Saturday, March 24, 2012

Honesty, Not Pretense, Makes Gospel More Accessible

Since Jesus described his way as both being difficult (Matthew 7:13-14) and less burdensome (Matthew with 11:28-30), which is it? Can't you just hear Thomas the Apostle, dogging Jesus with questions like this throughout Jesus' ministry? After all, Thomas was famous for being the one who brought his doubts before the gathered community of believers after Easter.

Or is this just one more of those paradoxes that we so often try to smooth over or just ignore. From "clarity evangelists," to prosperity preachers, we're promised big payoffs if we could only learn to simplify things a bit. For years, oft read and quoted church growth consultants have been telling us to emulate the powerful straight shooter, who can set forth the Gospel with certainty, clarity, admitting no doubts or paradoxes.

While there is real wisdom in clearing up what may be mixed or confusing messages, that's more about marketing and communication. Reckoning with the paradoxes in Scripture is just being honest. It's not usually very helpful to expect people to ignore what they already know is there

Some of the paradoxes in the words of Jesus can be explained by his context, his particular audience. For example, the crowds who were following him and his disciples formed the audience in Matthew 7, while in Matthew 11, Jesus addresses the "infants." NRSV For Jesus, the "little ones" are those with the least access to power: the non-priests, the unclean, the uneducated and illiterate, the sick, the disabled, and the poor.

Jesus also blesses those who are "poor in Spirit" in the first of the Beatitudes. Matthew 5:3. Much of Jesus' teaching was in the tradition of the prophetic mold, that is, it comprised of encouragement for the weak and downtrodden, and diatribes against the ones like us who can too easily use our power and religious position to make life harder on others. Making it easier for others to hear the Gospel requires more honesty, thereby encouraging more, not less, authenticity in everyone.

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