Testament Reading: Exodus 24:3-8
Testament Reading: Luke 6:46
Text: Egerton Papyrus, fragment 2,
lines 43-59: "They came to him to put him to the proof and to tempt him,
whilst they said: Master Jesus, we know that thou art come from God, for
what thou doest bears a testimony beyond that of all the prophets.
Wherefore tell us: is it admissible to pay to the kings the charges
appertaining to their rule? Should we pay them or not? But Jesus saw
through their intention, became angry, and said to them: Why call ye me
with your mouth Master and yet do not what I say? Well hath Isaiah
prophesied concerning you saying: This people honors me with their lips
but their heart is far from me; their worship is vain. They teach precepts
Given the near-universal esteem in which
Jesus is held today, by both believers and non-believers alike, it is
rather surprising to read in the New Testament again and again how he was
In the Prologue to the Gospel of John we
read that though the world was created through the medium of that Word
which became flesh as Jesus, the world as a whole rejected him.
In a proverb quoted several times in the
gospels about Jesus we hear that he was not altogether without honor --
except, that is, in his own country, or home town.
He seems to have made no greater impact on
his own family, if traditions be true which say his people came one day to
take charge of him, "for they were saying, 'He is beside himself.'" John
has his brothers deride him sarcastically and sums up, no doubt shaking
his head sadly as he writes, "for not even his brothers believed in him."
One might think the last stronghold of
loyalty to Jesus would be the company of disciples. But even there Jesus
could take nothing for granted. After all, remember Judas!
So there was unbelief, implicit rejection
of Jesus as close as possible to home: Jesus had to reckon with unbelief
even within the ranks of the 12. What else, after all, can we make of the
words, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not what I tell you?"? Who
else would have been in the habit of addressing him with the honorific
It is interesting to see what other gospel
writers have done with this saying, which I think Luke has preserved in
its original form. Matthew has made explicit what he thinks is implicit in
the saying, a threat of Judgment to come: "Not every one who says to me,
'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will
of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
But Matthew tends to see the Judgment
everywhere. I want to wait a moment before I accept his interpretation of
the saying as a veiled threat, which he goes on to unveil.
An otherwise Unknown Gospel of which the
Egerton Papyrus preserves a couple of fragments makes the saying into a
piece of deceptive flattery pure and simple. Jesus' response, which
appears in a different connection in Mark, interprets the protestation
"Master" as honor from the lips to which nothing in the heart corresponds
But I think that interpretation, ingenious
as it is, also misses the mark. It makes things too simple. But before I
get on to what I think the saying really intends, allow me one more
preparatory word. Have you ever found yourself heading for some sort of an
event and it occurs to you that the traffic is remarkably light, and in
fact, all of it seems to be headed in the opposite direction? Or you're
thinking of trying a certain restaurant, but you pull in at noon and
notice that the parking lot is almost empty. Sort of makes you think
twice, doesn't it? It makes you wonder if something's somehow wrong
Well, in the same way, shouldn't it make
you a little uneasy that everybody and his brother were rejecting Jesus
left and right in his own time, that he was despised and rejected of men,
yet here we are in the twentieth century with nothing but good to say
I mean, just look at these posters for the
Vacation Bible School programs churches are sponsoring: there is
rosy-cheeked Jesus sporting with affluent suburban children, who are
showing him their toy airplanes and Barbie dolls. Jesus is no more
threatening than Mickey Mouse! Are we missing something? What was it about
Jesus that made him so objectionable to his contemporaries?
It makes me wonder if we, too, would
reject him if we had a more accurate impression of him! We call him "Lord,
Lord" too easily!
But then again, so did his original
disciples! Isn't that the point of the saying of Jesus, "Why do you call
me 'Lord, Lord," and do not what I say?
The point is that one may perhaps be
rejecting Jesus implicitly and even unconsciously in the same moment in
which one calls him "Lord, Lord" with all the piety one possesses!
To reject him explicitly would be just too
painful because the "Christian" tag, our supposed "Christian" identity
means too much to us.
But then again, actually carrying out what
Jesus said would also be too painful! We cannot bring ourselves to
forgive, to love the enemy, to be as impartial in our compassion as the
Heavenly Father is.
So we enter upon a hidden scheme of
repression, as Freud called it. We hide the conflict and try to be no more
aware of it. We whittle down the hard demands of discipleship to a
manageable size. We persuade ourselves that Jesus meant to teach no more
than the hard heart of man could accommodate. And such a Jesus, a
domesticated Jesus, we can get along with quite well.
Jesus becomes like some eccentric uncle
whose quaintly outrageous views you just have to learn to smilingly ignore
if you want to get along with him. He begins to rant about the Rothchild
Banking Conspiracy or the Trilateral Commission, or the dangers of
fluoridation, and you discretely touch your forehead and apologize to your
guests later. "Love your enemies?" "Well, you know uncle Jesus! He has
some crazy notions, God bless him!"
You patronize Jesus. He no longer poses
any threat. But then we can no longer see why anyone ever would have
rejected him! Well, it seems a small price to pay for peace of mind ...
the peace of mind that a neutered conscience allows us.
Yet even the harangue I have just
subjected you to does not fully exhaust the potential of this enigmatic
saying of Jesus. "Enigmatic," I say, because in form as well as sense I
think it is really a riddle. It poses a conundrum, almost like a Zen koan.
Why bother to call someone "Lord," of all
things, unless one intends to obey this ostensible Lord? If that
is not in fact one's intent, then why not call him something else?
I have already explored with you the most
obvious answer to the riddle. I think Jesus sought to put his probing
finger on the very inconsistency we've been talking about. He wants to
unconscious compromise emerge into
consciousness so you can do something about it, decide which direction you
want to resolve it in. Do you want to take Jesus seriously or not?
But there is another possible application.
Our experience with education certainly does suggest that one may
recognize someone as a Master and learn much from him and by no means feel
obliged to swallow uncritically everything he says. And there is certainly
nothing insincere in this attitude.
We might, then, theoretically recognize in
Jesus a great master of the spiritual life and dare to dissent from him on
this or that point, though since he is so far beyond us on the path, that
is always a dangerous thing to do; it entails a great risk of presumption.
This situation is well portrayed in
Hesse's Siddhartha, when Siddhartha meets Gautama Buddha. Precisely
because he so appreciates the spiritual independence and daring of the
Buddha he will not simply bow unthinkingly to the doctrine of the Buddha.
The lesson he learns best from the Buddha is precisely not to submit
uncritically to anyone's orthodoxy -- not even the Buddha's!
And I will tell you that I take the same
lesson from Jesus of Nazareth! Indeed he invites me to every time he says
"What says the Law? How do you read it?" Or "He who has ears, let him
hear!" Or "What do you think...?" and then poses a parable for our
consideration. He submits his teachings for our consideration. He does not
seek to force them down our throats with threats of hell, as Matthew makes
So, as I see it, we may indeed call Jesus
Lord and yet dare to dissent, even as he dared to dissent from the
received biblical orthodoxy of his own contemporaries. In doing so, we
will be heeding the greatest truth he had to teach. But we must have the
courage to realize that is what we are doing. We mustn't simply tailor
Jesus according to our whims. If you dare to dissent from Jesus your Lord,
it had better be with your best judgment, not with your worst. It had
better be reason and conscience, not self-service and convenience, that
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