Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Matthew 26:51
by Chuck DeGroat
We may not be chopping off ears nowadays, but Christians can be quick to draw the sword. In our desire to be zealous, we cut down the perceived enemy—sisters and brothers that they are. Because we perceive ourselves to be correct, our (self) righteousness is justified, or so we think.
And yet, during Epiphany we have a front row seat as we watch Jesus engage friends and critics alike. We see Jesus, who does not come as a sword-wielding Zealot nor a conflict-avoidant Essene, but as one whose words and actions appeal to another way, a narrow way, a cruciform way, a transformative way. The way of Jesus is so different than ours that it can be confusing, leading us to simply pick and choose a convenient event or exchange to support our agenda…
…you see, Jesus says turn the other cheek and says “forgive your enemies”…he’s a loving, compassionate and non-violent friend to sinners!
…you see, Jesus says “woe” to the unrepentant cities and names the Pharisees as wicked and adulterous…he’s a strong warrior who doesn’t avoid a fight!
Maybe it’s not easy to pin down Jesus for a reason. Maybe the witness of four unique Gospel lenses on his life, along with a whole host of challenging sayings and parables and conversations, is meant to lead us to curiosity, wonder, and reflection. It seems that this Jesus makes you think, but doesn’t make you pay. He offers a difficult word but doesn’t blacken your eye in the process. He sears your conscience but doesn’t shame you.
This Jesus will not let us sleepwalk through life. His character, his message and his actions wake us up. When you meet this Jesus, you find yourself simultaneously loved like you’ve never been loved before and challenged like you’ve never been challenged before. His beautifully transformative way indicts both our over-zealousness and our conflict-avoidance.
Most of all, this is Jesus who, though he is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, lives perpetually surrendered to a Sovereign God. Jesus doesn’t even let the Messiah thing go to his head! This is God’s world. God is writing the Story. And because of his extraordinary trust in God’s providence, Jesus isn’t even in a rush. He doesn’t seem to need to alleviate suffering at once. His is an inexplicable trust in a larger Story and the trustworthy Author of that Story.
Epiphany leads us to repentance, because the way of Jesus challenges both our sword-wielding and conflict-avoiding strategies for saving the world. And Epiphany leads to wonder, because this Messiah seems to have every confidence that, even through unimaginable suffering, God will transform us and the world.
Chuck DeGroat teaches pastoral care and counseling at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.