I continue to be amazed at how the scriptures read so differently each time I pass through the pages of my Bible. The text never changes barring translations, but even when reading the same translation, the message or at least the depth of impact seems so different each time I read through the Word. This has been my year to see a different Jesus than the one we American Christians so often communicate by our actions, even more so during this election year.
The Sermon on the Mount provides a radical insight into this man. Always maintaining a certain tension between distain for the negative impact of religion and politics, while fully open to the repentant leader or any person unjustly diminished, regardless of class. He just never missed a moment.
His words were stern at times, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name…Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from, me you evil doers.’” Yet, living far above the human ego, he seemed unmoved by crowds or criticisms, always with an eye for that last single person who might have fallen through the cracks of culture. This morning it was the leper whom Jesus happens upon as he descends the mountain. Unlike the political leaders or charlatans of our day, who almost stumble upon themselves as they seek out the crowd, we never find him looking over his shoulder to make sure they are still there; though, as Matthew 8:1 reveals, “large crowds followed him.”
As well, he was never concerned that his political in-correctness might diminish his popularity. This leper humbly comes to him, probably rejected numerous times since his unfortunate disease, and Jesus responds immediately, touching this “untouchable”, curing his leprosy. Rather than turning to the crowd for applause, or having the man run through the multitude of onlookers as a means of demonstrating such miraculous power, he instructs him that he tell no one; rather, that he go to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, a testimony to the religious. Here He is again reaching back toward the very people who had created the culture He had come to overturn.
Undistracted by crowds, but drawn to the outcast; fully understanding the curse of religion, yet far less than disgusted by the religious; always desiring that everyone come to see the light of grace.
Even the hardened Centurion who approached him in Capernaum, holding the power to take lives, brought Jesus to rejoice. Astonished at his faith, though far be it from religious, Jesus declares, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west (outside of Israel, a type of the church), and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom (possible the religious) will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8:10-12.
In a day when religious and political polarity mute the spirit of grace, it would behoove us to once again look inward, lest we too find ourselves cast out of the very kingdom to which we profess allegiance.