Our familiarity sometimes blinds us to things that are out of the ordinary.
“Jesus is Coming Soon” is a favorite song among many in my tradition—Churches of Christ. Its cheery, catchy tune matched with lovely harmonies will embed itself in your brain and have you humming it throughout the week. It’s super familiar to me because I grew up singing it often, but I was a full-grown adult before I consciously processed the troubling lyrics we were singing with great vigor “Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon, many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound!” Whether or not you agree with that statement, the tone is all wrong. But my familiarity with the tune blinded me to just how out of place the lyrics were.
Those of us who have been in church for a while run the risk of being too familiar with the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry to see how radical and counter-cultural he was. Moreover, already knowing how these stories end, we see them in the rear-view mirror (with Jesus as the victor) and are no longer scandalized or surprised by the outrageous ways in which he transgressed norms.
First, consider his ethnicity and resident status.
It’s too easy to miss the Jews being an ethnic minority and the implications of hearing their stories through that lens. Their prophets continually spoke harsh truths to those unjustly wielding their power—not unlike our rulers today. Jesus’ ministry was to those on the margins of the margins.
We ignore the fact that the Jews, and later Jesus, were immigrants and refugees at various points. Coming from a long line of nomadic immigrants, Jesus was a dreamer in Egypt as his parents fled the slaughtering of children in their homeland.
We overlook it when Jesus describes himself as homeless. He was not a homeowner with comfortable roots in a sleepy suburb. Rather, he was always on the move, depending fully on the hospitality and kindness of strangers and friends alike.
Second, consider his way of life.
We fail to see just what a revolutionary leader he was when his feet carried dust from town to town. Yes, he had a ragtag band of followers, but his resistance to systemic injustices made him unpopular among the rich and powerful. He was an activist, agitating for change.
Jesus broke all kinds of social and religious rules. He chose to dine with those of ill-repute, those who were regarded as less-than and living-in-sin by those in the middle and upper crust of society. He even had people like that among his followers!
He did not acquiesce to societal, governmental, or religious expectations if they stood contrary to God’s heart and Kindom.* Not only did he resist those expectations, he spoke openly against them. He called out misunderstandings and misinterpretations, pointing us to a better way to live, a freer way to be in the world.
Friends, we need to get woke and discover who Jesus was and is. He doesn’t toe the party line and he probably participates in some marches. He doesn’t fit neatly into our rich, white, American, consumeristic, patriotic lifestyle. So let’s stop trying to squeeze him in, and instead start following our revolutionary leader who pursued the Kindom at all costs.
*I recently received an education in why we should be using “Kindom” instead of “Kingdom:” The former highlights our kinship and community, while the latter still assumes and requires a monarch.