Lousy Jesus

Jesus would make a lousy politician.

Take a look at Matthew 5:38-39 if you don’t believe me. He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” This was a standard given in the Old Testament in order to limit revenge and it certainly seems reasonable. An eye for an eye sure seems to make things fair. It’s an argument that gets used to support the death penalty, for instance. That person took a life, so their life should be taken from them. Fair is fair, right?

Except that Jesus continues by saying, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

Now, we know that Jesus isn’t just talking about slaps to the face, so we quickly see that this just won’t do for us! Sure, “turn the other cheek” is a good thing to teach kids so that school squabbles can be minimized, but we adults certainly can’t abide in this!

No politician in these parts could get elected with “turn the other cheek” as her or his campaign slogan. The electorate wants to be able to trust in a “strong” leader who will retaliate in full measure to anything perpetrated against us. Turning the other cheek gets branded as being weak. There’s no vengeance there. Might makes right, so Jesus must be wrong.

“Turn the other cheek”? Ha! That kind of crazy-talk from Jesus would never get him elected. He would make a lousy politician.

Jesus would also make a lousy lawyer.

After this turning the other cheek nonsense he says, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” Who wants to hire a lawyer whose strategy is to give up? And not just give up, but give up even more than the other side wants?

Seriously, the bar association would take one look at this sort of legal conduct and take quick and definitive steps to have Jesus disbarred. How would any of Jesus’ clients win their cases if his opening argument is “Take my client’s coat. Take his cloak too!”

Jesus ought to avoid the legal profession if he knows what’s good for him.

Jesus should also avoid going into business because he would make a lousy businessperson.

Take a look at what he says in Matthew 5:47: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Nowadays when we talk about “going the extra mile,” we’re referring to achieving some great accomplishment. But Jesus wasn’t talking about achievements.

In his day, members of the Roman government could force any non-Roman to carry something for one mile. So Jesus was saying, don’t just do what is required, but go two miles instead!

This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how razor-thin profit margins can be. You follow the law (or at least don’t get caught breaking it) and you do no more! The resources and manpower that go into traveling the second mile would simply devastate a company’s balance sheet. Sure, good customer service is important, but that means a nice smile and friendly conversation, not going over-the-top with this two mile business.

The stockholders just wouldn’t abide in this business plan and Jesus would be ousted in short order for fundamentally misunderstanding the market. Taking a look at Jesus’ ministry bears this out. As Michael Budde puts it:

Jesus passed up countless money-making opportunities – he didn’t charge for healings, he gave loaves and fishes by the thousands (angering the bakery owners’ association and the fishing industry in the process), and he alienated a rich young man who might have otherwise bankrolled the ministry.

Clearly, business isn’t the right place for Jesus.

So it is also probably no surprise that Jesus would make a lousy banker.

Here he goes again: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

This fiscal policy would get rejected faster than you can say “Fannie Mae” or “Freddie Mac.” There’s no talk of collateral, credit ratings, lending history, or ability to repay the loan. No amount of FDIC insurance would make up for this tremendously short-sighted banking method.

Again, as Michael Budde puts it:

God obviously is not as smart as even the average capitalist. For God seems unaware that, given this sort of business plan, God will go bankrupt – nobody can continue by giving people more than they produce, by privileging the weak and the inefficient over the strong and powerful, by ignoring those with resources to give in favor of those who have nothing and amount to nothing.

So, to summarize, Jesus would make a lousy politician, a lousy lawyer, a lousy businessperson, and a lousy banker. So if you were hoping for some practical career advice, sorry, it’s just not going to happen.

Yet there’s at least a part of each of us that wants to trust what Jesus says, so you may take his words and do some intricate and careful machinations to smooth off the rough edges and make his words more palatable. With good – if misguided – intentions, we may try to spiritualize or minimize Jesus’ words.

“Oh, turning the other cheek is good for children and good for little things, so we can get by. But when big stuff happens, all bets are off! You bomb me and I’m gonna bomb you right back!”

Now that seems more sensible, right? Or at least it’s more in line with the way the world works. And since he would make a lousy politician, lawyer, businessperson, or banker, Jesus clearly does not have a firm grasp on the way the world works!

Since Jesus seems unconcerned by our conventions and our desire to succeed and accumulate and make sure that others get what they deserve, we politely invite him to leave the public living-out of our lives and hide him away in our hearts where he can give us warm fuzzies when we’re feeling down. I mean, that’s easier than actually taking Jesus at his word.

Except that Jesus persists. And this time he tops everything off by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

It turns out that Jesus wasn’t bluffing. Instead, he calls our bluff with this stunning command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And while Jesus would indeed make a lousy politician, lawyer, businessperson, or banker, he did not come to be any of those things.

Jesus came to be the Savior of the world. And Jesus is the perfect Savior.

For, you see, in these seemingly unrealistic statements about turning the other cheek, giving our cloak, going the second mile, giving without reservation, and loving our enemies – in all these things, Jesus is only asking for us to do what he has already done for us!

Jesus asks us to exercise grace with integrity. That means, we have all received grace upon grace from God, for when we sin, we abandon God and turn from him, making us God’s enemies. And, let me tell you, it is great news that God’s chosen way of dealing with his enemies is to love them! For otherwise we would not stand a chance!

Sure, you can criticize turning the other cheek and loving your enemies as unrealistic and unreasonable, but doing so means that you are arguing with God’s chosen way of dealing with you and the world.

Since we have received God’s grace, we are called – no, we are commanded to show and share this very grace with integrity. And the only way that you can turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and love your enemies is if your life is shaped by Jesus. If you want Jesus to fit into your view of the world, it’s just not going to work. But if you’re willing to be shaped – in the form of a cross – into Jesus’ view of the world, then it will all make sense for we are who we are because Jesus is who he is!

In Matthew 5:48  Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection has nothing to do with acing a test, having all the right answers, or having perfect attendance. Tom Long says, “To be ‘perfect’ is to respond to other people – even our enemies – with the kind of compassion and desire for the good that expresses the way God responds to the world.” Being perfect means engaging the world as God engages the world.

As Martin Luther said, “At this point you will discern how hard it is to do the good works that God commands… You will find out that you will be occupied with the practice of this work for the rest of your life.”

It turns out that God really cares about how we treat one another!

Jesus would make a lousy politician, but he is the leader we are called to follow.

Jesus would make a lousy lawyer, but he has freed us from the guilty verdict we have earned by disobeying God.

Jesus would make a lousy businessperson, but he is willing to forgo a profit and even declare bankruptcy so that we are not overcome by sin, death, and the devil.

And Jesus would make a lousy banker, but he has emptied the vaults of grace, mercy, and forgiveness so that you and I may live.

Live not just how we want to live, but live in response to the grace we have received so that we turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love our enemies, and shape our lives through the cross of Christ, the perfect Savior.

 

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