Jesus, Friend of the Messy
I’ve been relearning a lot of things lately. Let’s face it. Religion can paint a very distorted picture of who Jesus was and is. So can culture and society. What did Jesus’ ministry actually look like? Here are some of the details I am starting to notice as of late:
Jesus frequently touched people who were diseased or deformed. Like, literally touched. This is something we don’t often see, even in modern times. Most people aren’t eager to touch pussy skin or a twisted arm. But Jesus did this all the time like it was no big deal. There are two interesting things to note here. First, Jesus didn’t HAVE to touch people. Whether or not touch leads to healing is beside the point. He is God. He is all-powerful. He proved that he could heal from across town (see Matthew 8:5–13). Jesus chose to touch people.
The other interesting thing is that many people in biblical times followed the doctrine that touching something unclean would make you unclean. This is why lepers lived in isolated communities, far away from the rest of society. But Jesus chose to be with those people who were diseased, who were dubbed ‘unclean’ by the priests and the leaders of the time. He chose to touch them. In his book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund writes, “When Jesus, the Clean One, touched an unclean sinner, Christ did not become unclean. The sinner became clean.”
Jesus spent a lot of time with those who were unwelcome in religious circles. Mark 2:15 says, “And as he reclined at the table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” This scenario enraged the religious leaders of the time. Tax collectors were essentially criminals who cheated the poor out of their money and pocketed the change. ‘Sinners’ could refer to many things, but it’s safe to assume these were the community’s low-lifes. These were the people with whom Jesus chose to eat dinner. In their houses.
Jesus didn’t just eat with these people, though. He called them to follow him. These were the ones who would end up healing the sick, raising the dead, and spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The very individuals who were unwelcome in the Synagogues of the time were the ones chosen by Jesus to start His Church, which would eventually take the world by storm. Jesus had his pick of the litter, and he chose the runts, the down-and-outs, to be His.
Jesus made people angry. A lot. He had a way of saying things that would really get under people’s skin — especially the religious elite. Jesus challenged the status quo. His famous Sermon on the Mount is full of statements that Jesus begins with, “You have heard it was said…” (see Matthew 5–7). He then goes on to dissect rote religious norms and reveal the true heart behind them. The way Jesus spoke caused waves near and far. It drew the poor, diseased, and suffering close, and it caused the rich and powerful to want to murder him.
I think sometimes we get this idealistic picture in our heads. You know, that painting of a gentle Shepherd sitting with the little children. But Jesus’ life was also full of conflict. He was accepted by crowds, but rejected by more. There were those who poured perfume on his feet, and those who listened to his sermons only so that they could accuse him and fight with him after — not to mention all those in between these two extremes. Jesus spoke truth, even when it wasn’t popular. He spoke from his heart, even when some didn’t want to hear it. Matthew 7:28–29 says of Jesus, “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
Jesus simply obeyed the Father. There can be an unbelievable amount of pressure placed on Christians. Do this, don’t do this, live like this, not like that. Couple that with the ‘everything goes’ mindset so prevalent today, and it’s like a constant roller coaster of “What the heck am I supposed to do?” Jesus set the example, but sometimes we overlook it. We see his ministry, we read the parables and the accounts of miracles, and think we have to come up with clever stories like him or go find a commune of lepers to touch.
Jesus’ example is much more simple: he obeyed the Father. In John 5:19, Jesus speaks of a theme that is repeated often throughout the rest of the book of John. He says, “…the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” Jesus himself — the Son of God — made it clear that he could only do what the Father did. He had no pretense of running a great ministry or even living a great life apart from God.
This should be a relief to us! If we are to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, that means we don’t need to do anything on our own. We can simply walk in obedience to God, staying close to him, allowing him to guide us and empower us.
Sometimes God told Jesus to preach to crowds thousands strong. Other times, he drew Jesus away into a quiet place, alone. Sometimes God led Jesus to perform awe-inspiring miracles. But then there was the time that Jesus was led to converse with a guilt-ridden woman who was trying to get water from an old well. At times, God told Jesus to be gentle. Other times, he told him to throw tables.
Jesus’ life wasn’t two-dimensional. It wasn’t just a serene painting, a successful ministry, a linear story. Jesus was full of emotion, full of reckless compassion, full of hard-to-swallow truth, and full of obedience to the Father. He still is. And as we follow him, we can rest in knowing that our messy lives are exactly the ones he chooses. In order to be like him, we simply have to say yes to what he is doing, and stay close to him, because he picked us — we are his.