Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reading the Gospels with Students: Three Vignettes

1.            I met Sean[1] through the conversation partners program at Ohio University.  He was born and raised in a Southeast Asian country and is familiar with the church there. Sean loves to pepper me with questions about Christianity and the church in the United States. Recently, when we were reading from the Bible, he challenged:

"Do you remember when Jesus was baptized by John? I think Jesus made a mistake."

"Really?" I asked, "Why do you say that?"

"Jesus is God, and God should have a higher position than people. When Jesus was baptized by John, he put himself under John. That was not right."

"If you think Jesus made a mistake there, then he certainly made a mistake when he washed his disciples' feet."

"Oh yes," said Sean, "that was a mistake too. God should be above people, not below."

"And isn't it the same as when Jesus died, nailed to a piece of wood," I offered. "It seems that we have a God who doesn't care about the rules of position."

"I know! But it still does not make sense," he protested.

The scandal of our humble Lord, the crucified Christ, is fresh to Sean. This week he will be coming to our CrossWalk meeting for the first time, and he’s bringing all of his questions with him.


2.            As Dodger and I were working in the office last week, Jack walked in, flopped on the couch, and fired a question at us:

"What did Jesus teach?" Jack's eyes burned with certainty: he already had the answer in mind.

"Jesus taught many things," I offered. "Loving your neighbor, caring for the poor, living righteously, and so on."

"Yes, yes. I know." Jack wasn't impressed. "But there were two things that Jesus preached more than anything else."

"It has to be the kingdom of God," said Dodger.

"To repent?" I chimed in.

Jack was satisfied. "A lot of people say that Jesus' message was love and peace or tolerance, but that's not the case. It’s true that those things were in there, but Jesus came to preach about repentance and the kingdom."

I think that Jack did his homework. Dallas Willard translates the Lord’s proclamation in Mark 1:15 as such: “All the preliminaries have been taken care of, and the rule of God is now accessible to everyone. Review your plans for living and base your life on this remarkable new opportunity.” [2]


3.            As Sean and I were waiting for his bus to come, I saw Rita across the street and waved her over. She had been involved in ROC during her first two years of school, but her schedule and social circles made it easier for her to meaningfully invest herself into a different Christian group on campus. That was no problem in my eyes; I was happy to know that she was still connected to Jesus and to folks who love him.
When Sean and I said good-bye, Rita and I walked and chatted about her post-college plans and about the ROC community. She told me that she missed having teaching that helped her grow in her faith.

"Over there, it's the same ‘Jesus-died-for-your-sins’ talk every week,” she explained. “Don't get me wrong, that's great for those who need it! But I already know that. I'm already a Christian, but I need to know what to do now! I need to grow."

She loved reading the Pauline epistles. She hungered to have mature teaching—solid food, as the author of Hebrews puts it. But Rita wasn't finding it in her context.
How easily we rush from the manger to the cross! We can point Christ’s crucifixion as the ultimate expression of God's gracious love and we can learn how to live as the Church from Brother Paul. Both of those things, however, depend on our knowledge of Jesus and his teaching as revealed in the gospels. We cannot gloss over his proclamation of God's present reign in our world, his scandalous humility, and his authority to even say,

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." [3]

Rita and I will soon begin meeting once a week to read through a gospel and talk about applying Jesus' teaching to our lives, figuring out "how the rubber meets the road," as Dodger puts it. I can't wait to start.

[1] Students’ names have been changed to respect their privacy.
[2] Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 15.
[3] Luke 14:26-27 NIV