Monday, February 4, 2013


I have been reading the gospels and to some extent studying them for nearly 60 years and I am continually baffled by the things Jesus said and did which often appeared contradictory.  He could be tender and gentle to the weak and needy, and then make seemingly impossible demands on these and others.

In one place we read of Him saying:  "Come to me all who are worn out and burdened down and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart, and will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is pleasant and my load is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

This certainly sounds nice and comforting, like the old line about "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," but in the chapter previous to the one where He makes this claim, we read of Him saying something that seems totally contrary to that image:  "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it!" (Matthew 10:37-39).
What gives?  We see Jesus doing this over and over -- switching back and forth between the "gentle Jesus" to the demanding Jesus -- from the humble to the (apparently) egotistical.  If we were examining Jesus as clinicians, we might diagnose Him as bi-polar or schizophrenic.
When I attended seminary I took a class on personality development, taught by a well-known psychiatrist.  Every student was required to take a personality profile, where we answered hundreds of questions which were used to graph our personality traits and (possible) disorders.  As I recall there were two parallel lines running horizontally through the chart.  We were told that though our graph may go up and down, as long as we stayed between this pair of lines, we were considered "normal" (I recall that I bumped the lines in a few places, though I never crossed them).
Our prof informed us that he decided once to take the test and answer the questions as he thought Jesus would have (admitting that this was a dangerous thing to do).  He felt there were many places where Jesus would have crossed the line and been considered as having personality disorders.
While this may seem bizarre to many and even blasphemous to some, we should remember that Jesus was considered by many in His own day as having some problems.
"The Jews answered and said to Him, 'Aren't we correct in saying you're a Samaritan and you have a demon?'"  (John 8:48).
"When they heard, some of His own family went out to seize Him, because they were saying, 'He's out of his mind!" (Mark 3:21).
As I look over my many years of study, I have come to realize that many of my efforts in study have been to bring Jesus back between those two parallel lines.  And as a matter of fact most of the sermons I've heard (and preached), most of the books I've read, most of the lessons I've heard (and taught) have at least to some extent, been directed toward that goal.
I recognize that much of this effort is legitimate.  We need to attempt to interpret the gospels in ways that we can understand what they say.  We need to use proper exegetical methods.  A few examples:
Jesus used figures of speech, much as we do.  Similes and metaphors were common.  He also used hyperbole.  One task of the interpreter is to distinguish when Jesus is speaking matter-of-factly and when he is exaggerating for the sake of emphasis.
We should also recognize that Jesus had many roles, as the titles given to Him and which He claimed for Himself show.  As a healer he was gentle; as Lord and King he was demanding.  And of course He was both God and Man as He claimed!
And Jesus knew people and their individual needs.  While often He spoke in general terms, there were many times when His words were directed toward a particular individual or group.  He tailored His speech toward the need of those addressed.
And having said all this, having used all the interpretive tools we have, we are still confronted with a Savior who frustrates our efforts to fit Him between the lines.
And yet we can trust Him as the One who loved us enough to die in our place on the cross.
And we can yield to the seemingly impossible demands that He makes as our Lord and Master.
And we can attempt to follow Him as our example.

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