Turns out, Jesus doesn’t agree with me.

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.

a red-letter day

Words of Jesus (Photo credit: jypsygen)

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)
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About Claire

@claireylegs Keen on Jesus. Keen on justice. Ministry assistant in the Great North East. Blogger. Find me in: coffee shop / church / pub / bed.
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14 Responses to Turns out, Jesus doesn’t agree with me.

  1. lanamhobbs says:

    hm. it makes jesus seem a lot less nice than I generally think of him.

  2. Pete C says:

    Although those Christians who use “the offence of the Gospel” as an excuse to be offensive should be roundly ignored and properly instructed in loving their neighbour (and God), there is an inherent offensiveness to the Gospel. Jesus will never tow the party line to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, because he has an eternal perspective. He knows what is of primary importance.

    That being said, sometimes the context of a verse will give some explanation as to why Jesus used particularly offensive or (often) confusing or contradictory statements.

    • Claire says:

      Thanks Pete – definitely agreed that Jesus was not always as ‘nice’ and uncontroversial as some people make out! You’re right, there are reasons for these kinds of statements, rather than Jesus just being rude or abrupt for the sake of it, but I guess I wanted to stop and remember that he said them at all before asking why!

  3. Nicole says:

    I feel it’s a matter of understanding the culture and the fact that Jesus did not always say his direct meaning. It often has a more spiritual meaning than literal (at least in my opinion.) I don’t believe that when he says the way is narrow and few find it he means for all of eternity. At the time, very few had found it. I just wrote in my blog about hell and the fact that it did not mean what hell tends to mean today. When Jesus used the word hell, it’s actual word was Gehenna, which was the valley of Hinnom, where certain apostate Isrealites would sacrifice their own children to the God Molech. I believe he uses this parabolically towards the kinds of injustices religious people were afflicting on others in that day. You never see him using it toward the poor, sinners, everyday people. And even when Jesus was dying he said about these religious leaders “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    • Claire says:

      Hi Nicole, thanks for your comment, useful thoughts there. I’d never really considered the way Jesus might use language differently when addressing different people, I’ll make time to look into that more.

  4. I appreciate what the spirit of your post is, and I think I might understand what prompted it. However, pulling individual verses out of context is its own kind if manipulation, and doesn’t do them any justice.

    • Claire says:

      Yeah I know what you mean – I wouldn’t want to build a doctrine on verses like these pulled out of their context. As I said to Pete above, I think I just wanted to show myself that these words are there in the first place, and feel the force of them, before looking at explaining them in context. They’re different to some of the easier sayings because the starting point in trying to understand them and interpret them well, is a starting point of discomfort and unease, rather than feeling at home with them, and I wanted to acknowledge that first – I think it changes the attitude I take in trying to understand them, perhaps it forces me to start from somewhere a bit more humble? or more angry, or emotional? more raw? I don’t know exactly.

  5. sowingmercy says:

    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).

    What about The Great Commission at the end of Matthew? It seems to me that “All nations” cannot be only Jews.

    18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

    And what about John 3:16-17?

    16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

    Matthew’s theme was the message to the Jews.

  6. Billie says:

    Thanks for this Claire! Good mind-jogging quotes.
    One thing I wish Jesus would say more to me is “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”… I think I’d find it easier to tune into him if I had less of a ‘oh it’s ok’ mentality, and if I could think him grumpy like a normal person…! Maybe he is and I’m not listening properly… it’s hard to get the right balance isn’t it, between guilt and appropriate conviction.
    The accounting for every sin on judgement day is a wake up call too!

  7. I really love this post, Claire, and you make a very important point. As addressed in earlier comments, context is always key to helping us understand these texts. It would be interesting to see if you could do the same thing for the rest of the Gospels and if the results would be different. Matthew is very much oriented to ethical behaviour – see how he presents the beatitudes in terms of ethics and spirituality as opposed to Luke who presents them much more in socio-political terms. Perhaps it is Matthew’s concern about behaviour within the ekklesia that means much of his writing tends to focus on morality and behaviour to such an extent – more so than the other Gospels. Matthew also appears to view salvation in exclusivist terms (“Whoever is not with me, is against me” Matt 12:30) whereas Mark presents a far more inclusive picture (“For who is not against us is for us” Mark 9:40//Luke 9:50) – one does not need to be signed up to the ‘right’ group! Also, you’re not going to be learning much about hell in John’s Gospel – Jesus in John Gospel doesn’t mention it!

  8. Scout Finch says:

    I really resonate with this struggle. Thanks for verbalizing it. 🙂

  9. I found this very interesting for a personal reason. I grew up as a Catholic and the perception I got of Jesus from that was like a hippy lovely dopey stereotype 70s hippy. Looked a bit like a member from the Bee Gees.
    But at 23 and in my first year at Uni, I read through Matthew’s Gospel and was surprised by the Jesus I found there. No more did I see that soft fluffy man, but one of real substance, one who took no carp from the hypocrites and spoke the truth without fear. It was actually in Matt 16 when He says, whoever loses their life for my sake will find it and I was convinced there and then who He was!
    A lot of Christians who have grown up in an uber conservative background may need to know more of the softer edges of the character of Jesus, but those who have such a low view of a weak little hippy might just need to know the sharper edges.
    I think for everyone as you say, we need to remove Jesus from our man made boxes and let Him be who his actions and words say He is.

    • Claire says:

      Ciaran,
      I just wanted to say thanks fr your comments and sorry not to have replied to them sooner. I’d love to hear more of your story and your thoughts so do keep commenting and I’ll get better at engaging properly!
      Take care,
      Claire

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