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Radical is in the Eye of the Beholder
Josias Hansen is a Brazilian-born, Charismatic Mennonite student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Together with Third Way Church, Josias enjoys experimenting with what it looks like to take Jesus seriously as a jolly community of kingdom disciples.
Was Jesus a radical? Did he do and teach radical things? What if I were to tell you that his ways were, in fact, common, conventional and mainstream? What if you were to learn that his teachings were simply run-of-the-mill, ordinary and typical? How would that sit with you? That Jesus doesn’t seem so exciting anymore, does he? Well, let me introduce you to a Jesus who never thought of himself as radical, a Jesus who never intended to give any sort of radical teaching. Let me introduce you to Jesus of Nazareth.
Nope, I’m not talking about “the Jesus Seminar Jesus” nor PBS’s beloved “historical Jesus.” The Jesus I’m talking about is the Jesus who was just like his Daddy. His teachings simply communicated how everyday life is lived when his Dad is in charge. He had nothing new to say (Jn 5:19, 8:28). He was just repeating the same ol’ thing his Dad had been saying to him his entire life. His teachings weren’t hard-core, extreme, and certainly not fanatical. He was just communicating the typical, common sense, kingdom of God understanding of reality.
To appreciate Jesus is not to view him as radical, but rather as one who is radically ordinary. He did not lead his disciples to live extreme or unusual lives. He simply called them to live in the truth that is found in God’s kingdom. And when we don’t live in that truth, that’s when our lives are warped and distorted. And from this warped point of view, Jesus’ life and teachings seem strange, extreme, radical and even fanatical.
Thus, the only type of person who would consider Jesus as radical is the type of person with a distorted understanding of reality. In order to see Jesus as radical, a person would have to have a warped perception of what is real, of what is good, and of what is true. And that’s why we tend to see Jesus as a radical. He’s a radical because he’s different than us. He’s a radical because he sees clearly and we don’t. He’s a radical because he’s not warped like us. We view his teachings as radical because we have been so tricked into thinking that selfishness, greed and hate are normal and even good. Perhaps, that’s why Jesus repeatedly declared, “You’ve heard it was said…, but I say to you…” He was not trying to radicalize his followers, but rather normalize them in God’s kingdom.
“Radical” is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, while most of us may behold the life of Jesus as radical, the Father beheld his life and teachings as normal and making complete sense. Loving our “enemy” makes the most sense when we realize that people are never really the enemies. Selling our possessions and giving the money to the poor make so much sense when we realize that our own greed is killing both our neighbors and us. Therefore, when we selfishly hoard our things, ignore our neighbors, and cut down our “enemies,” we’re simply thinking and living in a realm of lies and distortions.
Discipleship then is the life-long journey we all go on to become normalized citizens in God’s kingdom. Jesus is not calling us to live out our distorted lives more extremely or zealously; he wants us rather to become normal citizens of the kingdom of God. These citizens may seem extreme and radical to those whose “normal” is found in the distorted kingdoms of this world, but in reality, these normal kingdom citizens are just living average lives within the reign of God, just like Jesus did.
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