Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gentle Jesus

G.K. Chesterton, in his Orthodoxy, writes: "Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other." This is a truth which presents itself in almost every aspect of the Christian life, and never more powerfully than in the person of Jesus Christ himself. In our churches we tend to focus on the loving, nurturing, and teaching aspects of Jesus' character, and rightly so. His kingdom is a kingdom of radical love and peace such as the world has never known. But too often we gloss over the sections in Scripture in which Jesus makes us uncomfortable. He doesn't always act like a 'good Christian' should. He gets in shouting-matches with his opponents from time to time. He publicly attacks the way that the men around him are living. He doesn't try to reason calmly or talk the matter through when he comes to a temple court filled with merchants. Rather, he takes up a whip and goes on a rampage.
The old children's prayer begins, "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild..." I would submit that the Jesus we serve is certainly meek, but his meekness is not synonymous with mildness. In the same passage of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes: "Instead of looking at books and pictures about the New Testament I looked at the New Testament. There I found an account, not in the least of a person with his hair parted in the middle or his hands clasped in appeal, but of an extraordinary being with lips of thunder and acts of lurid decision, flinging down tables, casting out devils, passing with the wild secrecy of the wind from mountain isolation to a sort of dreadful demagogy; a being who often acted like an angry god--and always like a god."
Below is one of my poems, titled "Gentle Jesus". It draws from Scriptural imagery about Jesus--his angry routing of the temple courts, the Old Testament conception of God as a warrior, and the symbolic picture of the returning Christ in Revelation 19. It focuses on this oft-overlooked aspect of Christ's character, and is probably a bit disconcerting. Rightly so. We need to come back to an honest understanding of Jesus--a Jesus who can surprise us, shake us up, perhaps even shock us, and all the while draw us to a worshipful astonishment of the holy fervency of his riotous energy. If we submit to following a tame Jesus, our own lives will be tame. Everything he did, everything he was--even his meekness--was revolutionary.

Gentle Jesus

He stoops, his quiet eyes ablaze,

And takes the fallen whip.

With a crack that tears the heavy air,

He whirls and cries out,

A rampant madman

In the courts of Almighty God.

The bewildered mob is routed,

Thundering out through ancient gates

With cries of terror and dismay

In the face of this wild, raging fanatic.

This is the fire of Love incarnate,

The unceasing passion for the glory of God,

The furious delight of purity and truth.

He can weep and he can laugh,

He can love and he can fight.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah,

The heavenly Hero of endless days,

The Warrior at Jehovah’s strong right hand.

This is He who smote the Pharaoh’s hordes;

This is He who tore apart the walls of Jericho

With shouts of joy;

This is He who infused the power of holy strength

Into the frail arms of ancient soldiers.

We are the Redeemed of the Lord,

And He will fight for us.

Someday He will come again,

With raging fire and triumph-roar

That shatters the fragile sky

Into a million pieces of golden bliss.

The Prince of Peace will soar across the heavens,

And exploding into the sky behind him

Will fly the hosts of heaven,

Raising a shout for blood and fire.

And in the wrath of His silver blade

The wicked will be undone

And the battle will give way to joy.