Have you ever pondered the offensive nature of Jesus Christ? What does humanity find in Christ so repulsive that his name is substituted for, or as a form of cursing. Our family was watching a family friendly movie the other night, and I was surprised to hear Jesus name invoked in times of anger and frustration by the lead actor.
The next morning, I was reading from the book of Matthew, where John the baptizer from prison reaches Jesus disciples with a question to pose to the Rabbi.
“Are you the one?” John is now stuck in prison, his death impending for calling out Herod’s divorce and re-marriage to his niece. With John probably sensing his impending end, he’s looking for some hope, was this all for naught?
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Jesus seems to be saying, as recorded by Matthew, “Let my actions speak for themselves.” Not only were these actions all impossible for any mortal to accomplish, but this answer is a fulfillment of prophecy which echoes through the writings of the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. The promise of the Messiah was to liberate, to emancipate, to heal and resurrect that which was left for dead on the margins of society – the poor.
What good news indeed for the wretched, the broken, the imprisoned, the sinner, the dead.
The next verse struck me, in light of this idea of Jesus being so offensive.
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” This word for stumble is an interesting word. It’s translated offense, or place of falling, or fall away from an intended trajectory. Jesus uses this to describe the Pharisees several times, their religious trappings represented an offensive stumbling block to those trying to pursue a path of true righteousness and connection with the goodness of almighty God.
This passage is so interesting, because nothing listed in Jesus reply to John is offensive, is it? What is offensive about healing or mending someones plight? It got me thinking about the narrative, the overarching story of Christ’s ministry in the world. How beautiful was it, really? He was patient, merciful, loving. His days seem to be filled with selfless compassion. Jesus lived from the inside out, the perfect human, really. If Jesus were alive today, how would he be judged up against say, a Mother Theresa. The only ones finding offense it seems, are those refusing to consider that He just may be who He says He is, the Father, eternal Creator in the flesh.
So why has his name been aligned with angry or belligerent cursing? I can understand using the name Hitler, or if the West started using the name Putin in their repertoire of cursing. But Jesus? The life that was spent in service to others, and not just those in power, but the oppressed, and needy, helpless, the poor. What exactly is going on here?
I’ve come up with a few options.
- Ignorance: maybe folks who curse using Christ’s name are simply in the darkness as to the nature of his life, mission, and suffering death.
- Hypocrisy of Jesus followers: The church, particularly as it’s been wrapped up in various cultural forms through the ages, confusing the Spirit of Christ for domination and exterior symbols, hasn’t had the best track record at times. Maybe folks curse in Jesus name as a defiant rebuke to all that is religion and considered inauthentic.
- Social conformity: why do we use any of the metaphors, and forms of speech anyway? It’s all learned to a degree. I started using the word “Ratatouille” a few years back whenever I was frustrated or stubbed my toe (which happens more than one would think!). It was an interesting social experiment. My kids started laughing at first, then they were confused, then, occassionally, I would hear them yell, “Ratatouille” from across the house. Yes, we sometimes just copy without much thought.
- Disbelief: Jesus represents unfathomable love, come to us. This love, this reality, perhaps is a direct confrontation towards the other ways we all seek affirmation, and meaning. Could it be that Jesus, the proposition that God has come to earth and IS love, that we ARE valued beyond all material things, startles humanity to the core. Rather than process this idea, ruminate anywhere close to this idea, it’s better to push down the idea in a manner that might keep us focused on the house we are building, the life now being erected on sand.
I’m not sure why folks curse in Jesus name. I suspect there’s a measure of truth in all the reasons mentioned above. I do think, however, that love, God’s love, is terrifying when centered around the selfless, compassionate Savior who lived, and died in absolute consistency with the pathos, suffering nature of love. That Christ, is a rock we are told, and our lives built on this revelation of a Loving and all powerful God will end very well for us! However, the great exchange required, the leaving behind the house built on sand, the identity we’ve worked so hard to live into, cannot be held as Christ the healer and lover of our souls is considered.
Keep God aloof, disinterested, sovereign to the point of detachment from this material reality. That God is easily rejected. Stay ignorant, refuse to read the historical narrative this Jewish teacher, that keeps Jesus flying off our lips as some expression of detesting. Lean into Jesus the person, look at his ministry, death and resurrection, and we’ll come face to face with a terrifying reality; The Creator knows who we are, loves us despite our participation in the rebellion.
Who do we say He is? There really can be no answer that skates between the poles. Is He a fake, joke, curse word, or the center of the universe suspended on a cross of shame in our place? Go tell John, the good news has come. Blessed are those who don’t stumble over this reality.