“For some, it may seem shocking to suggest that Jesus had room for self-improvement. But it’s hard to miss his sins if you read the New Testament gospels.” So writes blogger Jim Burklo in “The Resolutions of Jesus”
In reading Burklo’s essay I remembered my November 17 post, The Heartblink, in which I talked about the way we momentarily block out our own ethical responses. One very effective way to ignore data that disturbs us is to close our hearts for a moment, and then move on to thinking about something else. It is so convenient, sometimes, to temporarily disable our moral instincts.
I grew up believing that Jesus was perfect, and I suspended my ethical instincts whenever I read stories that seem to show his flaws. Here’s an example from Jim’s post:
Once when Jesus was preaching, “his mother and brothers sent someone inside to ask him to come out and speak with them (Matthew 12: 47-50). He brushed them off with an insult: ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”
It’s so easy to heartblink this passage, overlooking the verbal slap in the face that Jesus gave his family. It’s more comfortable to focus on the positive part of this scripture, its encouragement to do the will of God. But Burklo faces the whole story squarely, and suggests a New Year’s resolution for Jesus: “Be much nicer to my family.”
Another example: “A Canaanite woman asked Jesus to free her daughter of possession by a demon (Matthew 15: 22-28). He ignored her because she was a foreigner, … saying ‘It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’. Groveling, she said: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Finally he relented and healed her daughter. He did a good thing, but the way he did it was pretty disgusting.”
Burklo then bluntly states the obvious but unsettling implication of this passage: “Jesus started out believing that anybody who was not a Jew was a dog.” But encountering “faithful gentile people like the Canaanite woman cured him of the antipathy toward foreigners that he had inherited from the culture surrounding him. He didn’t want to serve gentiles. But grudgingly he acquiesced, and was humbled. The Bible reveals that Jesus was a racist in recovery.”
Some of the most uplifting stories of the Bible show Jesus affirming the worth of all people, regardless of ethnicity. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. But evidently Jesus did not begin his ministry with such a broad-minded view.
Even if it’s disturbing to think Jesus had faults, it’s inspiring to see him as a flawed human being who learned from experience and honestly tried to be better. As Burklo puts it, “We can resolve to follow Jesus’ journey of self-improvement, working ever-greater miracles of kindness while deepening in humility. What makes us most Godlike is to recognize how far from God we are and always will be.”
I suspect Jesus himself would have agreed with that statement. The Gospels of Mark and Luke both quote him as saying: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Roger Christan Schriner