Jesus is dangerous—this statement alone shocks our consciousness, because most of us in America have grown up learning that Jesus is loving, caring, forgiving, and all about grace, mercy, and peace….anything but dangerous. But over and over in the stories we are told about how his arrival disrupts everything in a clash with the powers of the world that ends with everyone abandoning him and his violent death on a Roman cross.
John the Baptist said of Jesus: “one is coming after me who is stronger than I. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Mt. 3:11) For John, the arrival of Jesus didn’t mean peace and forgiveness, but meant separation, fire, and judgment.
Later, Jesus, while sending his disciples into the cities of Galilee & Judah warned them against supposing that he had come to bring peace claiming “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34) His kingdom is one that divides fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Entire families will be split apart in divided loyaties.
Jesus’ first words upon the beginning of his public teaching and healing ministry were “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt. 4:17) You don’t go around announcing regime change if you are a citizen in one of the client kingdoms of Rome, and especially if you’re a citizen in one of the most volatile areas of the Roman empire. Recent history in Palestine was fraught with revolt and uprisings. Everyone knew what had happened to every single would-be messiah in Israel’s recent history. There was only one outcome for these rebels, an outcome of which everyone was aware. So when we read about a Jewish peasant suddenly announcing a new Kingdom, the horizon in the story immediately begins to grow dark. There is nothing that points to a happy ending. This new Kingdom announced was bound to clash decisively in a storm of epic proportions, a storm for which the clouds of judgment are now forming in the skies. And at the beginning of the Gospel story, this Galilean peasant, along with a small band of followers, surprisingly begins to travel directly towards it…