By Joel A. Hess –
This past Sunday, I had to let Jesus out of the cage. I didn’t want to. I knew that He would hurt some people, maybe everyone. Perhaps I could keep Him in the cage and tell people what He said in words that would not cause as much worry and fear. Perhaps I could explain the text away by saying “He didn’t mean it” or “Don’t worry about any of that since God loves you and all.”
I could have done the pastor dance by throwing out all sorts of meanings and interpretations to get people’s attention off of Jesus’ words. I could have made Jesus easy going.
The Pharisees, Jesus’ contemporaries, did this when they taught the people about God’s expectations. Like the veil their ancestors made Moses wear because he was so frightening, the Pharisees veiled God’s expectations and Law so that it would not be so frightening, or so they thought. They made it more doable, like those commercials that break down a big price to five easy payments.
I wanted to put a veil over Jesus.
Jesus said that being angry with our brother equals murder and therefore deserves hell. He said that looking at a woman lustfully deserves just as much punishment as having sex with her behind the wife’s back. It would be better to tear out your eyes and hands than keep on in sin and go to hell. I could have said that was just hyperbole, but I secretly knew it wasn’t.
And then there was divorce. I really didn’t want to go there in our age of no-fault divorce. I have many members who are divorced. Apparently, divorce is not a modern issue. People—men—divorced back then and felt just fine about it because it was legal. They didn’t just throw out their wives. They weren’t creeps. They did the proper paperwork. Jesus calls us out on it. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.
He kept going. He didn’t make God’s expectations easier; He made them harder! He cut through the crap, through all the little things that people invented to make themselves feel better. He kept saying hell, and He kept pointing his finger. No one escaped. It was a massacre.
I so wanted to make the Law easier for them to accomplish. I didn’t want anyone to feel mad. I didn’t want Jesus to look bad.
We stood there, bloodied and stunned. We stood there with every possible pretense of righteousness stripped from us. We stood naked, foolish, guilty and helpless.
Jesus had just snatched every excuse we could muster for our wrong doings.
He stood alone before us.
There was no Gospel in that day’s pericope, yet there was. It dwelt in the one who did the speaking. If Jesus is speaking, there is always Gospel, because the words come from the crucified one.
As He spoke, we saw holes in his hands and feet. We saw the marks of thorns pressed into his skull. We heard Him say “It is finished.”
Because it’s Jesus speaking, I can listen to Him and not be afraid—not because His accusations are false, but because He met them head-on on the cross.
Letting Jesus out of the cage doesn’t just mean letting His word destroy our self-righteousness. It also means letting Jesus tell sinners they are completely forgiven, even though we might want to see proof of their faith over the course of time. It means letting Jesus release someone of all their debts to God with just a breath—I forgive you.
A caged Jesus might not hurt anyone, but He also won’t heal anyone. Let Him out! Let Him speak. Do not be afraid.