When Jesus stood up to teach in the synagogue, he shocked everybody. His listeners were used to having a teacher go through the scriptures verse by verse. Jesus didn’t do that. He told them about the arrival of God’s new community. He focused on what was happening then and there. He didn’t quote any other rabbis. He acted as if what he said might just be worth hearing on its own. “He taught them as one having authority.” They couldn’t decide what to do with him.
But Jesus did get one ringing endorsement. One of his listeners stood up and told everybody that this was “the Holy One of God.” The only problem is that the endorsement came from a man everybody knew was out of his mind. Here’s this new teaching. We don’t know what to do with it. But then one of us does say he knows, only we don’t know what to do with him! So that doesn’t really help things, does it?
The thing is, what this deranged man says sounds pretty much like what we’ve been taught ourselves. After all, if we call ourselves Christians, don’t we agree that Jesus is at the very least “the Holy One of God”? That’s a very orthodox-sounding answer.
But I guess Jesus didn’t care so much about orthodoxy that day. Instead of congratulating this guy, he responds with something like, “Oh shut up and get over it.” Obviously, Jesus hasn’t had that intro course in pastoral counseling yet. That’s just not what you’re supposed to say to somebody who’s troubled. On the other hand, this time it seems to have worked, because the man really does snap out of it.
You’d think that might have helped with Jesus’ listeners. But they still didn’t know what to make of him. He doesn’t base things on the Bible (as least not the way they think he should); he doesn’t like it when he gets an orthodox-sounding endorsement; he’s downright rude; and yet his words change lives. No wonder everybody’s confused! How could they not be? He did at least get people’s attention that day. And he got people talking about him, for better or worse. He left everybody asking what they’d just seen and heard. But nobody knew quite what to do with him.
It’s been nearly two thousand years. And after all this time we still aren’t sure what to do with him. We sing songs about him; we say the Nicene Creed or similar affirmations; we pray in his name; we even pray to him. Then just when it seems we’ve fit him into our lives, we turn to the Gospels, and there he is acting up again. He doesn’t fit anybody’s picture. He just won’t behave.
Maybe that’s why we still can’t help listening to him. Maybe it’s his erratic behavior that gives his words a new authority, and a new power to change us.
Yes, he likes to break the rules; yes, he can be rude; yes, he keeps refusing to act the way we’d expect God’s Holy One to act; yes, he leaves us asking, “What is this”?
But somehow we begin to sense that what he’s really up to is breaking down all the barriers we try to put up between us and God, and between us and one another. Somehow we sense that he’s doing all this to keep bringing us back to him, again and again and again.
We don’t know what to do with him. But if we’ve actually heard him, we know we can’t do without him.