Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Offended by Jesus

Jesus' experience at Nazareth is not so unusual. Many of us have found ourselves trapped in old identities. I grew up in "the country" and there I was Rose and Ken's boy. Even as an adult, this is some way remained my identity. Likewise a bad reputation gained as a youth can follow someone around for years, sometimes preventing people from seeing the very different person that youth as grown up to be. And this same phenomenon affects groups, organizations, and institutions. Once people "know" who or what a group is, they respond based on that "knowledge," even if it no longer is accurate.

Years ago, the now defunct GM car brand, Oldsmobile, ran a series of ads that trumpeted the theme, "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile." Clearly this was an attempt to redefine their brand, to break free from what people already "knew" about them. (Given that Oldsmobile no longer exists, I'm guessing they were unsuccessful.)

When Jesus acts in ways that do not fit into what his neighbors already "know" about him, even though they are impressed, they take offense. Literally translated, they are scandalized by it. It's an experience that I imagine must be tiring for Jesus. After all, it still goes on all the time.

Lots of people, even ones who've had little experience with Christianity or the church, think they "know" Jesus. And we who are church folks certainly think we "know" Jesus, although depending on which church you go to, this Jesus can look remarkably different.

In the same way, people inside and outside the church "know" it is. We "know" what it's about and what it does. And if it acts in ways contrary to what we "know," we'll take offense, just as we'll take offense if someone speaks of a Jesus who acts contrary to what we "know."

Where do we get what we "know" about Jesus? About the Church? About what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus? And when we encounter something that offends our sensibilities about these things, how do we figure out whether or not we've just taken offense, just been scandalized, by Jesus himself?

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