The “Radical” JesusFr. Barnabas Powell
It seems fashionable, especially among those who seem to preach a utopian ideology, to claim Jesus was a “radical” that would agree with “us.” As someone whose lived a long life already, I can tell you I’ve witnessed radicals all claim Jesus was one of them. I watched as the socialists and the communists claimed Jesus was a socialist and a communist. I watched as the “Moral Majority” insisted Jesus was a Regan Republican. I lived through the “Jesus Movement” of the 1970s where we were all convinced Jesus was a long-haired love guru preaching a “contemporary” message that insisted we dump all those “old” hymns for the “love song” sounds of shallow romance!
Yep, it’s all been done before.
And now all kinds of radicals are claiming Jesus as their own. I read recently that someone has insisted that Jesus was “transgender” and “queer.” Amazing. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
But the older I get the more terrifyingly radical the true message of Jesus really gets. The Message of Normal Orthodoxy puts all these other silly ideologies to shame and insists on an awesome confrontation that will destroy all my preconceived notions! Jesus’ message spells the end of the world, literally! Jesus’ message means your very real “death” to sin and the transformation of you into an eternal companion of God, not some weak, desire-slave bent on living “my truth.”
Look at the Gospel Lesson in Matthew 5:33-41:
The Lord said, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
The message of Jesus starts with dismantling the wrong notions that people have about true religion! He destroys the false “old sayings” that turn out to be too small to actually capture the true message He declares!
The first “old saying” has to do with how we communicate, and this gets to a deeper, internal spiritual poverty all too common in us humans. “Do not swear.” Let your words speak for themselves without the need to “Let me be honest with you…” Does that mean you haven’t been honest with me?
Isn’t it amazing what lengths we humans will go to convince another we are telling the truth about a matter? We even place our right hand on a sacred text when we are testifying in court. But Jesus declares that our inner life should be so committed to authenticity and honesty that we shouldn’t need these “props” to add genuineness to our words. Our communication should flow from such a simple (notice, I didn’t say “easy”) life that a simple “yes” or “no” should be sufficient and our own integrity is so unquestioned that this answer is always enough.
But that amazing life first requires an inner peace and simplicity that shuns duplicity and manipulation. No wonder the Lord says “Anything more than this comes from evil.”
The second “old saying” deals with our behavior, and this, too, flows from a deeper, inner life and attitude that motivates our actions and choices.
Jesus confronts our cowardly habit of making excuses for revenge or demanding that “I should get what I deserve” or “He should get what he deserves for not giving me what I deserve!”
The Lord offers us such a radically different, and ultimately life-giving freedom, from the slavery of score-keeping and unending revenge! The Lord calls us to be so confident in the resurrection of the dead and His ultimate victory over all injustice that we release all temporary desires to “set things right” for a better life of liberty from anger and grudges and hatred. Even to the point that if you are struck on one cheek, you offer the other cheek to your attacker! The Message of Jesus is to give up keeping score. Give up demanding what you deserve. Stop the never-ending cycle of demands and embrace the freedom of God’s grace and a life that serves! No more ego-driven living! That lifestyle only leads to hell!
On this First Friday after Pentecost, we are invited by the Church to witness the transformation of the earliest disciples of Jesus into the radical community that changed the world forever. As the hymn we sing during this time says the Holy Spirit “made fishermen all-wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, netting the world.” This truly radical, not merely incipit narcissism that passes for “radical” today, message and action of the Kingdom of God is meant to radically change you and me into persons who are more at home in eternity than in the passing fads of a fallen society.
Today, is your inner life being shaped by the radical message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you free from the inner manipulations of your own deceit? Are you free from the never-ending “score-keeping” of revenge and “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” Can you truly say your life is peaceful and simple? Why not determine to be Orthodox on Purpose and watch as that purposeful life creates this very peace and simplicity within you?
P.S. Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fishermen all-wise, sending upon them the Holy Spirit and, through them, netting the world. O Loving One, glory to You.