The Inconvenient Jesus

The Inconvenient Jesus

Like many before me, I am often drawn to the famous works of Michelangelo which are featured with all their brilliance on the famous celling of the Sistine Chapel. Most notably, I am captivated by the centerpiece of the ceiling, The Creation of Adam (see below), in which God the Father is depicted with outstretched arm—a fitting biblical image—reaching toward Adam with great energy and focus. In return, Adam is depicted with his arm reaching back toward God, so close they can nearly touch, were it not for his lackluster effort. Whereas the arm of God is fully extended toward Adam, like a Father reaching for his falling son, Adam leans away from God, his arm comfortably resting on his knee with a flaccid wrist aimed at God. Quite literally, all Adam would have to do is lift a finger and he would be in the Father’s embrace. Put differently: the effort to bind God and man—to bring together heaven and earth—was too inconvenient for Adam. Thus, Michelangelo’s Adam stands as a figure of the human race, ever searching for its Creator and God, so long as the task does not become too inconvenient.

It is an unfortunate part of the fallen human experience. Convenience beckons us to put ourselves, the ego, at the center of the story. Too many times in life have I personally become aware of how prone to this I am. As a husband and father, I feel qualified to admit that perhaps no line of Scripture better summarizes parenting than does Jeremiah 10:23, “our lives are not our own” (New Living Translation). Even if I am able to suppress my selfish inclinations, how often am I internally aware of how inconvenient it is to get up from the couch to do this favor, or to adjust my schedule for that person’s request—the list could go on and on. In recent days, through a common theme arising in prayer and conversation, I have noticed the most constant threat to my convenience, and it wasn’t quite what I expected: it was Jesus. Let’s unpack why.

As I draft up this blog, the lectionary is walking through the Gospel of Mark in the daily readings. In recent memory is the account of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac found in Mark 5:1-20 (ESVCE):

      They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

      14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

In the previous scenes of Mark, the public’s response to Jesus’ ministry had been generally positive. For example, after his activity in Capernaum, Mark notes that “the whole city was gathered at the door. And he healed many who were sick…” (1:33-34). Upon witnessing the healing of the paralytic who was lowered down through the roof, we read that “they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (2:12). Compare this, now, to the initial reaction of those in the Decapolis to Jesus, which we just read in Mark 5. Upon learning that Jesus’ healing of the possessed man had resulted in the loss of their swine, “they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (5:17, emphasis added). Despite one of their kin being freed from a lifelong oppression, Jesus quickly became an inconvenience to them. Sure, they regained one of their own, but at the cost of losing their food and profit? No thank you.

Likewise, soon after these events, Jesus would travel to his home in Nazareth and begin to teach in their synagogue, presumably preaching a message of repentance (see Mark 1:15) and fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah (see Luke 4:16-30; Isa 61:1-2). Upon delivering this sermon, Mark notes that the crowd “took offense at him” and that Jesus could only perform a limited number of miracles due to their lack of faith (Mark 6:3, 5-6). It seems that wherever Jesus went, convenience was not part of his plan.

Oddly enough, this dynamic may best be described in a text that was written before Jesus was born. It comes from the wisdom books of the Old Testament, in the second chapter of The Wisdom of Solomon. In the middle of a lengthy discourse on the attitude of the unrighteous, we read:

12“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and
          opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law
and accuses us of sins against our training.
13He professes to have knowledge of God
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that
          of others
and his ways are strange.”  (Wis 2:12-15, emphasis added)

From the ancient pen of one who did not know Jesus, the Holy Spirit preserves and speaks through the written text to reveal Jesus in a more powerful way. Jesus, the true righteous man, becomes the object of inconvenience to the unrighteous, resulting in his testing, beating, and ultimately “shameful death” (Wis 2:20).

If the Scriptures teach us anything, they teach us this for certain: we cannot encounter Jesus and go back to life as usual. Jesus does not desire simply to be a ‘part’ of our lives; he desires to be at the very center—our source and our summit. Whenever we place ourselves at the center of our own stories, Jesus will always be an inconvenience. It is much like being placed under the heat of a summer’s sun. A ball of wax will melt, while a ball of clay will harden. Either way, neither can withstand the effect that the sun will have on it. Likewise, when Jesus draws near to us, we cannot help but to be changed, whether we like it or not. The only question is, How will Jesus change us? Will we allow our ego to step aside, and permit Jesus to enter into the core of our being, or will it feel threatened and only stiffen its position? Will we, like the citizens of the Decapolis, “beg” Jesus to depart from us so as to avoid the inconvenience of what he might say or do?

Have no fear, Jesus will never force himself on you—he willingly leaves the Gerasenes upon their hasty request (Mark 5:18a). But if we do allow him to enter into our lives—even when it does feel inconvenient—we will quickly discover that the only inconvenience was our self.

Dear Jesus, I invite you to inconvenience me today. I lay before you my plans and desires, asking you to bless what is from you and to change what is not. If I have desires or plans that are contrary to your will, strengthen me not to feel inconvenienced in that moment but to offer them as a pleasing sacrifice to you. Amen.