Jesus Misrepresented

angry man face
Photo credit: <a href="">Ryan Hyde</a>

Galatians 2:1-5

After 14 years I went back to Jerusalem, along with Barnabas and Titus. I went up because I’d seen another vision. In a private meeting with the leadership there, I laid out the story as I tell it to the heathen. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t, and hadn’t been, barking up the wrong tree. They didn’t force Titus, a Greek, to be circumcised, and he was right there. Even then, though, some moles had already snuck in, fake Christians who were spying on us, trying to undermine the freedom Jesus gave us, trying to re-enslave us. We didn’t give them even an inch, we didn’t flinch. It was all to ensure you’d always have the whole truth of Jesus’ story.

After 14 years of things not working, Paul “sees the light” again, and decides it’s time to get an endorsement from the people who have some credibility in the movement. But Paul still wants their endorsement on his terms. As Paul tells it, he was able to make his case, but not without some opposition right from the start. And, in his recollection of it here, he’s quick to attribute the most sinister motives to those with whom he disagrees.

There are two sides to any story, of course. Every couple years (on average), when I was a pastor, someone would come into my office wanting me to endorse “a ministry I have a vision for.” Sometimes, it was a cold call. Sometimes, it was someone who had been coming to worship for a couple of weeks and staying to bend the ears of anyone and everyone who would listen at coffee hour. It got to where I could see it coming – “This guy,” (it was almost always a guy, but there were a few women, too), “is going to be in my office in a day or two to tell me he’s got God’s plan for how I can do my ministry.” I’m sure they walked away from my office telling people I was the anti-Christ, too. There was even one guy who told me I was the anti-Christ before he left.

Paul came away with a limited endorsement, and they didn’t push the circumcision issue. (Could it have been a case of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”) Endorsement doesn’t imply mutual understanding, though. Clearly, those of a “traditional” mind in Jerusalem were not as willing to give the issue a pass as Paul thought. Nor has Paul really understood that their endorsement was not a blank check.

At the root of the division and ill-will, is a fundamental difference about what Jesus really represents. It’s quickly becoming such a stark difference that Paul’s religion and that of the Jerusalem church are already two different religions, each claiming to have a monopoly on the truth, each with it’s own set of rules and requirements. Already, on both sides, turning Jesus’ movement into a religion is a disaster.

Peter’s Failed Business Plan

three lights
Image credit: <a href="">Ilya Khoteev</a>

Mark 9:2-9

Six days after this, Jesus took Peter, Jim, and John with him to the top of a high mountain. While they were there alone, right before their eyes, Jesus changed. His clothes lit up, a brighter white than in a bleach commercial. Elijah and Moses appeared from nowhere and were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter interrupted, saying to Jesus, “Teacher, it’s a good thing we’re here. We’ll make three kiosks: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” They were all so shocked, he didn’t really know what he was talking about.

Just then, a cloud came casting a shadow over them, and from the cloud they heard a voice saying, “This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.” As suddenly as it had all appeared, they looked around and there was just Jesus, by himself.

As they descended the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they’d seen until the chosen one had lived beyond death.

Peter’s response is like looking at a light bulb and going blind instead of looking around the room and understanding what the light from the bulb reveals.

Here in the middle of the gospel, we get a vision of Jesus. With Moses and Elijah who represent the law and the prophets who came before, and with the voice of God ringing in our ears, the gospel proclaims that this is unmistakeably the one at the center of the movement. Like the succession of Elijah, this is not a matter of genealogical inheritance (Mark doesn’t include a genealogy) or the result of a popularity contest.  It’s a matter of vision. It’s a matter of hearing and following. Jesus is the one on whom the spirit rests.

At the same time, here in the middle of the gospel, we find the tension between the vision that the movement stands for, and the tendency to reduce that vision and movement to an institution. Peter’s attempt to nail the movement down to a particular time and place voices our constant propensity to turn Jesus the person into Jesus the business model. Mark’s response to that impetus is clear, “Peter didn’t really know what he was talking about.” A living movement cannot be captured in one snapshot moment. A living movement lives from one moment to the next. The moment it gets nailed down is the moment it starts to die. Thus, it’s at the moment Peter proposes turning the movement into a building that the dark cloud appears. It’s the same darkness that covers the sky at the cross.