Some folks think I should believe that Jesus is the Son of God because they believe the Bible says I should believe it. And I should believe because it’s the Bible and the Bible says I should.
I know, right?
Some folks think I should believe in him because he did magic tricks, because the Bible says he did.
Some folks think I should believe in him because they can argue convincingly that he got up after he died, and someone said that lots of people saw it, and it’s reported in the Bible.
Some folks think I should believe in him because if I don’t, bad things will happen to me.
As a kid, I tried believing. I tried with the same effort that kids try during Peter Pan, when Peter tells the audience if they just clap their hands and grit their teeth and put some effort into their belief, they can keep Tinker Bell alive. Even the adults get a little weepy when the fading spotlight suddenly grows brighter and we all cheer that fairies are real, and Tinker Bell is alive.
None of that stuff ever convinced me to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. I couldn’t do it. My belief engine simply couldn’t sustain itself with such weak fuel. The occasional mystical experiences I had with God could only take me to about 80% certainty. My faith could only aspire to mustard-seed size.
There was a moment that finally convinced me that Jesus was real, and that he was the Son of God. It was when I realized that Jesus was a smart-ass.
I was in grad school, taking a class on the parables with David Buttrick. I learned a lot in that class. I learned that Jesus occasionally used strong language (like in the parable of the fig tree). I learned that he was deliberately provocative (like when he healed chronic sickness on the sabbath).
One day he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He described how all the audience chuckled along with the skewering of the religious leaders as first a priest, then a scribe, walk on by an injured man in need of help.
And then Jesus introduces the third person and we all know, because we are familiar with jokes and parabolic stories, that the third person is the one who breaks the pattern: the third little pig, the third daughter to answer the riddle, the third sports fan to walk into a bar. The third person to show up is the one, in click-baity fashion, who will blow your mind, who will leave you speechless.
The third person is the foreigner you hate.
I’ve often said it would be like going into a fundamentalist church in the south and telling the story this way: The first person to pass by is a Catholic. The second is a Baptist. The third… the third is one of us good Methodists, right?
The third is a Muslim.
In order to answer a question about which religious commandments we should follow, Jesus answers, “Why don’t you try to be more like a good Muslim?”
And if you can imagine the audience’s reaction, then you probably understand why some folks wanted him dead. People wanted to throw him off a cliff. To shut his mouth, to silence him, to call him a glutton and a drunkard, to crucify him. What do you expect from someone who hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes?
That’s when I knew for sure, in my heart, that God was speaking through Jesus’ mouth. That guy right there, the one punched and shoved out of the political rally, the one who hears the doors of the church slam behind him—that guy is God in the flesh. No doubt. It was a revelation. I saw God.
Sometimes I imagine the second coming. When she returns, with what flesh will the logos wrap herself? All the boys looking at the sky straining for a view of a white bearded Jesus are going to get their feelings hurt if the Jesus of the gospels is in charge. This Jesus who talked about God as a woman looking for a coin or mixing yeast into bread—you think that Word is going to come wearing the flesh and garments of political and religious power?
But what if it’s already happening? After all, every week we take communion and claim that by feasting on the body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood with the Spirit of Christ in us and among us. We ask to be made one with Christ, with each other, and in ministry to all the world. We proclaim a smart-ass gospel to a literalist world, a gospel that requires a different kind of seeing and hearing than conventional wisdom. I see my church doing that. They take that Word into themselves, and they speak that Word of hope and healing to a hurting world. They do so at the risk of their own flesh, sometimes. They make sacrifices to get the message out.
This Jesus presents a picture of God’s character that is so opposite what we normally think of as “religious” that I would leave everything I know to follow. This “yes!” in my heart echoes God’s “yes!” to me.
That’s why I believe in Jesus.