Jan Johnson

Wisbit - March 2016

Jesus & So-Called “Worldly” People

People love stories about Jesus and immoral women because they’re attracted to the idea that God loves deeply flawed people (Jn 4:4-32; Lk 7:36-50). Jesus ate and drank with people who would rank with today’s mobsters (Matt 9:10; Lk 5:29; 15:1-2). Why did these people put up with a religious prophet and seem to genuinely like him? Because he really listened to them? Because he didn’t act as if he were superior? Jesus’ startling parables and “crisp incisive judgments appealed to sinners and plain folk, who were sick to death of the wrangling of their religious leaders.” Even among his disciples, Jesus included all types of people “which never before and never since have felt themselves welcome in religious societies” (Elton Trueblood) - a tax collector (which now might be equated with being an extortionist), a political activist, big-business fishermen.

What made Jesus so extraordinarily non-religious yet deeply good was his insistence on loving the world God so loved while being nothing like it. He lived in the world (created order and everyone in it) but not like it (“rebelling against the creator, choosing darkness rather than light,” Tom Wright). Jesus stood out by living an eternal kind of life within the general culture - loving people and using things while the “world” loves things and uses people.

As a carpenter in his youth and adulthood, Jesus no doubt worked in the huge ongoing construction project of Herod’s capital Sepphoris (4 miles from Nazareth) building plazas, theaters, reservoirs, and a palace (Richard Batey). He would have mixed with architects and learned men, with slaves and day laborers. Also, Jesus would have become CEO of “Joseph & Sons Carpentry” at a young age. (Joseph doesn’t appear after the trip to the temple when Jesus was twelve; Jesus delayed his preaching ministry until he was 30). So as an independent contractor and small business owner, he would have known the temptations to promote one’s self, inflate prices, or cut corners when money is tight. Yet he no doubt did pro-bono work, giving away a table now and then - not a castoff, but a really good one. In certain billing disagreements, he may have let the other guy win. He must have worked hard with great joy without being addicted to his work in order to feel significant.  In so doing, Jesus was the light of the world in the middle of a dark world.

As Jesus prayed for his immediate disciples (and later for all disciples, including us), he asked that God not take us out of the world but protect us in it (John 17:15). So while we interact with all kinds of people, we treat them in other-worldly ways - with love and kindness, by “gentle but firm noncooperation with things that everyone knows to be wrong, together with a sensitive, nonofficious, nonintrusive, nonobsequious service to others” (Willard).

Like Jesus, we don’t expect the world’s approval and we don’t strive for it. We differ from the world in faith (trusting in Christ not in wealth or others’ opinions), in purpose (knowing and loving God, not trying to advance self or live a life of convenience) and in conduct (treating people with mercy and justice as we would want to be treated).

--Excerpted from Invitation to the Jesus Life, pp. 57ff  ©Jan Johnson

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    Jan Johnson



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