There is a big difference between a lion in the wild and a lion at the zoo. We will get close to the lion in the zoo. We will get right up next to the glass. We will point at it and look it in the eye; because the lion in the zoo is safe. We feel secure next to it. We feel protected.
But the lion in the wild is extremely dangerous. It is a terrifying beast that can dismantle us with minimal effort. We won’t get with in a 100 yards of one; much less get close enough to look it in the eye.
Tonight as I was looking at the book of Luke with a group of friends, it occurred to me that many times we read the Gospels as if Jesus was a lion in the zoo. Impressively powerful, yes; but safe, polite, and tame. We think of Him as loving, gentle, peaceful, and calm (which I’m sure He was a lot). We think of Him as smiling and laughing with kids or hanging helplessly on a cross.
There is a different side to Jesus I think we overlook. A dark, cynical, biting side. An untamed, wild, dangerous side.
Check out Luke 14 for example.
Jesus invited to dinner at a prominent Pharisee’s house.
Now, in case you don’t know who the Pharisees were, think ultra-religious folk. They were the super church people of Jesus’ day. They followed all the rules. They organized their lives according to the rituals. They were the “righteous,” the “clean,” the standard for all things holy. They were the intense, serious, passionate followers of God. If the Son of God was going to hang out with anyone, logic would tell us it was these guys.
So Jesus is at this important religious guy’s house for dinner and he realizes they are watching him. Is he polite? Does he try to make peace? Is he gentle?
First, he picks a fight.
There is a sick guy there. So Jesus looks down at the sick guy, then up at the Pharisees, and says, “Is it a sin if I heal someone on the Sabbath?” Now this is a touchy subject. They have already told him their opinion on the matter. Jesus is digging his fingers into an old wound.
They don’t answer.
Would you? Put yourself in their shoes. Here you are trying to be nice to this lunatic. You invite him into your home. You arrange a party. You cook dinner. And then the first words out of his mouth are intended to pick a fight.
Surely after that Jesus calms down. Right?
Next the Bible tells us that Jesus looks around and sees the religious guest vying for seats of honor around the prestigious man’s table. Jesus looks at them and says (my paraphrase), “You know, it would be a lot smarter to take a lesser seat. That way you’ve got no where to go but up and won’t be embarrassed when he bumps you down for someone more important.”
Is Jesus allowed to be cynical?
Jesus first catches them doing something they shouldn’t, which had to be embarrassing. Next he indirectly announces it to the room. Then he implies that they are headed for disgrace because they don’t deserve the seats their taken.
Finally, to ice the cake, he fires off a zinger about faith that goes far beyond seating arrangements at a banquet.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He doesn’t stop there either. The chapter continues to describe how Jesus then tells his super religious host that he has invited the wrong crowd – the host should have invited the poor and needy instead of his buds. Because he has invited his bro’s he hasn’t actually done anything good. And Jesus tops it off by telling a story that condemns the group as people that have refused to follow him for selfish reasons.
Some dinner guest. How would you feel if you invited someone over and they immediately picked a fight, then embarrass you by pointing out to the room something you shouldn’t be doing , then zing you, then question you, and finally insult you again.
So often we read the Gospels and assume this tame, calm, drug-induced-comma-Jesus.
The truth is that he is not tame. And when it comes to our religious self-righteousness, he is fierce.
He has less patience for our goofiness than we give him credit for.