“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”
Lance Haverkamp, January 24th, 2016; inspired by a message of Dr. R. Lee Carter
It was supposed to be a momentous occasion. The local boy who had “made good,” Jesus, was coming home. On his journey away from the old home town, this native son had actually rubbed shoulders with the famous holy man, John the Baptist. Perhaps the residents of Nazareth thought that a little bit of the famous prophet would rub off on him—and them. Nazareth was indeed a one-horse town, and many of the residents were related to Jesus. Like many of us, they probably didn’t know exactly how they were kin, but they were happy to claim him.
When they heard that Jesus was coming home, some no doubt thought of childhood days spent together growing up in the small village, and attending the synagogue school. Maybe some people even treasured something Jesus, the craftsman, had made; and treated it as a souvenir of this memorable homecoming. It would be good to see Jesus again, the same old Jesus they remembered.
The burden of coming home again, is everyone treating you as though you hadn’t changed; but you had changed—Jesus had changed. People assume that because you look about the same, that the changes are superficial, but they’re not. Ask any young person who leaves home, to answer the call of adventure, they are never the same again.
On the journey, they discover things about themselves they didn’t know about when they lived at home. They meet new people, they suffer the trials and temptations of life, they discover the gifts within them that they never would have known about, if they hadn’t left home. They have been on a quest, a hero’s journey; they have seen new heights—and depths. Who can stay the same?
There must have been hearsay about Jesus, about where he had been, and what he had seen. Some knew, even before Jesus had left Nazareth, that he was a young man wise beyond his years. His friends and family would, surely, be glad to see their favorite son again! That’s why they planned a homecoming for him at the community center, the synagogue.
There, they would give Jesus a chance to tell them what he had learned.
Imagine yourself there: As you sit wondering if your old friend has changed, if fame has affected him, you notice the worship attendant retrieving the scroll of Isaiah out of the ark. A hush falls over the congregation. As he scrolls ahead to a particular passage, as Jesus reads, you realize that Jesus is confirming the hearsay, that he really is the Messiah! He’s bringing a message of good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. He goes on to say that the time for the Lord to set this long awaited movement in motion is now!
The excited worshipers fill the room with praise for their favorite son. We can almost hear the banter: “Hey, I knew it all along that Jesus was going to make something of himself.” “It’s about time we Nazarenes got some limelight!” “He’s going to make all of us famous.”
Think of yourself as being there: You feel the impulse to run and embrace your old friend, thanking him for not forgetting his roots, for remembering the old neighborhood. But Jesus starts to speak, and slowly you realize that he’s not casting your people in a very good light after all. He even implies that foreigners and gentiles will be just as important in the Kingdom of God as Jesus’ own people.
It doesn’t take long for the shocked silence to turn to angry murmurs, and then to loud calls to put this traitor to death! You sit in shock, wondering to yourself, “Is this the Jesus I used to know? I thought he would help us out. Should I join the crowd in getting rid of him? Or, should I give him a chance to explain himself, find out what his plan is, and maybe, even join him in his mission?”
We belong to a generation that needs to re-discover Jesus and not just as the child at Christmas. That precious baby could not speak, but the Jesus who returned to his old synagogue certainly could! The teachings of Jesus still astound us, as long as we don’t assume that what he said fits our own agenda. By the time Jesus returned to Nasarath, He certainly had his own agenda.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
What exactly was that agenda? Nothing less than the transformation of the world, as they knew it! He heralded the dawning of the Kingdom of God. But what exactly do we mean by the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is not a place. The Kingdom of God is not an institution. The Kingdom of God is not a spiritual feeling. The Kingdom of God is not a man-made social movement. The Roman Prefect Pilate asked Christ where His kingdom was; He answered “Not of this world.”
I guess a lot of people back in the day figured they knew what Jesus was going to say, before he said it. They knew the old hometown boy, right?
The Jesus of our childhood is not a disturbing Jesus, He is our friend. He says sweet things, He makes us feel good.
The Jesus of the gospels, however, says disturbing things. He doesn’t simply affirm us, and what we do, and what we stand for. He challenges us, and forces us to change the way hometown folk see things. This Jesus had been places we haven’t been. The Jesus of our adulthood demands that we do things outside of our comfort level. He’s really not so gentle, or meek, or mild. Is he the same Jesus we used to know?
Well, not if we have grown up, and realized that Jesus addressed the kinds of things that adults see in the real world. He disturbs us with his talk about possessions, the poor, hypocrisy—the double life. No, he doesn’t seem to be that same familiar hometown boy. He forces us to grow up, and grow in faith. He forces us to see the reality of life’s brutality, and inequities, and calls us to a life of service to others; especially to folks we don’t particularly care for.
Which denominations’ version of the gospel do we find this mature Jesus teaching?
* The prosperity gospel, whose believers are obsessed with accumulating wealth?
No, Christ taught us to share with those in need.
* The equality gospel, whose believers demand that government care for everyone?
No, Christ never said to ‘Give unto Caesar that with is God’s, so Caesar can care for the poor,’ in-fact, He said the poor will always be with you.
* The morality gospel, whose believers can’t tell religious metaphor from sin; and then demand that government punish both as a crime?
No, Christ reduced the entire Law & the Prophets to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
These New Covenant misinterpretations are just a corrupt and self-centered as the those Nazarenes, and the Pharisees, of their day. The Gospel isn’t ‘us against them’, and it never has been!
So let’s allow Jesus to speak for himself. Try to hear his teachings as if you’ve never heard them before. You might try, as much as possible, to put yourself in the shoes of the people who first heard Jesus’ teaching. If you are not blown-out of the water, you are not listening, or you are assuming this is that same hometown boy.
Along with this new side of Jesus, I believe his words, and actions, especially his relationships with the people around him, will reveal that he reaches out to individuals who are lost and floundering. He embraces us just the way we are, cleansing us from sin, and giving us new and abundant life. In short, you will find that Jesus is the same wonderful friend you had known from your neighborhood. There’s just more to him than what you might have known.
In his parables, sermons, and actions, you’ll see Jesus laying out a plan for a human community that cares for all people. Depending on where you are right now, this may be a side of Jesus you’ve never fully experienced before, something a bit unsettling that will demand some hard choices.
As we grow older, it is our responsibility to awaken to a new side of Jesus, who addresses us where we are. That’s why gospel study is so exciting; we know that we have changed and matured. We must not expect Jesus to be the same hometown boy, as it were. We need to listen and not assume.
So what’s it going to be? Are you willing to risk giving your friend a chance to explain himself, to find out what his plan is, and maybe, even to join him in his mission?