Most of us who claim any allegiance at all to Jesus are quick to point out how other folks disregard too much of what he said. We lay claim to the theological territory of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”
Some of us point out Jesus’ affinity for the poor to castigate those who seem insufficiently generous – even if the generosity we advocate is more public than personal.
Others of us use Jesus’ parting words to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more,” to champion the sanctity of marriage, even as we ignore our own divorces or cold marriages. He revealed a God of justice and mercy, of wrath and redemption. Truth is, Jesus said and did enough to disturb all of us.
In the opening salvo of the Sermon on the Mount he upsets all our apple carts by pronouncing blessings on the lowly, the heartbroken, the socially inept, those who utterly ache in response to sin.
“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus tells us, as we wish for revenge. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” his words read – perhaps from the same screen that feeds our porn addiction.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” he says, as we dream up new reasons to be suspicious or hateful.
We fancy ourselves “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” when a Facebook post disagrees with us, instantly devaluing the real suffering of real persecuted believers around the world.
Jesus’ disturbance was aimed both at his enemies and his friends. He reminded the outwardly moral that indulgent thoughts of lust or revenge are not guiltless pleasures. He warned us against making our fasting or praying or giving a show and implored us to take insults and injuries without wrath or retaliation, to love our enemies, to be satisfied with today’s blessings without worry for the future and to expect persecution but not to fear it.
None of that comes naturally: Human nature has a hard enough time getting along with loved ones and friends, much less sincerely asking blessings for enemies. And for many, a command not to worry seems as futile as a command not to breathe.
Jesus’ actions and pronouncements can be upsetting, if not downright discouraging, if we expect all sweetness. It was not a tame Teacher who made a whip and drove the animal sellers and moneychangers out of the temple. It was not a sanitized Savior who warned, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
If we don’t find something in Jesus to disturb us, maybe we aren’t paying enough attention.