It’s been said that the truest test of faith is whether it will let anything stand in its way. And by this measure, those countless individuals who sought Jesus out in the Gospel narratives had incredibly deep faith. A man with an unclean spirit, a leper, a paralytic. A woman with an unstoppable hemorrhage. None of them will be dissuaded. In some part of their being, they want what Jesus has and they will do anything to get it. These people are driven – by faith – to cross boundaries. But so, of course, is Jesus.
Jesus too, it seems, is also willing to cross every boundary that had been set up to demarcate social and religious lines between those deemed to be righteous and unrighteous; clean or unclean. He’s willing to bend or change the rules and go against accepted convention for the sake of the kingdom.
I sometimes wonder where those faith-fueled seekers are to be found today! I know I haven’t found many of them pushing and elbowing their way into our churches! And in my darkest moments I must confess that I sometimes wonder if - when they do visit churches bearing Jesus’ name – those seekers tragically find that they are either not welcome or they find no real evidence that Jesus is actually there?
Not many people are going to break a sweat chasing down a stained glass, safe, tame, domesticated Jesus; a central-casting Jesus! That’s not what they’re craving! What they want – what they need – and what their faith is driving them toward is the one who Kate Layzer describes as “the genuinely undomesticated Jesus of the Gospels; the Jesus who loves fiercely and speaks sharply – who looks us straight in the eye and speaks to us of God’s uncompromising love, who startles us with more forgiveness than we think we deserve, who challenges us to extend the same love to others. They want the Jesus who makes them cry in church – not out of sadness, but because after long years of trying everything else, they’ve brushed up against him and felt something inside begin to heal, and love reawakening when they thought it was gone for good!”
Sadly, our history is filled with countless examples where misdirected faith has become demonic and hurtful; times when Christians have visited untold pain and suffering upon one another, and upon people of other faiths, in the name of the Prince of Peace. Deep faith carries strong passions and commitment that can fuel incredible acts of blessing. But those passions can also fuel hateful forms of intolerance wherein any deviation from the truth that I claim is interpreted as a threat that must be condemned and eliminated.
As flawed and so very human beings, a part of us is always yearning for the safety of our respective singularities. But as the Gospel narratives tell us so poignantly, we have the capacity to move beyond those singularities through the One whose holiness is made manifest, not in a display of power and might, but rather in gracious acts of gentle forgiveness and reconciliation.
The deep well of religious commitment only avoids intolerance when the waters of love and vulnerability are similarly deep. And the same is true of the deep well that is the church’s worship life where in Word, Sacrament and Community we experience and express the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived, not for himself, but only to point beyond himself to a God whose unquenchable, uncontrollable love seeks to gather and enfold the entirety of creation in perfect love. Our worship life must seek to do no less.