The Offensive Word

Jan Antonsson

The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

August 10, 2018

Neosho, MO

‘‘And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household’’  (Matthew 13:57, ESV).

The springboard for this writing came from a friend who shared an article from a Blog entitled, “The Word Among Us.”  His suggestion that I write about this idea for my blog brought about some discussion with him, and not a little angst in me.  Telling him that I would write about it if I got a “green light” from God, means that now that I have received the go-ahead, I must do it.

The reason for my hesitation is easily explained.  No, I’m not afraid you’ll stone me because during the past 20 years of posting my writings on the Internet, no one has figured out how to e-mail stones, yet. However, with the advent of 3D printers, who knows what might be possible. So, as with everything, I timidly go where God leads, knowing He will protect me as He always has.

It is a little uncomfortable, however, for me to remember that Jesus did say, ‘‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34, ESV). He went on to prophesy, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:35-36, ESV).  From these verses, we may conclude that Jesus was not “playing church” (or synagogue in this case), but speaking truth to those to whom He was sent.  He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy,   “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined”  (Isaiah 9:2, ESV).

As the blog writer noted, we don’t often think of Jesus as offensive, but His description as “Savior, meek and mild,” doesn’t quite cover it either. Here’s a snippet from the Blog:

“The Greek word Matthew used for “took offense” is skandalizo. It means to cause to stumble, to shock or offend. It’s also where we get the word “scandalize.” We might not normally think of Jesus as being scandalous; scandal is usually reserved for movie stars or political players. But Jesus and his message can cause a kind of “scandal” in us as well. 

“Think about all the shocking things Jesus did and said: he violated the rules of his religion by healing people on the Sabbath. He told his followers that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to receive life. He said that the Messiah, whom devout Jews expected to be a military leader, would give himself up to a violent death. 

“In each of these situations and many more, Jesus was presenting a message far beyond anything his hearers had imagined. He spoke of so much mercy, so much intimacy with God, so many blessings that he had in store for them. They were not used to such a message. They struggled with everything that unconditional love implied.”  End quote.

Most of us who grew up in church, have had our minds made up early-on about what we believe; why we believe it, and those ideas are usually sealed in cement.  “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

But if Jesus came merely to be a nice, meek man, helping the Scribes and Pharisees lay their deadly burdens on the flock, how would that help us?  I once wrote that Jesus actually was liberal for his day.  I was roundly and soundly rebuked for saying that by one who apparently believes that only Conservatives are close to God.  Liberals are outliers who just don’t make the cut.  The fact is, when you say the word Liberal, many Christians today gird their loins and prepare to grind you under their chariot wheels because they think you are advocating abortion and gay marriage. They seem to forget that Jesus said nothing at all about homosexuals or abortions either. If today’s political landscape is what you think I meant by my seemingly radical statement, I hope you will read the rest of this writing and then, “repent with fasting.”

The Jews had watered down the Law to the place where they could convince themselves they were keeping it, doing what was convenient for them.  Jesus blasted them, “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment, the absolute basics, you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required” (Matthew 23:23, The Message).   He often insulted their righteousness and demonstrated how shabby were their efforts to keep the law, “Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders” (Matthew 9:13, The Message).  

He was echoing the words of Hosea,  “I’m after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings” (Hosea 6:6, The Message).

Micah asked, “How can I stand up before GOD and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would GOD be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously; take God seriously”  (Micah 6:6-8, The Message).  Like some today, the Pharisees were long on being able to quote the Law, but woefully short on knowing how to live it.

I don’t think we fully understand how very offensive Jesus’ words would have been to the self righteous scribes and Pharisees. These men had trumpets blown before them in the synagogues and in the streets attempting to get praise from men when they gave alms. They disfigured their faces and looked dismal when they fasted so that everyone would know how righteous they were (See Matthew 6:2-3; 16-17).  Jesus excoriated them for their hypocrisy: “Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom” (Matthew 5:20, The Message). If He had thrown his lot in with them, they would not have crucified Him and we’d still be mired in sin.

My dear friend John Gavazzoni once shared a “mental picture” he had which illustrates these thoughts exactly. In it, he pictured a scribe sitting with his quill and ink, diligently and meticulously copying a passage from the Law into a new scroll.  There could be no mistakes, no errors of any kind.  If there were, the scribe had to start all over from the beginning on a new scroll, and the scroll on which he made the mistake had to be destroyed, perhaps so that error could not begin to creep into the Law. In John’s vision,  Jesus walked up and stood before the scribe, who rudely said to him, “You’re in my light.  Get out of my way lest I make a mistake.” 

I wonder how many of us can see ourselves in that scribe’s attitude?  Lenny used to say to the men’s Sunday School class to whom he was sent, “You are so busy working for God that you don’t have time for God.”  Been there, done that.

So what then is the remedy for our petty self righteousness, our willingness to judge others about what they believe and how they serve God?  I believe the only remedy for our human frailties and foibles is found in the PRESENCE of God. 

In a daily blog I read from the Theology students at Notre Dame, the writer quoted St. Thomas Aquinas: “Each creature can be a vessel for encountering the presence of God.”  The blog writer expanded the thought,“The gray familiarity of the everyday world is a thin veil through which the Creator’s glory can burst forth unexpectedly at any moment:  in the red leaves of autumn maple splashed against a blue sky, or in a face transformed with the delight of recognizing a friend in a road, in the strength of a dying Christian’s hope of the resurrection.  In these moments, God is not breaking in ‘from outside,’ but letting us see with new eyes what was already there, God’s hidden activity sustaining and cherishing from the inside, more intimately present to each thing than it is to itself.

In the face of this uncontrollable loving presence, we are aware of our own vulnerability…  Here in the presence of the radiance of God-made-flesh, is the right place for the human heart battered by the sorrows of life.  Here we can finally hear the voice with which he already always has been speaking to us with such intense love. “Lord, it is good to be here.”  End quote.

Father, thank You for clothing us with Your Presence where we can fellowship with You, receive Your mercy, grace, and unconditional love, and walk with you as friend with friend.  Your Presence is the answer to all the world’s problems, the solace for every troubled heart.  We join our voices with ”the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”  Amen  Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850

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