God in Our Image vs. God Among Us

Just started reading through the gospel according to Mark in “The Message,” Eugene Peterson’s contemporary English version translation of the New Testament. Here the immediate conflict between Jesus and the established religious leaders of the day is all the more vivid. At one point, Jesus uses the metaphor of new wine bursting old wineskins, and it is an apt one, for here is the itinerant preacher man oozing with vitality and dynamism, butting up against an increasingly indignant and outraged old guard, even as those outcasted from society and from respect are increasingly and irresistibly drawn to him.

I could not help but think of these stories when I read Andrew Sullivan’s rebuke of Bill O’Reilly’s recent piece, “Keep Christ in Unemployment.” Many in the religious right would seem to make God into their image, clothing their self-righteousness with false beliefs about how God only helps those who can help themselves. It would irk them, as it did the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, to know that much of the Bible teaches a far more expansive posture towards charity than they would like to admit. I say “it would irk them” because I’m not entirely sure they’ve read those parts of the Bible or take them at face value.

Ah, but we ourselves are far closer to old wineskins than we are to new wine. So as much as I’d like to bash the bashers, I have to confess that Jesus and his teachings and example are equally discomforting to me. I am far from readily generous, let alone to those who have fallen, and even less to those who do not express any gratitude or perspective. Ever the schemer, I cannot bring myself to give unless there is something in it for me, whether the self-congratulations due the fulfillment of a societal obligation or the smugness of having been charitable to someone who really needed the help.

In this season in which many of us take extra time to consider the birth of our Savior, thoughts of the death of our Savior ought not be too far. The Bible is right when it says that it is one thing to die for a righteous person, but God demonstrated remarkable love in that He died for us while we were unrighteous and unappreciative and ignorant and obstinate. He loved and gave; we scorned and shunned.

Before us this season lay many who could use a living expression of God’s generosity and mercy, and instead we scorn and shun them as well. Shame on us for being so cold, so different from the One we purport to follow, so indifferent to those He associated with when he walked on earth. Shame on us even more for making Him into our image just so that we can deny our callousness and call it righteousness instead.

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