Is Jesus Safe?
Every once and a while, during our morning Bible studies, we discuss the various myths and misconceptions that people have about God, Jesus, and the Church. One common image that people have about Jesus is that he is a kind, patient, & loving person who – if he saw me today – would smile and have a few kind words of encouragement for me. Now I am sure that it is true that Jesus is kind, patient, forgiving and encouraging to us. My own relationship with him would testify to that. The problem many people have is that this represents the entirety of their image/understanding of who Jesus is. That’s all he is to them. A kind of quiet life coach, who always has a good word and is there to make you feel good about yourself when the world gets you down. As I read through the Bible, I can’t help but wonder if this is true? If I got to spend 15 minutes with the “real, live, physical, I can touch him” Jesus, in order to have a conversation and listen to his responses; how would it go? What would I ask? How would he respond? Would he be like how I imagine him? Would he be happy with me?
These are all questions I ponder as I read Mark 10:17, the story of the rich young man. This was a man who got that very opportunity. A chance to ask Jesus any question and hear the master’s response. So, he decides to ask him the big one. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer is startling. He first tells him to obey all that God commands (which the man claims to have done) and then tells him to sell all his possessions, give his money to the poor, and come and follow him. This saddens the man and he walks away discouraged because he was very attached to his money. What most stands out to me in this story is verse 21 “Jesus looked at the man and loved him.” I never really noticed how Jesus felt about this exchange. Jesus cared for this guy. Too often we think of the rich young man as some arrogant rich guy who wants to buy his way into heaven. Or we think of him as a Pharisee type, someone who Jesus probably couldn’t stand. Nope, that’s not true. Jesus felt towards him pretty much the same way that he feels towards me. He loves him. This was a good guy. Someone who Jesus immediately felt an attachment to. This was someone who really wanted to know the truth and live it. That makes Jesus’ response so much more compelling. He loved him, and therefore told him the truth.
Jesus confronted the single biggest barrier that prevented this man from following him. The barrier that stopped him form experiencing a relationship with The Messiah. After the man walks away the disciples are a bit concerned. After all, “they have left everything for Jesus!” Was it enough? Will they get eternal life? Jesus reassures them that no one is worthy, but with God all things are possible. God will indeed give God’s very own life, to make them worthy of eternal life. In the meantime, what can they expect? To be led into Jerusalem where Jesus will suffer and die. Then to be scattered and persecuted. It seems to me that Jesus is not leading these people to safe places (at least using the common understanding of safe that most Christians use). Jesus is leading them (and maybe us) towards difficulty and danger. Maybe it is in the form of facing an ugly truth about ourselves that we hide form. Or maybe he is leading us away from the comfortable life we have created for ourselves, a life that insulates us from both the pain of the world and from experiencing God in truth and in depth. The rich young man and the disciples encountered a Jesus very different then what they expected. Should it be any different for us? Amidst all of this is the promise that Jesus gave us. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus may not be safe (as the world defines it) but he does not abandon us. He makes life worth living.