Last week my New Testament professor called Jesus a troublemaker.
I chuckled because, well, I see his point.
We had studied parts of the Old Testament and the customs, culture and importance of the law for the Jewish people who waited expectantly for the Messiah. Last Monday night we compared their expectations and whether or not Jesus met them.
Mostly, He didn’t.
The Samaritan woman He openly conversed with at the well…inviting Matthew (a hated tax collector) to follow Him….healing a sick man on the Sabbath…forgiving sin as if He were equal to God.
A few notable mentions that really upset the folks who knew what good religion should look like.
My heart did a little jump when Professor Kelly called Jesus a troublemaker. I remembered. He’s caused me the best kind of upsets as He’s challenged me and whispered to my soul. Sometimes I still try to reduce Him to church attendance or behavior modification but it’s really too late for that now.
See, Jesus upset my apple cart a few years back. In such a way that even when I don’t think I really care anymore, I can’t shake Him. Oh, I shake! I shake my fist at others and my head at myself. But shake Him? Not really.
This morning preacher-words fell on my heart like raindrops pounding dusty ground.
This Pastor is new to me. This church is new to me. But he talked with us about how Jesus did things. Sparked more of the passion and recollections that spring from own unmet expectations…
When I was full of shame I expected condemnation.
When I was fully honest I expected to be censored.
When I was full of doubt I expected correction.
When I was full of regret I expected I told you so.
When I was full of hard questions I expected silence.
When I was full of sin I expected a plan to earn my way back.
But Jesus disregarded my expectations, too.
Instead His love washed over me. Acceptance, invitation, welcome. He loved me to wholeness and it changed me.
Oh it sounds so nice and Christian, except in real life Christians mostly don’t go for this kind of stuff.
This new Pastor talked a lot about Jesus and Zacchaeus. He was the equivalent of a modern-day drug dealer or pimp, some kind of criminal who preys on others. But Jesus pursued Zacchaues. Called him out of the crowd and invited himself over to the man’s house for a meal. Right in front of everyone. Jesus causing all this trouble for the Pharisees, the proudly religious.
Troublesome grace. Completely unconditional invitation to be loved.
Right now. Not later. Not after he responds to the altar call or recites the sinner’s prayer. Not after he makes the changes and the effort. Not after he proves his devotion in a tithe or small group. Not after he changes his clothes, his speech, his mind and his lifestyle.
Jesus engaged him regardless of mindset, lifestyle, political positions or background. Regardless. And right now.
Worthy of a Sunday nod of agreement until it gets real. Like this: Today this Pastor told us that if we have a need we are welcome to take cash from the offering bucket as it goes by.
My insides recoiled. Someone is going to take advantage of that! Someone is going to misuse this offered grace!
Raindrop words kept falling on my heart till they poured out of my eyes.
Because then I thought about a beaten, broken body hanging on two wooden beams. Used up. Advantage taken.
That was His plan. His intention. Yes.
We might bristle inwardly but this is exactly what Jesus did. What He still does. And It’s what He’s asking us to do. But so often we can’t because we only know how to operate in a cause and effect kind of world. We despise the Pharisees in the Bible stories yet live a pharisee life. We agree yes, yes, yes! to the love of God for the broken but don’t want to really deal with the broken.
At least, not while they’re still broken.
I faced my own reflection today in the faces of neighbors who I know are hurting. In a child’s sweet smile as she waved at me. His love pressing on me, confronting me. Asking when did I let my love grow cold? When did listening, reaching out, making myself available become a burden?
We draw lines about how far the love of Christ is supposed to go while the Bible says there are no limits to its heights, depths and breadth. We hold out picket signs but not our hands. We cast votes and then stones. We offer proclamations from our dinner tables but not invitations to sit around it. We give opinions endlessly but kindnesses sparingly.
We are careful with a love that is no less than extravagantly reckless.
So maybe someone takes a twenty from the offering bucket one day when they don’t actually need it.
We took His life. My sins of yesterday, today and the ones yet to come brought Creator to a criminal’s death.
Grace is dirty work. It’s sloppy and unmeasured. It gets into the grout, the deepest crevice, the thickest muck of our lives.
Grace chips away at the what of our lives and then love heals the why.
The Pharisees, if you read the Bible, were so sure of themselves. So sure of their religious effort and knowledge. Maybe sometimes the problem is an unbroken life. A shameless past. Because if you’ve tasted shame…if you’ve been broken and scattered…if you’ve grieved regret…then dirty grace and sloppy love is the stuff of breathing.
Glue of living dispensed by the great Troublemaker.