“Right on,” I said, “but don’t take it personally. I don’t trust anybody but Jesus, and sometimes I struggle with him.” I told him I had been down that road several times and was too old to do it again. “Besides,” I said, “I’m cramming for finals, know about the bad stuff, see very little of the good, and Jesus likes me anyway.”
Our conversation was kind of lighthearted and he told me I had made him laugh. But I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation. It brought to mind an incident in John’s Gospel. Jesus had just turned water into wine at a wedding party and right after that went into the temple to cast out the religious crooks doing business there. In the first instance, Jesus amazed people and salvaged a party. In the second, Jesus offended people and started down the road to the cross. Then John said, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
When I often studied and taught that text before, I thought that Jesus knew what was in the heart of the bad people who were offended by him and, because he knew that, he was wise in not trusting himself to them. But in fact, that’s not what the text is saying. It’s far more universal. John specifically mentioned those “who believed in him” and then widened the circle to “he knew all people.” That’s when John said that Jesus didn’t entrust himself to people because Jesus himself knew what was in man.
Jesus still gives himself to people. Jesus still redeems, loves, forgives, and teaches them…but only on his terms. He just doesn’t trust himself to them. Why do you think that is so?
First, Jesus doesn’t trust himself to us because we’ll build institutions, create rules on rules, and eventually have a militarily defensible religious structure that we’ll spend most of our time defending, funding and enriching. It’s our nature. It’s also the nature of institutions. The sad thing is that the broken, sinful and needy won’t feel comfortable, and will turn away.
Jesus still gives himself to people. Jesus still redeems, loves, forgives, and teaches them…but only on his terms.
When Jesus healed the blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8), the man was healed in two stages. Jesus, the text says, spit on his eyes and the man could partially see. Then he laid hands on him and the man was totally healed. In Luke 18, Jesus simply spoke the words of healing and the blind beggar could see. In John 9, Jesus healed a man born blind by spitting on the ground, making mud with the saliva, and putting it on the man’s eyes, telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man was healed of his blindness.
Someone jokes about the churches that grew up around the healing methods. There were The Church of the Spitters, The Mud Church, The Word of Faith Church and The Two Stage Church. Each of the institutions supported their position, fought for their truth, and stood their ground on their convictions. Meanwhile a lot of blind people stayed blind.
Another reason Jesus doesn’t trust himself to us is that he knows we will make him into something he isn’t. We’ll make him just like us…sharing our political and social positions, supporting our prejudices, and agreeing with our decisions about who belongs to him and who doesn’t. Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day (and I fear to me and the religious leaders of our time), “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word” (John 8:42-43).
I have a rabbi friend who once told me what bothered him the most about Gentile Christians. We made Jesus into a tall, muscular, fair-haired, blue-eyed Gentile. “He wasn’t,” my friend said. “He was just a little Jewish rabbi.”
There is something good about the way different races, national peoples and ethnic groups portray Jesus through the eyes of their own culture. It is a reflection of the profound meaning of the incarnation. That tendency poses a danger though. We may “create” a different Jesus…one who votes Democratic or Republican, who is always politically or religiously correct, and who agrees with us about who is “out” and who is “in.”
There is a final reason Jesus doesn’t trust himself to us. People who have Jesus in their “back pockets” become insufferable Pharisees. Jesus said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). Jesus doesn’t specify who the “other sheep” are. I suspect (given the record of the religious folks in Matthew 23) they are not people you would expect. The people Jesus befriended bothered the religious leaders of Jesus’ day (and in fact, it was one of the reasons Jesus was killed). Jesus was a friend of the religious and not so religious, the pure and not so pure, the Pharisees and the prostitutes, the teetotalers and the winos, the rich and the poor, and the acceptable and the unacceptable. He simply had no taste in people.
Jesus said, “Y’all come!” and he meant it.
That’s hard for us and it’s one of the reasons Jesus doesn’t trust us. However, it is one thing to say that Jesus doesn’t trust us and quite another to say that he has abandoned us. When we try to mold and manipulate him, brag that we belong to him, think of others as beneath him, and try to add our truth to his truth, he leaves the building. But Jesus did say, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). You can hang your hat on that.
The key is the “orphan” part. When you don’t have anywhere else to go, when you’re marginalized and broken, when your friends don’t understand, when you sin and don’t think there is any hope, and when you’re lonely and afraid…that’s what orphans feel. And that’s when Jesus always shows.
One of things teenagers often say to their parents (and they’ve been saying it throughout recorded history) is, “You don’t trust me!” Most of us, as parents, say something in response like, “I do trust you but I’m concerned,” or “You’re just young and the issue isn’t trust.”
I have a friend who said to his teenage boy, “Trust you? Are you crazy? Of course I don’t trust you. I remember what I did and thought when I was your age. You’re lucky I don’t put you in locked jail cell.” Then my friend turned serious, tears welling up in his eyes, and said, “But son, I love you more than life itself. I always have and I always will. That will never change.”
That’s sort of what John said about Jesus in this text. In effect, Jesus says, “Trust you? Are you crazy? You have demonstrated that I can’t trust you.”
Then Jesus adds, “But child, I love you more than life itself. I always have and I always will. That will never change.” Then Jesus went to a cross to die in our place.
He told me to remind you.