August 9, 2019
Jesus Always Gets Personal
I’ve been reflecting recently on the way we use social media, particularly Twitter. So many tweets are designed to demonstrate one’s moral superiority as compared to, say, a philandering politician, an unpatriotic sports figure, or a Neanderthal religious spokesperson. Have you noticed in the gospels that Jesus never allows people to feel morally superior by letting them get away with an attack on a third person? Instead, Jesus always gets uncomfortably personal regarding our own sins.
Consider, for example, two chapters from the Gospel of Luke: Luke 12 and 13. In Luke 12:1-12, after condemning the Pharisees, Jesus could have easily continued to mock them, allowing the crowds of ordinary people to feel morally superior to the Pharisees. But instead, Jesus gets personal with the crowds and says in essence, “Now, let me address you! Here’s what I’m concerned about regarding you! Don’t be afraid of the religious teachers. Make sure you acknowledge me in the face of religious intimidation. Make sure you acknowledge me even in face of state-sponsored intimidation. Otherwise, I won’t acknowledge you on the Day of Judgment before my Father in Heaven!” I’ll bet the crowds stopped laughing at the Pharisees when Jesus talked about their own judgment.
Then in Luke 12:13-21, a man comes and asks Jesus to settle a dispute that he has with his brother over an estate. We don’t know if the dispute was a legitimate one or not. It’s very possible that the man who asked for Jesus’ help had indeed been ripped off by his brother. As in many cases today, it may be that one sibling has taken everything for himself and left the others with nothing.
This passage doesn’t settle everything we would like to know about what to do when we have a financial dispute in a family. It doesn’t tell us whether it’s ever right to seek legal counsel. It doesn’t tell us what God’s will is for us when we believe that an estate is unfairly divided. What it does tell us is, whether we are ripped off or not by a family member, Jesus is concerned about greed in our lives. Jesus says to the petitioner, “Be on your guard against all forms of greed!” In other words, Jesus asks, “Why is this dispute causing you so much upset? Why are you not sleeping? Why is your brother’s actions such a big deal to you? What’s going on inside of you?”
In this case, Jesus puts his finger on the greed that is in the person who is asking for justice. Again, we don’t know Jesus’ view of the dispute. And we don’t know who is right or who is wrong. Rather, Jesus gets personal. Jesus in essence says to the man: “I care more about the condition of your heart than I care about making sure you get your fair share. What is growing inside of you is greed which, if left unchecked, will be a cancer in your soul! Before I deal with the estate, let me first deal with you!
In Luke 12:22-34, those overhearing Jesus’ words to the man who sought justice regarding this estate may have thought of themselves as morally superior to the man. They may have thought, “We’re not greedy. We are poor! We have no assets! We have no estates coming to us from our parents! And we’re certainly not building big barns to store our abundant grain.” But Jesus doesn’t allow the poor to feel morally superior to the wealthy. Instead, Jesus gets personal and says, “You poor, stop worrying about tomorrow! Trust God’s provision for you today! God sees you and he loves you! So, trust him and stop being so anxious!” Jesus always addresses the essential problem that he sees in each of us. We always want to talk about other people’s issues. Jesus responds by asking, “What’s driving you?”
One more example. In Luke 13:22-30, someone asks Jesus a theological question: “Are there few that are saved?” In other words, what about those who have never heard? What about the Aborigine in Australia who has never heard the gospel in her own language? What about the man who was hurt by the church? What about people who are raised their whole lives in another religion? Will they be saved?
These questions aren’t trivial or insignificant. They are definitely worthy of consideration. Indeed, thoughtful Christians have written extensively on the fate of those who have not heard. This is an issue that the church has considered for 2,000 years. But, in this case, Jesus doesn’t let the questioner keep either Jesus or the gospel at arm’s length. Instead, he gets personal. He doesn’t answer the abstract question of how many people will ultimately be saved. Rather, he asks the more personal questions: what about you? Are you saved? Make sure you enter the kingdom. One day the door will be slammed shut. Cure your own soul. Make sure you’re in!
Whenever we feel morally superior to someone else, we can be almost certain that Jesus is not affirming us in those feelings. Instead, he shines the light of his Word into the dark corners of our souls, corners that we’d prefer stay hidden. So, fellow social media users, when we say on social media or to a friend, “Have you heard about X? Isn’t he disgusting?” Jesus might respond by getting personal, asking us the question, “What about you? What’s the condition of your soul in the bright light of God’s presence? Have you removed the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly enough to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye?”