Jesus Was Not Nice

Christ cleansing the Temple

Christ cleansing the Temple (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

I don’t know what to do with the idea of repentance. I’m no long-bearded old man with a sandwich board crying out about the end of the world. I’d rather be more like Jesus, loving, humble, gentle. A man whose mercy didn’t let him quench a smoking wick or break a bruised reed. A man who did not lay burdens on others, but lifted them.

Here’s the thing though: Jesus was loving, absolutely. Humble and gentle with all his heart. The Master of Mercy with an easy burden and a light yoke.

But Jesus was not some kind of watered-down nicenik. In his love, he was sometimes very, very angry. He turned over the money-changers’ tables, sick with rage over their greed. He told one of his closest friends, “Get behind me, Satan!” He spoke of a place of outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I quake at this. I want the nice Jesus. I want us all to just get along. I was raised to say “I’m okay, you’re okay.” But sometimes things are not okay, and I can say that with love. I can be angry with a merciful anger, a loving anger, a humble anger.

I can be angry without hating people, not a single individual who is precious to God. My fight is not against flesh and blood. Instead, I can be angry the dark cycles people are born into and don’t know how to leave. I can be angry at how this broken world breaks people, and how I’m a part of it.

I can burn with a productive anger, a helpful anger. It’s the difference between a disastrous wildfire and a controlled burn. I can realize that sometimes, when people are crushed under the weight of their burdens, the most loving thing I can say is, Change, repent, put down the rock and walk away.

Others have loved me this way and I’m now happier for it. Jesus has loved me this way, has told me as I wept, I can’t carry your burden unless you give it to me. Choose to change, or you choose the burden, like you have your whole life, over and over.

Sometimes I love you sounds like Stop this now.

I’m learning to hear, and speak, that rough but beautiful language of love.

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