Shoes on Other Feet

I confess. (I really need to stop doing that here–note to self, add “blogsphere confessionals” to “List of things to talk to therapist about.” Where was I? Oh yes…)

I confess, I cheer for winners. If I’m watching a game and don’t have a huge stake in one of the teams, I find myself drawn inexorably toward the one that seems to be destined to win at any given moment. When I’m watching a movie with some modicum of mystery about a perpetrator of a crime, I withhold judgment so that I can pretend I hated the right person all along.

When I read the NT, I cheer for Jesus. I boo for the Pharisees. I cheer for Paul. I boo for the Judaizers.

In these NT cases, I think that there’s something about the literature itself that expects such a reaction. By siding with Jesus or Paul I place myself into the mindset of the ideal reader of the text–one for whom Jesus and Paul are the good guys.

But there’s a down side as well; namely, that by siding with the good guys we miss how the story might confront us with a word of judgment.

cbenjasuwan /
We might miss, in fact, that we are those to whom the hero’s words might be spoken afresh.

In fact, it might be that the best place at which to enter the story is not as the doppelganger of the hero, but as the opposition force.

When we read the NT, we too often forget that we who sit in the established Christianity of the 20th century are more like the Jews than anyone else on the page.

We are sitting within the people who have had a firm confidence for thousands of years that we are uniquely living within the great revelation of God that determines all other things.

We are sitting as insiders with a clear sense of who is in and who is out.

We have have the authoritative voice of scripture to back our religious mores and scruples.

In what ways might the shoe be on the other foot? Might it be the case that now, quite often, the church sits not on the side of the radical in-breaking of the Kingdom of God under the reign of King Jesus, but that we sit on the side of the status quo that sets itself against this prophetic advent?

Might the “weak” now be those whose identities are so tied to Christian mores or worship styles or theological traditions that, despite being good smokers and drinkers, we are in fact the “weaker brothers” now? Might we be the ones who cannot part with what we know and still believe we’re serving Jesus?

Might we be the ones who oppose the Jesus-centered mission and identity of the people of God, demanding that any true Messiah serve the standards of the “law” as we’ve understood it? Do we grumble when people spend too much time, become too close friends, with those outside the community?

Yes, Jesus is the Messiah. So yes, there is something “right” about our identification of him and with him as we read. But are there ways that we need to recognize that this very confession unmakes the lives we have constructed in, as we understood it, service of him?

2 thoughts on “Shoes on Other Feet”

  1. Interesting points.. Yes, discipleship and identification of discipleship, we might say, are not quite the same thing. The insider/outsider or good/evil paradigm doesn’t seem to be so rigid when one undergoes a closer look at the basic story structure which led up to Jesus’ crucifixion. For instance, Judas betrays Jesus, yet his character functions as anything but a mere catalyst in the overall processing of Jesus’ death: Judas’ actions precipitate the process or event of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, true, however, Judas himself, as a person and former disciple that sat again and again at Jesus’ feet, actuallysuffers too from this process/event, as his last actions on earth testify. This indicates that Judas was at one time an integral part of the movement and ministry of Jesus, reaping the fruits therein. Judas does not serve as a foil to Jesus; the systemic reach of sin does. Personally, If I simply “read off” Judas and demonize him — or, if I refuse to empathize with the actions of Judas — then do I not fall into the same snare as he once did? Don’t I fail to see the complexity of larger contexts and spiritual movements if I render Judas in this way?

    “Might we [insiders] be the ones who oppose the Jesus-centered mission and identity of the people of God…” I think that this “diabolical plot twist” must always remain a real risk, a danger to being a disciple in Chirst. How can one plausibly designate or delimit where good begins and evil ends when winds/spirits/deep-seated intuitions are involved?? On any given day, if we are not vigilant, if we are not backed by a communal belief that is crucially active and vibrant in the everyday swing of things, a series of unfortunate events may very well spin us into a direction which will have us staring down the same barrel as Judas. That is just being honest.

  2. Thanks for an excellent thought-provoking post. Seeing people as people (individually or corporately) is a good thing. How far we should take that in refusing partisanship is another question. Further, there is also a divine perspective. Is it, for example, legitimate to say that God has a ‘bias to the poor’? There are quite a few posts on my site that support the flipside of this: tolle divitem. I take your post as a reminder that we should flesh out our biases and not abandon them. Whatever else we might say of Jesus, he was not prone to making cartoon characters out of opponents.

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