by Maria Rudolph
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But the temple he had spoken of was his body (John 2:21).
‘What are you reading?!’ asked my housemate with raised eyebrows and curious eyes looking up and down the cover of my Good News Bible. ‘The BIBLE?’ And with that, she stared at me tauntingly, with amusement mixed in her voice. A hot flush climbed up from my neck to the top of my head. I was so embarrassed.
I wasn’t equipped to say anything back. Sure, afterwards, back in my room, I thought of lots of replies I could have given. But it was too late. And I didn’t like confrontation, especially on a topic that I knew so little about. I had only just started reading the Bible and had only just begun the journey toward baptism. It doesn’t take long to realise that Jesus is offensive.
Over a decade later, I think my housemate, along with many other people in our society, misunderstand Jesus. Some think Christians are a bunch of pious do-gooders. Boring party poopers at best. But by studying the Bible, I have come to realise that Jesus often provokes these kinds of confrontations, because he is so different, he aims straight at our heartstrings. There is no pretence with Jesus. We can either follow Jesus with all our heart, or it becomes impossible to follow him at all. Because Jesus offends. And Jesus is misunderstood.
Jesus was misunderstood throughout his ministry. Again and again, people around him were baffled and appalled by his words. When he zealously drives the money changers and vendors of sacrificial animals from the temple courts and is questioned about it, he simply predicts his death and resurrection – and this prophecy is misunderstood. Sometime later, we find Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. His teaching raises the hairs of his audience. ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’ (John 6:53). Again, Jesus is misunderstood and ‘from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him’ (John 6:66).
The words of Jesus are tough, alright? Do we fare any better when we follow Jesus today? The 12 closest of Jesus’ disciples stood out from the rest – although they even had a betrayer in their midst, known to Jesus! Simon Peter puts it in clumsy, profound words: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68). This trusting faith was confirmed when ‘after he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said [about rebuilding the temple, his body, in three days]. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken’ (John 2:22).
In the same way, when we are taunted and laughed at for our faith in Jesus Christ, we must consider what other options we really have. What else can give us salvation, the grace to make a new beginning despite our failings, day after day? What else would be a solid foundation to build our lives onto? Sometimes offensive, and often misunderstood, yet always fully enveloped in the love of God the Father and guided by the Holy Spirit, walk on, sometimes full of confidence and sometimes placing one embarrassed foot in front of the other, but always sure that God is with you all the way.
Holy Spirit, come, fill my heart with faith and strengthen my trust in Jesus when I am taunted by others for it and when I find the words of Scripture difficult to digest. Make every part of my heart and soul cling to you alone so that zeal for your word and the love and gentleness you teach flows out of me today as I encounter others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.