Elijah/Jesus/Kierkegaard/You: Troubler of Israel
So a couple years ago I remember someone saying to me, “life would be easy if it wasn’t for Jesus.”
This had caused some stir among a group of people who felt somewhat offended because they felt that this was a lack of respect for Jesus. In fact, the person who had said this really had a great deal of respect for Jesus – but had also come to know Jesus as a “troubler of Israel” just as Ahab names Elijah.
Elijah, of course, pointed out that Ahab was the cause of the trouble – and the only reason Elijah was a problem was that he was pointing out the trouble. Jesus does the same to those he encounters, and this friend of mine was doing the same thing in his own way. Prophets pull off the veneer of nicetude that we tend to coat things with and reveal what really is. They also have this pesky habit of inviting us to actually practice what we preach.
This led me back to one of my favorite “prophets” of the post-biblical time, Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard felt called to convince Christians that they weren’t really Christian, in order that they might actually become so. Kierkegaard wanted to hold up a mirror and, usually with a flair for the comedic, point out that the actual image looked nothing like the life of Christ we claim. Kierkegaard knew that Jesus was trouble… and wanted us to know it too.
“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in this world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”
Now I normally end there but let me go one paragraph further because it ties nicely to some of the thought from last Sunday’s sermon:
“I open the New Testament and read: ‘If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow me.’ Good God, if we were to actually do this, all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book which would one, two, three, run us all down if it got loose (that is, if Christian scholarship did not restrain it).”
–Søren Kierkegaard, from Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers (also published in Provocations as part of the writing entitled, Kill the Commentators)
The Gospel is Good News. But it is good news with a rough edge. It’s a plow that will dig up what has been in order to bring forth new life. That is great news for those who have no hope in the current arrangement of things, this is good news to those who wish to live in/with community, and seek the good of all at the expense of all… but not so good news to those who profit from structures of the world that pit people against each other and give privileges to some at the expense of others.
There is a contest for what is actually good news going on and the question we ask ourselves is – what kind of good news do we live in service to, and what kind of good news do we proclaim with our lives? Will we allow ourselves to be troubled by Jesus?