The Radical Call of Jesus

“And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.”

-Matthew 13:53-57a

“Is not this the carpenter’s son?” My deep fear is that today, even as Christians, we are still asking this same question.

For those asking in the verse above, the question reflected shock and was even supposed to undermine Jesus’s authority. In the culture of the day, to point out that he was a carpenter’s son was to indicate that he too should be a carpenter, that he had no place teaching.

As Christians, even firm believers, we often take a similar approach. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” becomes “Is Christ’s message really supposed to change the way I live?” The end result is the same. Jesus’s call is trivialized. If we do listen to it, it is simply a sound moral teaching that we would want to follow anyway. Love one another? Yeah, get it. Don’t be anxious? Okay, I shouldn’t worry…
Love your enemies? Wait a second.

When we trivialize the message, when Christ becomes another moral teacher, we give ourselves the freedom of selectivity, a freedom that is extremely dangerous. We read through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and get warm feelings when we read that those who mourn will be comforted but when we read that the peacemakers will be called sons of God our grudges go unexamined, our attitudes of violence are ignored.

We are afraid to take all of Christ’s call and take it all literally. Caring for the poor becomes giving to the benevolence ministry at our local church. But heaven forbid that we should ever hit the streets ourselves. Loving one another becomes avoiding the person so that you don’t explode and punch them in the face. But Christ could not possibly be calling us to a deep abiding love for that individual who has wronged us. Christ’s call is radical. And that scares us.

We listen to a story about someone traveling, literally living out of their car to spread the gospel and our defenses go up – it isn’t practical. When our perception of the practical overrrides our response to Christ’s call there is a problem. To follow Christ completely, with abandon, is not impractical, neither is it idealistic (though many who do so are seen as such). Rather it is recognizing that practicality transcends our meager ability to comprehend what seems sound or logical. If God calls, what could possibly be more practical than to respond? And if He calls radically, why wouldn’t we respond radically?

What’s holding us back? Are we lacking the complete message of Christ? Are we succumbing to the dangers of selectivity? Are we afraid of what it would look like to follow His radical call? Are we erring on the side of the “practical”?

None of these problems stand in the face of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 6:16). May we join Peter in that confession and be radically transformed by the radical call of Christ.

Grace and peace,
-MT

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