Tis The Season for Pictures of Jesus on the Front of Magazines.
At any checkout line at our local grocery stores it's hard to miss the differing portraits of Jesus prominently displayed for us to buy. One magazine asks "is the Resurrection fact?" another one asks "What did Jesus really teach?" and one other questions "Was Jesus an alien?" My question is: did he really have baby blue eyes?!
Even with all the differing portrayals of the Son of God for us to impulse buy, one thing is almost always true: Jesus looks bored if not boring. He looks mild and tame. The pictures exude a sense of "niceness" that is attractive for a moment, but easily forgotten the next. This portrayal of Jesus is "safe" and we are safe from having to respond to him. This Jesus is sweet to us, but he definitely does not command our attention, much less our respect.
Then I Read the Gospels...
I see a very different portrait of this man when reading the Bible. Matthew very simply states "And Jesus entered the temple and DROVE OUT all who sold and bought in the temple, and he OVERTURNED THE TABLES of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons." (Matthew 21:12 ESV; my emphasis)
Jesus drove them out. Jesus drove them out! (I had to say it again) That is not something tame men do. Merely "nice guys" stay outside of a problem so as not to cause a fuss...create a mess. The very same man whose hands would, very tenderly, heal a broken body and who would unashamedly weep over the loss of a friend (See John 11:35) deliberately and willful drove men out of the temple.
This Draws Out Questions
Does that shock you like it does to me? Does it seem "wrong" that he would do that? Does it seem out of character for him?
That's just it, this is as much the real Jesus as any other biblical picture. As a matter of fact, this encounter with Jesus makes every other encounter with him not only look different, but add a depth to those stories that we wouldn't have otherwise. When Jesus heals on the sabbath with the scoffers in full view of his "crime" we see the same strength of love. When Jesus calls people to his rest, we know that it isn't the type of "rest" that retreats from the world, but the type that engages the real issues of our lives. When we see Jesus give himself to the cruelty of a Roman cross we see that he was no push over who passively went, but was driven to that point with a righteous passion.
Jesus Welcomed Others Close
I intended just to write about Jesus cleansing the temple. In my imagination, Jesus drove out the money changers and "robbers" and then left the area, on to the next part of his days' agenda. But, rereading it again before typing I noticed something that shocked me even more: "And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. (Matthew 21:14 ESV) This is right after what we might perceive as an "outburst"!
Who is this man?! One moment he is making a bold statement by driving people out of this house of prayer -used for selfish gain -and the next moment the weak and the outsiders feel safe enough with him to approach him. Where one group saw fierceness and fled another group saw graciousness and gathered near him.
Can Jesus Be Both at the Same Time?
I will speculate here, but I think it is fair: if Jesus is nothing but loving then it means he was loving in this scene. He didn't turn "loving" off for a few minutes to overturn tables and ruin the five year plan of small business owners. No, as a matter of fact, in both scenerios he was consistently loving, doing what each group needed more than anything. May I be bold enough to say that Jesus' tenderness towards those he drove out was to give them what they really needed- a shake up that is a strong reminder that their way is the way to destruction? May I be bold enough to say that Jesus was fierce towards the ones who came near to him to be healed? With a fierce compassion he healed them and welcomed them close.
Whether what I say is foolish or not, one thing is true: Jesus will not be domesticated. He will not be defined and controlled. He will not submit to being God in an image we try to create.
Unreservedly Who He Is
He will joyfully be exactly who he is: fiercely tender. When the magazines at our store portray him as a Righteous Warrior with Uncompromising Compassion then I might follow my impulse to buy one and read it. Until then, I want God's word to paint the picture of Jesus I need to see.