A line from this morning’s gospel reading: “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” So why would anyone take offense at Jesus? Frankly, I can think of a number of reasons. Here’s a couple of them.
In this instance the “someone” is John the Baptist. He’s pining away in Herod’s dungeon, no doubt wondering why Jesus hasn’t done anything to remedy the situation. Then there’s the fact that John’s reputation is on the line. John had predicted that the one coming after him would come with a winnowing fork in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, and then burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. John probably figures that if Jesus was in fact the Messiah, there should have been some winnowing and threshing by now.
Jesus tells John’s messengers to relay to John all the miracles Jesus is performing: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Jesus is a step ahead of John, knowing that John is likely to think, “So where’s my miracle?” Didn’t Jesus himself say at the beginning of his ministry that he was not only going to give sight to the blind but proclaim freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18-19)? So Jesus tacks on the P.S.: “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
A friend of mine told me yesterday that he sees God blessing other people while doing nothing about the losses piling up in his own life. Knowing something about the number and depth of the losses that keep happening, I can understand why my friend would feel like walking away.
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
My bone to pick with Jesus is along different lines (at least when I’m not going through a Job-like stretch in my own life). The Jesus I’m often tempted to take offense at is his body, what the New Testament calls “the body of Christ,” his church. We’re all so…different. We worship in ways that are almost incomprehensibly different. We hold to polar opposite political viewpoints. We speak in different languages about our faith, even when it’s all in English. Some of us are loud and others quiet. Some prefer evangelism and others social justice, and take very different approaches to each. Some of us obsess over the sins of the rich and others over the sins of the poor. We have very different ideas about core practices like baptism and communion. We prefer different versions of the Bible, and even when we read the same version, we arrive at radically different interpretations.
It’s maddening! (I mean that in both ways.)
Of course, all this chaos would be eliminated if everyone would just believe and do things my way.
I feel taught and at least somewhat comforted by what Jesus says to his audience about the differences they’ve witnessed between John and Jesus:
“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:31-35)
From a distance, Jesus and John embodied very different “spiritualities.” Jesus performed miracles. John didn’t. Jesus drank wine, while John didn’t. Jesus ate fish and bread, while John settled for locusts dipped in wild honey. Jesus traveled without restriction throughout Palestine proclaiming freedom for the captives, while John’s ministry stood at a stand still while he languished in an actual prison.
Yet the Scriptures tell us that both Jesus and John were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were also nonconformists who didn’t dance to the tune of their audience’s expectations: “We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, you did not weep.” John and Jesus didn’t try to conform to each other either. Jesus seems to be saying that’s a good thing, a sign that each of them is living by the Spirit.
“Wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Apparently it takes all of God’s children to demonstrate his wisdom. His wisdom is too rich and multifaceted and often paradoxical for any individual or church to think they can demonstrate God’s wisdom in its entirety.
One complication is that given how all of us are still a work in progress, there is invariably going to be foolishness mixed in with the bit of wisdom each of us is trying to live out. We see this foolishness displayed again and again in Jesus’ hand-picked disciples. They often don’t get it. Even after the early church was filled with the Spirit, disagreements arose, church councils had to be called, and conviction sometimes took the form of compromise. Even exemplary apostles like Paul and Barnabas disagreed strongly with one another about whether to give Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark, a chance to redeem himself after bailing during the first missionary journey.
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
What does all this look like to the world? That’s a problem, a problem that Jesus is fully aware of. And yet he is clearly committed to working with all of this mess, promising never to leave us or forsake us, because then he would have to forsake himself, his own body.
Which happens to be my body, too.