A strange thing happens to the church sometimes. Before we get to that, let’s remember something.
Jesus was a Jewish man. That was his tradition and his lineage. As much as being an American defines so much about who you are and how you see the world, Jesus’ Jewish identity did the same for him. Not only that, in large part, the people he spoke to were Jewish.
In a big way, the Bible speaks to and from a Jewish perspective.
As a result, there is so much nuance in the biblical text you and I can miss. It’s not because God is hiding something from us. And it’s not because it’s beyond our comprehension. Every new generation creates or recreates its own lingo. As natural as that is, it’s bound to cloud our understanding of each other.
Most likely, today, a sixty-year-old is going to have a different interpretation of the phrase “No cap” than a twenty-year-old would. One thinks of truth; the other of headpieces.
In the same way, not being Jewish, we’ll misinterpret and disregard biblical themes because we aren’t always in tune with Jesus’ Jewish mindset. To me, that’s worth repeating. I have had people confess to me what their upbringing led them to think of Jewish people. Somehow, they were able to separate the Jewishness of Jesus from those beliefs. The thought that Jesus was a Jewish man never even crossed their mind.
In those moments of confession, I’ve probed a little. If Jesus wasn’t Jewish, what was he to you? That’s something I’d ask. The response was something like “He was just Jesus.”
What we tend to do is fashion Jesus after ourselves. The Lord begins to sound like us, look like us and care about the things we care about. You know what they say. If it’s too convenient to be true, it probably is.
And when we take this further, we realize that creating Jesus in our image limits how we see others. The church doors aren’t as open as we might believe. This is the strange thing that happens in church.
Those of us who are not Jewish are Gentiles. For Gentiles to be grafted into the family of God is a big deal. The fact that you and I are a part of this faith tradition is what Christ intended, what God desired for all the world. There were plenty others, though, that weren’t so thrilled about the idea.
After the resurrection, the apostles understood the expansion project Jesus commissioned them to. That’s not to say they didn’t struggle with its realities at times, but they recognized God’s love was open to other people. So, they built the most diverse, multicultural force in all history.
And what happens?
Sometimes, those grafted in take a foolish pride in themselves. In turn, they speak lowly of others. They judge outsiders as unworthy, even if they never say those words. They allow others to join their holy organizations, almost as an award to the fortunate ones they may reach.
What happens in the process is that our churches start to look more and more uniform. Everyone looks like me. They sound like me. If we’re really good at what we do, they even vote like me as well.
But that was never God’s intention for the church.
The blessing of Christ brought the grace of God to us. God blesses us by showing us how to repent and live the abundant life of Jesus. The church minimizes that blessing when it withholds it from the world, a world full of others loved by God that just don’t know it yet.