When Quoting Jesus Harshes Your Mellow


If the Internet were somehow the complete representation of the words of Jesus, the Bible would pretty much come down to this:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
—Mark 12:29-31

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
—Matthew 7: 1-5

Jesus, sword in mouthIn summary: Love God and love your neighbor—and don’t badly judge your neighbor, either.

If the Internet is any indicator, that’s the sole breadth of what Jesus supposedly said.

And thinking that is pretty stupid, when you ponder it. But then many of the greatest quoters of the Bible have actually never read it from cover to cover, so what should we expect?

When some bad stuff went down in ancient Palestine, a group of people came to Jesus for an explanation:

There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5

Yeah, He went there.

“Way to harsh the mellow, Jesus! Those people came to you for some comfort, not criticism. What a buzzkill!”

But you see, the thing about the Christian faith is that it’s not a departure from reality. It’s not the puppy dogs and rainbow-farting unicorns you see on the Web. It’s blood, guts, and in your face. It’s as real as it gets. And Jesus isn’t going to selectively filter what He says to people so they can feel good about themselves and bad about the bad people, which, coincidentally, is what Jesus is saying everyone standing before Him is, bad.

Good people don’t have to repent. Only the wicked, rotten, evil ones.

When Jesus tells the crowd, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” He’s not mincing words. He’s saying this:

That terrible thing that happened to those people? If you don’t turn from your own wickedness and turn to God, something like it is going to happen to you too.

Except the Bible also says that the bad thing that is going to happen to people who don’t repent is going to go on and on and on.

Jesus also said this:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:6

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
—John 17:3

Jesus said a lot of things people should listen to.

Don’t be a total hypocrite in your judging. Love God and love your neighbor.

And don’t be a complete dumbass by selectively quoting Jesus without knowing the rest of what He said. Because whatever your agenda is in doing so, you need to get over it. Why? Because unless you turn from your evil personal agenda and turn to God and His agenda, you also will end very, very badly.

The Bad, Good Son


My favorite parable Jesus told gets no respect. As one of the shortest, it’s easy to overlook. Nor does it swim in allusions. Stark, it makes its point quickly like a jab to the solar plexus.

When I get asked about this fave parable by well-meaning Christians, I often get a blank stare. I’ve had more than one tell me, “That’s not in the Bible.”

I assure you it is:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you….”
—Matthew 21:28-31

I don’t think any parable Jesus told messes with the head more than this one.

The brother with the right answer missed it, didn’t he? He was probably the good son. The one who had it all together. Called dad “Sir.” He is the one his mother doted on.

The other? Possibly the surly one. Today’s version would be up in his bedroom, Rotten grapes on the vine (by ForsterFoto)its windows painted black, listening to Godsmack while he surfed those sites on the Internet.

The good son talked a good game. Said all the right things.

The bad son told dad to kiss off: “I’m not into your corporate farm lifestyle.”

But the unlikely one did the will of the father and the other didn’t.

All the talk in the world, the smooth, glib words spoken politely and in accordance with all righteousness, led to zero output on the part of the supposedly good son. He tickled the father’s ears, but the results spoke for themselves.

Recently, a post from a couple months ago (“Priorities Amid Darkness“) got some new traffic because of a link from Milton Stanley’s Transforming Sermons. The general response was a tad negative.

In all deference to my friends out there who think it’s all about believing, the more I read the Bible, the more convinced I am that all the right words and thoughts aren’t going to cut it. The proof is in the doing.

Jesus framed the parable of the two brothers in context to show the stark contrast between the people who talked and the people who actually responded. The talkers with the holy thoughts, the good sons of the world,  had convinced themselves of their standing, but they were, in fact, outside looking in.  Goats, as Jesus called them in Matthew 25.

Who was in? The people who didn’t say the right things. The surly ones, perhaps. Harlots and hustlers. Time and again, their actions in the New Testament proved louder than any audible sermon.

I’ve said, “I go, sir,” more times than I care to admit. I say it constantly in church, but then I wander off afterwards  and forget about the vineyard. I suspect I’m not alone.

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
—John 14:21-24

The one who does the will of the Father is the one who ultimately receives the blessing of the continuing revelation of Christ. Jesus doesn’t say one word about Bible reading or prayer here. Doing the will of the Father is all that matters. The confession of faith is in the doing. And the doing proves the faith.

As James 2:19 says, even the demons believe. What sets the true followers of God apart from His enemies is that the followers do what He says. In fact, they’ll do anything it takes to do what He says.

I know that James’ “right strawy epistle,” as Martin Luther called it, doesn’t sit well with some people. But we can’t ignore the fact that the doing matters. Doing may not justify you, but the lack of doing—at least as the Bible portrays it—proves a surefire way to know who is out.

It’s just as the John passage says. The doers receive the ongoing revelation of Christ. This is why that matters:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
—John 17:3

Eternal life comes through knowing God. Knowing comes through the revelation of Christ. And Jesus himself said in John 14 that the revelation comes through doing what He commands. We can setup night watches and pray for days on end. We can memorize the entire Bible. But if we don’t do what the Lord says, it all comes to nothing.

That is why this verse carries meaning:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
—James 1:22

The good son, the one who promised his father he would go, deceived himself into thinking he was doing right just by his saying yes to his father. Our churches are packed with good sons and daughters with obedient words that roll off the lips, yet the vineyard goes untended.

And I wonder about all those who don’t say or think as I do, yet are doing the work of the Kingdom even as I talk a good one that ultimately produces no fruit for the God I claim to love.