The conspiracy Jesus does not want you to miss

IMG_3854The Easter season for many Christians is a time to celebrate the rise of Christ from the dead to reign in heaven. And whether you accept the story of Christ as atonement for your sins, or something more subtle, on the order of giving yourself completely over to God, the Passion story is a compelling and humbling example of self-sacrifice.

For many Christians the Easter story begins and ends with that sacrifice. Nothing more need be said. But there’s a practical layer to the Easter story that Christians entirely focused on heavenly transcendence too often fail to consider.

It is the conspiracy Jesus does not want you to miss.

What secret could Jesus possibly hold that we don’t already know, that hasn’t been explored sufficiently by theologians, or canonized in the church?

You might know something about this secret if you pay attention to the entire Passion narrative. The Bible loved prophecies, and the story of Jesus entering the city on a donkey or young colt is the echo of a predicted fulfillment of a Messiah who will return to restore Israel and its people to glory and self-rule.These were important hopes back then. In some respects, those hopes remain today. Many Christians openly hope for the return of Christ, and think that is the secret Jesus wants us to know about his comings and goings in this world. But like many good conspiracies, those people may be wrong.

We instead find the real and noble conspiracy, and one Jesus does not want us to miss, in the message everyone seems to want to avoid in the story of Christ. He was a radical in every sense to those who ruled in his era. The leading religious authorities were skeptics of his claim to be the Son of God. The Romans considered him at best a weak imitation of a true king. All were more interested in his supposed abilities to do magic than his actual message. “Blessed are the meek…” Jesus is quoted from the Sermon on the Mount.

Hardly the claims of a king. Not in that era.

So fixated are we on salvation during the Easter season that the real conspiracy of Jesus goes uncelebrated. His clearly political motives in defying both sources of profound authority seem so worldly, almost unnecessary for the Son of God. And then his unwillingness to defend himself, so that he would appear to be a fool in front of foolish men? What sort of secret was that to keep from all his accusers.

Before his capture and trial, Jesus tried to educate his disciples on the secrets of his ministry. They begged him to speak plainly, not to rely on colorful parables and organic stories about yeast and bread and water to convey his message of spiritual grace and hoop.

But Jesus chastised his own disciples, telling them, “Are you so dull?’

And that is the real conspiracy of Jesus. He warned his disciples that much of God’s wisdom need be hidden from authorities in order to be heard and accepted by true believers. In the hands of the authorities, true wisdom becomes twisted into thorns of power to be jammed down on the heads of those seeking hope and truth.

In fact, the reaction of those in power to the notion that “Blessed are the meek…” is to turn that conspiratorial truth into a threat. The powerful see weakness where Christ sees power. Those with selfish interests turn that call to humility into an excuse to dominate.

If you truly want to believe and accept Christ, and especially the sacrifice he made in the name of all people, to instruct us on the power of humility and devotion to God, must be to personally sacrifice the will to turn religion into a political force designed to deliver advantage unto yourself.

Because barring that, people fall prey to their own desires, and go out preaching in public about their piousness and devotion to God. And those people Jesus distrusted most of all. “Do not pray in public…” he warned. “Or make a show of your piety.”

That is the conspiracy of faith that Jesus does not want you to miss. He hid his own authority and truth behind the will to be mocked, even tortured, rather than claim some position of power for himself. He hid his messages in metaphor, and indeed, the entire Bible follows that formula for concealed grace. Those who take scripture literally gloss over the real meaning of this conspiracy of truth. They turn the Bible into a weapon rather than a tool of grace. They force interpretations of scripture on the heads of believers like religious crowns of thorns.

Thus they aggressively miss the conspiracy of the Bible entirely. Yet that conspiracy is what the Easter season is truly all about. The willingness to place humility before politics, and endure sacrifice before personal gain.

Without that will, it does not matter if Christ rose from the dead or stayed in the tomb. The secret of faith lies buried behind a stone if the kingdom of God cannot be accepted on those terms. All other claims are a celebration of self. And nothing more.

 

Are you so dull? Not on your life

DSCN1904The manner in which Jesus conveyed important facts about the nature of God’s Kingdom was apparently, or at least sometimes lost even on his own disciples. His parables used a rich mix of natural symbolism to convey spiritual principles. His purpose in this teaching method was to make it possible for people with little formal training in theology to grasp the perspectives of God.

With his disciples in tow and in regular witness to his miraculous abilities, Jesus used his ministry to build them up to do his work after he left this earth in bodily form. But true to human nature, his disciples did struggle to grasp the meaning of his parables.

The Bible does not shy from sharing this harsh fact with its readers. There is a purpose to this. In many ways the illuminating statement in Matthew 15:16 helps us recognize in ourselves the difficulties the disciples sometimes had in understanding their teacher’s message. The New International Version depicts Jesus harshly questioning their very ability to be his disciples if they cannot comprehend his method of teaching.

New International Version
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.

He’s pretty rough on them.

The New Living Translation goes a little easier on the disciples, depicting a Christ eager to teach and somewhat impatient in dealing with disciples.

New Living Translation
“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked.

The English Standard Version compares the disciples to the people at large or first experiencing his message.

English Standard Version
And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?

The same goes with the New American Standard translation. Jesus takes his disciples to task for being slow on the uptake. The King James translation is much similar.

New American Standard Bible
Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also?

King James Bible
And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?

Consider the urgency of the Holman Christian Standard Bible a challenge to us all. After all, we’ve had 2000 years or so to get a grip that the symbolism Jesus used to convey spiritual principles was not meant to be taken literally nor left on the table to fend for itself in conveying the urgent matter of reaching the Kingdom of God:

Holman Christian Standard Bible
“Are even you still lacking in understanding?” He asked.

Then we encounter the abrupt take of the International Standard Version and the NET Bible, both of which throw a direct slam at the disciples.

International Standard Version
Jesus said, “Are you still so ignorant?

NET Bible
Jesus said, “Even after all this, are you still so foolish?

It comes down to this: No matter what translation you choose, the bible is clear in showing that Jesus expects a bit more from his disciples, and all of us, than short-sighted, lazy thinking. It’s clearly not enough to state that “God said it, and I believe it.” Jesus did not allow that brand of thinking in his disciples, and it certainly is no more valued as a mode of thinking today.

Think about that next time you hear someone claiming the earth was created in 7 literal days, or trying to turn their interpretation of scripture into the law of the nation. Jesus did not tolerate those methods in his closest advisors or the enemies of the kingdom of God.

All those who failed to grasp the true message of God were called to account. Do you want to be one of the people who through false-minded zealotry or an aggressive desire fro control and power turn the message of Christ into something that it wasn’t meant to be?

Not on your life.