When you read the biblical biographies of Jesus, what stands out to you? That though his life was short it made a long difference? That he forgave so freely? That he associated with the powerless and persecuted? That he taught mainly through stories? That he healed? That he raised people from the dead? That he answered impossible questions with deeper, harder questions?
What trait or action makes you want to be more like Jesus?
There’s a poignant meme about being like Jesus making the rounds.
This list practical and practicable, except maybe taking naps on boats. I live in semiarid Colorado at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. My couch is more accessible than a boat.
Like all be like Jesus lists, however, it leaves out so much. Like how do I do the things Jesus did?
Maybe the stories Matthew tells about one very full day in the life of Jesus in chapter nine of his Jesus-biography will give us a hint.
And Then . . .
After healing two demon possessed men (I wonder why these kinds of things don’t make it onto many be like Jesus lists), Jesus climbs back in a boat with his disciples and heads for home. Tired no doubt but Matthew does not tell us of Jesus napping. They beach the boat and walk into the city.
“Then behold,” Matthew writes, “they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.” Jesus heals him and forgives his sins (There doesn’t seem to be a lot of forgiving going on with Jesus’ modern followers either. But I digress.).
“As Jesus passed on from there,” he spies Matthew and invites him onto the team. Then they all go to dinner at Matthew’s. “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house,” controversy and an argument erupts about who Jesus should be hanging out with. Jesus offers a mic drop statement about how he came for sinners.
“Then the disciples of John came to Him” complaining about Jesus being at a party and not being spiritual like John. Jesus offers another mic drop statement. And then . . . .
“While He spoke these things to them” [remember Jesus is still trying to eat], a man came and told Jesus his daughter had just died. Jesus leaves his meal (unfinished?) and goes with the man.
“And suddenly,” Matthew tells us, a woman with a twelve year unstoppable menstrual flow grabs his hem and is healed. Jesus stops to talk with her. Then Jesus continues on to the man’s home and brings the girl back to life.
“When Jesus departed from there,” maybe finally heading for Peter’s house he stops and heals two blind men. Then as the men “went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed.” Once again Jesus stops and performs a miracle.
Then after this presumably he grabs a falafel at the local fast food shop and falls onto his mat on the roof of Peter’s house for a much needed nap. What a day! I’ve had hard, busy days as a pastor but not like that.
Many of the things people admire in Jesus and want to follow appear in this section of Matthew. But we often miss a foundational character trait of Jesus’.
He’s interruptible! This is a man who has an indisputable, God-given purpose, calling, and vision. As we say, “He’s a man on a mission.” By which we mean the person cannot be derailed, deterred, distracted, or interrupted. But Jesus is constantly, gladly, humbly derailed, deterred, distracted, and interrupted.
He attends no staff meeting and sets no agenda with the disciples. Instead he meanders through his day, healing here, forgiving there, teaching this, eating that. Jesus makes parables and metaphors from camels near by, wheat they are walking through, bread, wine, dirt, rocks, and wind. Every thing along the way becomes paint on his pallet for faithfully rendering life with the Father.
Jesus does not see life as linear or hierarchical. There is no first, second, or third. Jesus is continually present to whomever is also present. Wholeness rules. If people don’t praise God, rocks will. Rocks, birds, lepers, and you and I are all sacred and worth his attention. And there are no VIPs. He chose the lowly. Knowing this truth can empower each of us to drop our pecking ordered lives and receive and give God’s love unconditionally.
He Came for People
Jesus knows people—not programs, kingdoms, or platforms—are his mission. People! And not the most powerful people or even the most people. Just needy, broken, insignificant people like you and me. Or at least like me.
In Practice Resurrection the late Eugene Peterson wrote, “The Christian life is not a straight run on a track laid out by a vision statement formulated by a committee. Life meanders much of the time. Unspiritual interruptions, unanticipated people, uncongenial events cannot be pushed aside in our determination to reach the goal unimpeded, undistracted. ‘Goal-setting,’ in the context and on the terms intended by a leadership-obsessed and management-programmed business mentality that infiltrates the church far too frequently, is bad spirituality. Too much gets left out. Too many people get brushed aside.”
Good spirituality, if I can say it that way, is then seeing God in the moment planned or not.
Lose the Jesus Complex
Also, ironically Jesus didn’t have a “Jesus complex.” A “Jesus complex” is an affliction where a person believes she or he is the only one who can help, heal, hear, or heed another’s need. Rather Jesus knew that all people were in the Father’s hands and if he couldn’t get to them that day or in his earthy life, the Father and Spirit was with thm. Jesus could be interrupted because he had faith in the other Persons of the Trinity.
Interruptibility is both an expression of faith and a builder of faith. In faith we set aside our agenda and in that given moment we experience God which builds our faith.
The spiritual life is an interrupted life. At its core it does not depend on our own effort, will, strength, intelligence, or drive. God empowers these things by his Spirt and with his grace.
The call to be like Jesus has become a political weapon, a program, a meme, and an unattainable yearly resolution. It is none of these but rather a simple choice (that does not mean easy). Jesus was able to “hang out with sinners, upset religious people, tell stories that made people think, choose unpopular friends, be kind, loving, and merciful, and nap in boats” because Jesus was interruptible. This year if you want to be more like Jesus, start with that.