A young girl named Mary told us what was coming. Jesus would specialize in turning things topsy-turvy:
“he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”
We rejoice as the scene is played out again and again: Jesus lifts an adulterous woman up from the dust after her accusers have been silenced; Jesus shuts the mouths of the lawyers and scribes by asking them questions they cannot answer; Jesus screams “Woe to you” seven times at the those who think they have special insight into the ways of God.
Mary’s song is true today as well.
We love Jesus because he can stick it to the Man. He is the Icon of the Father and iconoclast of the fat cats. We see in him an ancient model of our modern selves. Deep inside we knew the Establishment types were just gaming the system and using religion to prop themselves up and keep the rest of us down. This is the kick-ass Jesus who has finally exposed all the posers and fakes in the church, the Jesus who is even now leading the charge down the aisle, away from the altar, and out the red double-doors. The Jesus who has finally confirmed all our judgments about the hypocrites and losers who populate organized religion. Jesus the hipster is turning over the tables in God’s house again. Finally, a Jesus who will tell those guys off.
Or, is it possible we’ve once again created him in our own image? Again. Mary’s song is true today as well, but perhaps the rolls have been reframed.
In modern society we love to point out that Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He crossed social boundaries. He was the friend of sinners. Sometimes we fail to note there is another group with whom he regularly dined: pharisees. What if Jesus reclined with pharisees for the very same reason he ate with the outcasts? What if he had the same mission whether he ate with Zacchaeus the taxman or with Simon the Pharisee? What if he cared for both? Perhaps the Lord knew we were all sick, all in need of a doctor.
Reading our rebellious ways into the ministry of Jesus is one of the dangers of our present age. We might assume he converted every sinner and condemned every priest. We might assume he ditched the synagogue for a day at the lake, or went to the Temple only to turn the tables. We might be surprised to discover that he loved his Father’s house, or considered the Law as sweet as honey, or longed to hear the prophets read week after week.
The same man who welcomed Matthew the tax collector was also friends with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The same man who healed and returned lepers to the community of Israel also had mercy on the daughter of a synagogue leader. The shepherd of Israel cared for the whole flock and fed all the sheep. Later, he went so far as to chase down Saul, that murderous “pharisee of pharisees” and drafted him into the Kingdom cause.
If we choose to follow the Master we must be prepared to follow him into any house. In his day the disciples were shocked because he crossed the threshold of a sinner’s home. Perhaps today he shocks us by crossing the threshold of the church? Both houses stand in desperate need of his grace, and those who will carry such grace with them.