March 25, 2019 Jesus Makes Me Nervous

It’s perfectly understandable isn’t it? To try and get a grip on some catastrophe, some disastrous occurrence -- a school bus and a semi collide, a tornado flattens a church during the mid-week revival, your sister’s only child is busted for marijuana possession -- such news rocks us back on our heels, and we so desperately want to make some sense of it. Calamity strikes and we wonder what we or they did wrong. We scrutinize behavior, relationships, diet, even church attendance. We hunt for some cause to explain the effect, In hopes that we can stop causing it. What this tells us is that we are less interested in truth than consequences. What we crave, above all, is control over the chaos of our lives.

Luke does not divulge the motive of those who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingles with their sacrifices. But the implication is that those who died deserved what they got or at least that is the question Jesus intuited.

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”

It is a tempting equation that solves a lot of problems.

  • it answers the riddle of why bad things happen to good people: they don’t. Bad things only happen to bad people.
  • It punishes sinners right out in the open as a warning to everyone.
  • It gives us a God who obeys the laws of physics. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction? Any questions?

It is a tempting equation, but Jesus won’t go there.

"No,” Jesus tells the crowd, “No. But unless you repent you will all perish as they did.” In the south, this is what we call giving with one hand  and taking away with the other.

No, Jesus says, there is no connection between the suffering and the sin. Whew.

But unless you repent, you are going to lose some blood too. Uh,Oh.

There is no sense spending too much time trying to decipher this piece of the good news. As far as I can tell, it is not meant to aid reason but to disarm it. In an intervention aimed below his listeners’ heads, Jesus touches the panic button they have inside of them about all the awful things that are happening around them. They are terrified by those things for good reason. They have searched their hearts for any bait that might bring disaster sniffing their way. They have lain awake at night making lists of their mistakes.

While Jesus does not honor their illusion that they can protect themselves in this way, he does seem to honor the vulnerability that their fright has opened up in them. It is not a bad thing for them to feel the full fragility of their lives.

It is not a bad thing for them to count their breaths in the dark -- not, if it makes them turn toward the Light.

It is that turning that he wants for them, which is why he tweaks their fear. His listeners become nervous. An uneasiness seeps through their focus on the faults of “those distant others”. Jesus turns their expectation around and makes it a story about each person listening to him.

Rather like this reflection from theologian Joy Lake:

Here’s the thing: Jesus makes me nervous. God Almighty is one thing, but Jesus makes me uncomfortable.  Jesus would make anyone uncomfortable, as far as I can tell. Imagine the guy coming here for lunch… How does one prepare for Jesus’ visit? Would you clean the house more thoroughly than usual, or let’s be honest, would you clean the house for a change? Would excessive cleanliness suggest that you’d been neglecting some spiritual-advancement opportunities? Would you borrow fine china to show your deep and abiding respect for the Messiah, or use paper plates to symbolize an equally deep and abiding lack of interest in material goods? Would you impress him more with a menu featuring expensive wine (apparently he always knew a good wine when he saw one)?  Or would you fare better slapping peanut butter and jelly on Stop n Shop’s cheapest bread, carefully calculating the money you saved and buying groceries for a homeless family you’d befriended? Jesus might praise either choice. Or condemn either…

It’s his lack of ordinary predictability that makes me nervous.  He’d welcome the uninvited entrance of neighborhood rabble who would insist on groveling at his feet and staining the carpet with heaven knows what. Jesus called them as he saw them. Public opinion swayed him no more than the storm-stirred winds and waves. A desirable trait for a Little League umpire, but a regrettable lack of tact for a dinner guest. I think I’d serve peanut butter on fine china and French wine in paper cups. If I could screw up the courage, I’d tell him the truth: that he makes me nervous and I’m not sure what he expects from me, and then I’d sit and just listen, and take what comfort I could in the fact that somewhere tangled deep within my discomfort was a heart willing to be made nervous by Jesus. 

Tyrants kill, towers fall, without taking any particular aim at the wicked or the righteous. Jesus’ main point is that that the comfortable people, the ones who are not experiencing a crisis right now, need to use this time to make themselves ready.

Don’t worry about Pilate and all the other things that can come crashing down on your heads, Jesus says. Terrible things happen and you are not always to blame. But don’t let that stop you from doing what you are doing. That torn place your fear has opened up inside of you is a holy place. Look around while you are there. Pay attention to what you feel. It may hurt you to stay there and it may hurt you to see, but it is not the kind of hurt that leads to death. It is the kind that leads to life.

Even if it makes us nervous, the consequences of His Truth are perfectly understandable. We cannot make life safe. We cannot tame Almighty God. What we can do is turn our faces to the Light. That way, whatever befalls us, we will fall the right way.

 3/24/2019 - Lent 3- Year C  - The Reverend Anne Bridgers

Barbara Brown Taylor, p.71, Home By Another Way

Joy Jordan Lake, AHA, March 28, 2004