Fall is a busy season for many churches, and for church consultants! But in the midst of our full schedules, we offer some lighthearted inspiration and encouragement, in the form of a reminder that not only is Jesus fully human and fully divine, he’s also totally bad@$$.
Because keeping a wedding party going is as good a reason for a miracle as any!
Religious authorities were trying to trip Jesus up by catching him between the rock of politics and the hard place of religious observance, so they asked him whether observant Jews should pay taxes to the emperor. He replied by asking them to show him a coin, then pointed out that Caesar’s face is on it, and told them to give Caesar what belongs to him, and give God what belongs to God. The tricky part here is that they weren’t really supposed to have Roman money on them, so just by flipping the coin to him, the leaders revealed their own allegiance and complicity with the empire!
There are a couple different interpretations of what Jesus meant by calling the temple a “den of thieves,” but it seems he was unhappy with the money changers who were making it possible for the wealthy to worship God without caring for the poor. Wreaking physical destruction in the name of social justice and physically protesting the corruption of those with money and power who sought refuge in a house of worship is pretty bad@$$ in our book.
Midway through their discipleship journey, Peter comes out with a divinely inspired declaration about Jesus’ identity: You are the Messiah, Son of God. Jesus praises him for this Spirit-given insight. But moments later, as Jesus is talking about how he’ll suffer and die, Peter protests and probably starts trying to think of ways to keep Jesus out of harm’s way. Jesus will have none of it: Get behind me, Satan! Because sometimes your friends think they have your best interests at heart, but they just don’t get it.
5. Walking on water.
Come on, that’s just cool. Plus, when Peter tries it, gets scared and starts to sink, Jesus asks him why he doubted. You know, never mind physics.
A mob has formed around a woman “caught in adultery,” and they are eager to stone her, as permitted by law. Jesus looks away – possibly because she might have been, um, scantily clad, given the act in which she was caught – and writes in the sand. He suggests that “the one who is without sin [should] cast the first stone,” and boom! The crowd, faced with their own hypocrisy, fizzles and disperses. One wonders where the guy she was caught with has been throughout this scene.
The disciples didn’t think it was possible, but there were 12 baskets of leftovers! This is one of very few stories included in all four gospels, so you know that early Christian communities thought it was pretty important. Plus, a little boy is apparently more generous and faith-full than all 12 grown disciples.
Once again, Jesus caught the religious leaders in their own trap, between acknowledging that God must be at work in John’s baptisms, and by extension Jesus’s ministry as well, or being run out of town by the crowds if they denied God’s involvement.
In John’s gospel, this happens after the Resurrection, when Peter and the disciples are still kind of bewildered by the spiritual whiplash of seeing Jesus crucified and then encountering him as risen. Peter and some of the others go fishing – back to work, back to what they know – but catch nothing all night. Jesus, standing on the beach, tells them to throw their net on the other side of the boat, and lo and behold, the net is full to bursting. They rush to shore, dragging the net full of fish, and find that Jesus is making toast and gladly cooks some of the fish to make a healthy breakfast. This story is so full of the ordinary and the holy, the pain and the beauty of life, all mixed together, just like so much of Jesus’ ministry and our walk with God.
Okay, at first you might be thinking, is this really bad@$$, or was he just being kind of a jerk? But his family of origin was trying to discredit and contain him, possibly because his reputation was starting to reflect badly on them, and people were gossiping about who raised him. So he tells their messenger, “Who is my mother or brothers? Whoever hears and does the will of God,” simultaneously dissing his own kin and welcoming all the misfits and outcasts who were gathered around him into a new family.
This one’s a bit infuriating, because with Lazarus’s sisters, Martha and Mary, I tend to want Jesus to prevent suffering and death instead of bringing blessing out of it. But for whatever reason, that’s not how the story goes. And Lazarus is really dead – Jesus weeps for him, so you get a sense he’s not entirely sure about bringing him back. Or maybe he just realizes that his intention to glorify God has led to these beloved sisters’ suffering. But with a voice that echoes through the tombs and closed doors and chains of whatever holds all of us in the bondage of death through the ages, Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he does. From death to life, foreshadowing Jesus’ own resurrection, demonstrating the power of God even over death. Totally bad@$$.
What are your favorite stories about Jesus being awesome in the face of opposition or difficulty?
Note about miracles: Yes, miracles are hard (impossible?) to reconcile with what we know about the world through science. There are different ways of understanding whether or not these stories “actually happened” as they are described in the Bible. But for people who choose to follow Jesus, there is value in reading these stories for their “more-than-literal meaning,” as Marcus Borg called it. We focus on taking the stories seriously as reflecting something important about who Jesus was/is and how God is in relationship with the world through him.