I just read a recent blog post by Tyler Huckabee, an editor for Relevant Magazine. I would encourage people check out his blog The Unbearable Lightness of Huckabeing. I think he’s a gifted writer who creates some pretty stinging satire sometimes. I don’t usually agree with his perspectives on things, but that’s fine. For me he represents a more liberal brand of Christianity which a lot of my friends also associate with. (Of course, I don’t know him, so that might not be a fair judgment.) I enjoyed his recent post (“Edits On Your Draft of “The Gospel of John”) which imagined an editor proofreading the Gospel of John and sending back their critiques of his writing. Tyler uses the voice of the editor to personify the stereotypical conservative Christian who takes a hard stance against sinners and non-Christians. The radical love and forgiveness of Jesus, as reported by John, make the editor uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit into the image of Jesus that the editor is familiar with. For example, Jesus’ famous line, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” causes the editor to say that Jesus isn’t taking a strong enough stance against adultery.
I think Tyler has a point. We have to be very careful that the Jesus we know is actually Jesus and not a projection of our own cultural and political leanings. What bothers me is that I feel like we can easily swing in the completely opposite direction. In order to make his point, Tyler chose particular sayings by Jesus that are very challenging. However, there are other sayings that I find equally challenging that paint a different picture of Jesus. To name a few from John:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)
But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (John 8:23-26)
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:4-6)
I have to go outside of John’s gospel to get to some sayings of Jesus that I find truly difficult, specifically the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22. At first this seems like a very Jesus-y kind of story. The people who were supposed to come to the banquet didn’t want to come so the King invites all the people from the street, good and bad. But then it takes a really awkward turn. One of the guests isn’t wearing the right clothes. The King is pissed about this and throws him into the darkness. The last, ominous phrase is “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14) That parable really messes with my head and it definitely doesn’t sound like the same Jesus that “doesn’t take a strong enough stance against adultery.” Why is one woman spared and shown incredible grace after living a promiscuous life, but this poor guy will be gnashing his teeth because of a dress code violation? (I know it’s a parable, but even in that context it doesn’t seem like the punishment fits the crime.)
I’m not trying to be critical of Tyler. I think what he wrote needs to be heard by a lot of people. The kind of Christianity that he seems to be satirizing is something we all know exists and it isn’t good. However, I can imagine the exact same thing being written with the verses chosen by Tyler being replaced by the more harsh-sounding sayings of Jesus. The editor could be someone who only knows the pop-culture portrayal of Jesus as a wise sage who would never say anything to hurt your feelings unless you’re a big, fat meany anyway.
When I read the gospels I see indications that trying to fit Jesus into a mold that resembles our cultural conservatives or liberals just doesn’t work. Personally, I see evidence that he did actually have a very strong stance against sins like adultery, but he also had an amazing love of sinners that puts us all to shame. I hope to understand that better and better as I continue growing in Christ.