Jesus Christ, The Provocative Teacher
- Tuesday, February 28, 2006
And neither can you.
Many people have read Jesus' biographies in the Gospel accounts of the Bible, and they are particularly enamored with his teaching. If Jesus was anything, he was a provocative teacher. Some have tried to discount his claims and soften the raspy edge of his unnerving and passionate remarks. But it cannot be done without warping his message and ruining the picture of his true character.
"Much of the history of Christianity has been devoted to domesticating Jesus," says Andrew Greeley, "to reducing that elusive, enigmatic, paradoxical person to dimensions we can comprehend, understand and convert to our own purposes. So far it hasn't worked." I couldn't agree more. Regarding Jesus' sayings, Greeley comments that they all "seem vague, slippery, disturbing and dangerous. Jesus is as disturbing now as he was in his own time: as troublesome, as much a threat to the public order." Disturbing, provocative, enigmatic.
Not exactly the Jesus many of us grew up with, the cute Jesus frolicking among the sheep and handing out goodies to his kids like grandma with a jar of homemade Christmas cookies.
Don Everts, in his compelling and earthy book, "Jesus With Dirty Feet," describes the utterly unique presence and impact of Jesus as he bounded across the stage of world history in the first century A.D.
He was nothing like anyone had ever seen. There was something so clear and beautiful and true and unique and powerful about Jesus that old rabbis would marvel at his teaching, young children would run and sit in his lap, ashamed prostitutes would find themselves weeping at this feet, whole villages would gather to hear him speak, experts in the law would find themselves speechless, and people from the poor to the rugged working class to the unbelievably wealthy would leave everything … to follow him.
Jesus' teaching was … provocative.
Provocative. The English word has its roots in the Latin provocare, which means "to call forth." To call forth action, response, thought. Similar in scope is the word educate, from educare, which means "to lead out." If we would describe Jesus' teaching with terms like these, we might say he was "leading his students out" –- out of timidity, complacency, falsehood and self-absorption – and "calling them forth" to action. Jesus called followers to experience a new way of life in the kingdom of God: a life of love, community and wholeness.
With Christ as his model, Parker Palmer has argued, "To teach is to create a space where obedience to truth can be practiced." Obedience is simply the process of aligning oneself with God's reality. The word literally means "to listen from below," implying a humility toward learning. Jesus, we might say, was a master at creating learning environments (spaces) in which truth was revealed so that it could be encountered, processed and practiced – in a word, obeyed. It was never Jesus' intent to simply comfort or entertain his students. His Sunday sermons never left hearers saying, "Nice talk; I like the way Jesus told that story about the shepherd boy and the little sheep. Of course, his message did run a bit long this week."
Not a chance. When Jesus was speaking, the rooms split into two groups – those who longed to hear him again , and those who wanted to run him out of town. His message portrayed a ruddy realism, the kind that fishermen and tax collectors and centurions could understand. Inspiring … convicting … provocative.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29)
Thus, the people were divided because of Jesus. (John 7:43)
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