Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings



Say yes to Students of Jesus in your inbox:



« The Grace of Discipline | Main | Every Table a Sacred Table »

Jesus, the Merry Prankster

It is one of his specialties: ask of us the impossible. Jesus was the merry prankster who specialized not only in confounding the wise, but bewildering us all. There are times I read his words and think, “Surely you’re joking.”

I like it when Jesus belittles the church hypocrites and blowhards. I like it when he turns the tables on all the “good people” and utterly upsets their religious sensibilities. I love it when he calls them blind guides, snakes, and vipers—then I hate it when I realize he’s also talking about me. 

Here are some of his sayings, taken from here and there in the gospels:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.


Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.


Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.


Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

OK, I lied: these four sayings are not taken from “here and there in the gospels.” These four statements appear one after another: bang, bang, bang, bang—Matthew 5:17-20, near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is sneaky: he lulled me into poetic sleep with all those words about blessed people and how we are the light of the world. (Talk about cozying up to your audience.)

Then the gunfire starts. It turns out he’s serious about all the stuff Moses wrote. Worse: he turns my anger into murder and my lust into adultery. Before the gunsmoke clears he will tell me to be perfect. While the shots are still ringing in my ears he will tell me the only way to build my life on the rock is to actually do what he says. That Jesus—what a joker.

Four times this past week the question has come up in conversation, “Can we ‘live up to’ the stuff Jesus teaches—especially in the Sermon on the Mount?” The question puts us ill at ease. Everyone slides into a cautious theological mode.  Who wants to be the guy who says, “Sure, no problem”?

Some deal wit the tension using legal metaphors: “We are sinful, but the Father sees us ‘in Christ’, so our standing is righteous even though we cannot live out the Lord’s teaching.” This may be satisfying if you are a lawyer, but who wants to be a spiritual lawyer? Others find their way to the safety of the gospel presentation: “The Sermon on the Mount is impossible to do, which shows why we need a savior.” The only way to come to this conclusion is to believe he preached the greatest sermon in world history just to show us what pathetic losers we are. The poets try something sure to please the ear: “Jesus bids us, ‘Come, fly about the room’; Grace gives us wings.” I like the poetic approach, but then I start thinking about exactly how grace grows wings or if I’m supposed to strap them on or what about Icarus until I finally say, “wait—what?”

Then the quiet guy in the back of the room suggests the unthinkable: “Give it a try.” And he’s serious. With disarming modesty he makes no claim to superiority, nor judgment of others.

His reasoning is simple: “Jesus is my Lord, and he asked me to.”

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>