When I was in my early 20s, a Bible teacher by the name of Dianne Kannady posed a rhetorical question that continues to haunt me to this day: "If Jesus was your only source of information about what Christianity should look like, how would you live your life?"
That question has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.
Consider the three things that instantly come to mind.
1. Jesus preached nonviolence.
2. Jesus was a faith healer.
3. Jesus challenged the religious fundamentalists of his day.
Take any of these three statements, declare that followers of Jesus should do the same thing today, and somebody's going to get pissed.
Preaching nonviolence may win you accolades in certain circles, but there are an equal number of people who will hate you for it. And who in their right mind would want to attempt a ministry that revolves around the miraculous today? With the exception of people who watch TBN, everybody despises faith-healers -- at least here in America.
It's rare enough to find a person who embodies the values of preaching nonviolence and faith-healing simultaneously, but the real contradiction seems to be between faith-healing and challenging religious fundamentalism, because the kind of certainty that it takes to say to a crippled man "rise up and walk" doesn't lend itself to the kind of nuance that it takes to challenge religious fundamentalism.
Yet, that's exactly what Jesus did.
Take this story for example:
"When Jesus was about to be received up (into heaven), he set out for Jerusalem, bound and determined to get there. So he sent some messengers before him, and the messengers entered a Samaritan village to make things ready for him. But the Samaritans did not receive Jesus, because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. And when his disciples, James and John, saw what the Samaritans had done, they said to Jesus, "Lord, would you like us to call down fire from heaven and consume them, like Elijah did?"
But Jesus turned to them and rebuked them, saying, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. The Son of Man didn't come to destroy people's lives. He came to save them!" (Luke 9:51-56, rephrased from the King James Version)
Some background information is in order.
Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Jesus' day. Jews said that the proper place to worship was in Jerusalem. Samaritans disagreed. Which is why they weren't jumping for joy at the opportunity of hosting a Jewish rabbi on his way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans had a fundamentalism of their own, which said that if you don't worship at the right holy place, you can't be a true messenger of God.
So they rejected Jesus.
Then there's James and John. Not only were the Samaritans of the wrong people (strike one), and the wrong religion (strike two), they had flat-out rejected Jesus (major strike three). James and John knew that rejecting Jesus is a big no-no, so they must have assumed that Jesus felt the same way about the Samaritans as they did, otherwise why would they imagine that Jesus might go along with their plan to call down fire from heaven and incinerate them?
And notice the way they asked the question, "Do you want us to call down fire from heaven. ... As Elijah did?"
In the Bible that they read -- what Jews today call the Hebrew Scriptures, and what Christians call the Old Testament -- Elijah really did call fire down from heaven to consume his enemies. They weren't making that up. The Bible really does say that! (For the curious, the story is found in 2 Kings Chapter 1.) But the disciples took the story literally, meaning they believed that the story applied to them in their day in the same way that it applied to another people at another time and place.
And Jesus nailed them for it.
Jesus said, "You don't know what kind of spirit you are of."
We see many rejections in this story. The Samaritans rejected Jesus because he worshiped in the "wrong" holy place. The disciples rejected the Samaritans because they rejected Jesus. And Jesus rejected the way his disciples used the Bible to shore up their rejection of the Samaritans.
The disciples read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit. As Jesus said, "The Son of man didn't come to destroy people's lives, but to save them." Is it possible to read the Bible accurately, but with the wrong spirit?
How might people do that today?
Follow Aaron Taylor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aarondtaylor