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. 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?