St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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What We Can Learn From Jesus’ Straight Talk

Maybe you have said it: Jesus would be great if only the church left him alone. The church is judgmental, but Jesus is caring; the church is critical, but Jesus is supportive.

It’s not true. Consider this:

Jesus gets invited to the home of a religious leader for dinner. White tie and all that. He does not stop to wash his hands as he comes through the door, like others did according to age-old custom. The teacher is shocked.  Jesus says, “You folks clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”* An object lesson accompanied by interpretive words. Hardly a pleasant greeting.

Is this not critical? Has Jesus not made a judgment here? Fat chance he will be invited back to that house. Or consider this:

Jesus sends his disciples on a journey to announce good news to people. He tells them, tersely, “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Rather an abrupt judgment. Or consider this:

Jesus meets a woman at a well, engages in astounding repartee (itself a novelty; rabbis didn’t speak to women at wells). He tells her to call her husband. She says that she has no husband. To which Jesus replies, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” He gives her feedback with a judgment on her character at its base.

Don’t buy the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” line. When he enters the temple precinct, he is furiously angry because the religious authorities of that time had constructed a business around faith. This was very bad business in his eyes. No wonder people wanted to have him done away with. He confronts people and institutions with the truth of what they are, or have become.

But now consider this: Jesus is not cantankerous. We all know people who love to pick a fight, who get off on anger and opposing other people’s views. We do not see this in Jesus. He is a straight shooter. He never says more than he needs to, but he never says less than a situation calls for. He judges without being judgmental; he is candid without putting people down. His care for others is evident in the midst of the critique. He does not put up a defensive wall. He tells it like it is and, as my mother would say, Devil take the hindmost.

Truth to tell, more often than not the churches have toned down the straightforward message of Jesus in order to appear less offensive to people. In case you haven’t noticed, the strategy has not worked. So maybe we should discover again the approach of Jesus, both as churches and as individuals.

This strategy might get you strung up, of course, as happened to John the Baptist and others besides Jesus. At a less intense level, you can lose friends. However, you will remain true to yourself, true to your values, honest to others, and clear in your responses. Candor, not cantankerousness, is called for. Confrontation is not belligerence; it is the truthful report of how others affect you, based on your values.

You don’t have to “believe in” Jesus to see the potential of this portrait. You won’t be led to further faith by my reading of his actions. But you can be led to more genuine and honest life. For today, that’s enough.

04 Nov 2011