At least, not always.
I wanted to do a little investigation today. I was going to do a bit of counting: counting of verses to see how much the Jesus of the gospels has to say on different subjects. I wanted to show myself (and probably to put some of the results up on here) that the priorities of churches and of Christians probably don’t match up to the priorities we see in Jesus’ preaching and conversations.
But my investigation got put on hold as I started flicking through the gospel of Matthew. I kept coming across words of Jesus that didn’t fit into any of the categories I wanted to place them under. In fact, sometimes they flat-out contradicted what I wanted Jesus to say. As much as I don’t think the agenda of some parts of the Church is very reflective of Jesus’ teaching and priorities, it turns out mine isn’t always either.
My first thought was, have I been going in completely the wrong direction then, in trying to align myself with the Jesus I thought I knew was all for inclusivity and social justice and the other things I’ve been learning more about recently? Do these difficult, confusing, and sometimes frustrating sayings of Jesus negate everything else that has convinced me that he was pro-peace, pro-people, pro-welcoming everyone? I’m not sure they do, there’s plenty to show that Jesus often does say the kinds of words I’d want to put on his lips in the gospels. But they do serve as a good reminder and corrective to me that Jesus wasn’t all about fitting my agenda, and that I can’t pigeon-hole him any more than those I disagree with can claim him for their boxes.
So, just taken from Matthew’s gospel, with no comment, no explaining away, no justifying them from the context or the culture, and no twisting them back to fit what I really want Jesus to say, here is a selection of those annoying sayings where Jesus doesn’t seem to agree with my agenda:
- I want Jesus to speak out against hell, at least against the fiery, torment and torture sort.
– “…But anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matt 5:22)
– “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:12; see also 13:42, 22:13 and others.)
- I want Jesus to hint that more than those who know him by name might be welcome in the Kingdom, that the way is wider than we imagine.
– “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13)
– “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers.'” (Matt 7:21,23)
– “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt 22:14)
- I want Jesus to be patient with my doubts and my questions, embracing them as part of the journey of faith.
– “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matt 17:17)
- I want Jesus to welcome those who came from outside of Judaism, to show God was for them too.
– “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel… it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matt 15:24,26)
- I want Jesus to be about peace-making, about uniting people.
– “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'” (Matt 10:34-36)
– “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matt 25:32)
- I want Jesus to declare God’s total forgiveness, whatever we’ve done and whatever we do.
– “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6:15)
– “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:34-35)
- I want Jesus to assure me that my mistakes and sins will never be mentioned again, that God has forgotten all about them.
– “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:36-37)
- I want Jesus to speak against shaming people, against purity culture and calling people dirty, damaged or unclean, especially for their sexual history.
– “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’. (Matt 15:19-20)