from immediate appearance. They were stirred and agitated. They were ripe for anything, and any spark would have produced explosion. So, one time, John and James asked permission to call down fire from heaven upon a village of the Samaritans that would not receive their message. On another occasion, on a single figurative mention of a sword, they began to gird themselves for the struggle: “Lord,” said one, “here are two swords.”
Again, as soon as He entered Jerusalem for the last time, the people clapped and cheered, thinking that the day had come at last. They saw the Conqueror before them who was to vindicate their wrongs. Death to the enemies!
And because their hopes were disappointed, and he was not the demagogue they wanted, they turned against Him. Not the Pharisees only, but the people whom He had come to save – the outcast, and the publican, and the slave,; they whose cause He had pleaded. It was the same people who cried, “ Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
So why am I surprised when WE misunderstand Jesus? When he is tagged on as figure-head to every weird and crazy scheme… used as a mild expletive, used to sell fizzy drinks or chewing gum, pictured holding a machine gun or as a quarter-back, held banner-high to promote patriotism and racial hatred. I guess we are just as dumb as every preceding generation.
And still the Lord comes to us, as one unknown… striding by the sea-shore, bidding us to follow him, promising not instant healing or instant wealth but life itself… through narrow roads, persecution, misunderstanding even from your own family…. “Follow me. I am the way, the truth and the life.” What do you think?