Monday, July 26, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Missing God

Today's reading from Matthew shows Pilate giving in to the crowd and ordering Jesus' execution.  This story has been misused over the years to support anti-Semitism, but of course those who supported Jesus and those who cried for his death, the disciples, and Jesus himself were all Jews.  Matthew is a Jew who probably never envisioned a day when Christianity would be a religion distinct from Judaism.

Anti-Semitism aside, I am fascinated by this picture of people who are eagerly awaiting a Messiah yet demand the death of Jesus whose followers hail him as Messiah.  No doubt Jesus' opponents operated from a variety of motives, but clearly many of them thought they were being faithful to God in opposing Jesus.  He looked nothing like what they expected from God's Messiah.  Jesus' own disciples struggled at times to reconcile him with their expectations.  So why is it that so many missed God at work in Jesus?

For those who accept that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, we must wrestle with the obvious fact that Jesus defied the religious expectations of his day.  None of the religious traditions in Judaism were looking for a Messiah quite like Jesus.  Their expectations were drawn from Scripture in much the same way many current Christians' expectations about God and faith are drawn from Scripture.  And still the majority rejected Jesus.

I have to think this is more than a one time problem.  A God whose thoughts are not our thoughts and ways are not our ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9) is bound to act in ways that startle and surprise us on a fairly regular basis.  I certainly have my own expectations about God, and they usually cohere with my moderate/progressive sort of Christianity.  Others have expectations that cohere with their conservative sort, and so on.  And it can be very difficult to discern whether our expectations emerged from our religious experiences or if they simply conform to existing preferences we already had.

I don't believe it responsible simply to say that everyone's truth is true for them.  God is God, and not whatever we wish God to be.  Sometimes my expectations are simply wrong.  Sometimes yours are.  So from time to time, whatever our leanings, we need to step back and look afresh at God, and especially at Jesus.  From time to time we need to drop all our assumptions about what faith means, what salvation means, what Church is, and so on, and try to get back to Jesus.  When you peel off all the layers or interpretation and set aside the mosaic picture of Jesus we've constructed from selected gospel stories and  popular imagination, there is much Jesus says and does that still startles and surprises, that still challenges and confounds.  All of which draws us a little closer to the true, living God rather than the God of our expectations.

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