I recently read a post from a former seminary professor of mine decrying the falsehoods and double-speak of the current administration. What caught my attention was not the post itself, but a reply from a person who didn't know my professor:
"...we don't know each other, but I think your harshness is anything but like what our Savior [Jesus] would do and say... I am calling you to repentance."
Bracketing the specific content of the original post for a minute and whether it was something Jesus would say, I was intrigued by her claim that "harshness" and Jesus are mutually exclusive....that harshness is "anything but like what Jesus would do and say." I was intrigued because it was such a clear statement of "Buddy Christ"--Jesus as the nicest, coolest guy that ever lived-- which is a relatively popular picture of Jesus in our culture. And I think it's a belief that finds practically no evidence in the accounts of his life.
Rereading the Gospel of Luke for example, I was struck at how many difficult, challenging, and downright "harsh" things Jesus has to say. Here are just a couple samples:
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you." (Luke 10:13-14)
"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, 'This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.'" (Luke 11:29-30)
"Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?" (Luke 11:39-40)
"Woe to you." "Wicked generation." "Foolish people." As I read Jesus' statements throughout the book of Luke, I wondered if this person would have called Jesus to repentance! You see, Jesus wasn't a "nice" guy.
Don't get me wrong. He wasn't a mean person. He didn't wantonly tear people down to boost his own image. He didn't lash out at people because his ego got bruised. He didn't offend people intentionally because being politically correct felt too restrictive. But we wasn't "nice" in the way we think of a nice person today: someone everybody likes, who doesn't offend anybody, who always smiles and always says things that make people feel better about themselves and the world.
Jesus wasn't nice. He was loving. He loved enough to say the hard things. He said the hard things not to satisfy his own ego, but in order to call people back to their fullest selves and in order to speak against injustice.
It strikes me that those of us who want Nice Jesus instead of the Jesus of the Bible want him because we like the status quo. We say "judge not" when we would prefer not to change. We want Buddy Christ instead of the fiery prophet when we would prefer not to see the injustices that are propping up our comfortable way of life or particular political ideology. It was Nice Jesus that Nat Turner's masters demanded he preach to preserve the "peace" of slavery.
But if we care about justice more than our own comfort or power, if we care about transformation more than our own ego, if we care about truth more than we care about being right, then we need the Jesus that the gospels give us. We need a Jesus who tells it like it is not for his own good (truth-telling got him killed), but for ours.