I see this billboard every day on my way home from the church. Perhaps you’ve seen it too?
If you haven’t, I am sure that you have seen ones like it--those “evangelism” efforts that deploy Jesus’ words in a 14 foot tall threat.
This isn’t a difference of interpretation.
This is an out and out manipulation.
For this sloppy paraphrase of something Jesus did in fact say was wrenched from its context (as part of a specific conversation with a particular audience) and writ large to do something Jesus never intended.
It sounds very different to hear “no one comes to the Father except through me,” as one of the remaining 11 disciples sitting at the table of the last supper than as a non-believer on their way to the grocery store. It is a very different experience to catch this line out of the corner of your eye rather than to hear these words spoken as part of a long declaration of love and sacrifice that begins with Jesus washing feet and ends with him being arrested and abandoned. The difference between Jesus’ teaching and these kinds of threats is shocking and when you know something about the life Jesus lived.
Jesus didn’t come to threaten. He came to be with the threatened. We see this from his very first days in the gospel of Matthew.
He is among the refugees fleeing a brutal regime. He is the baby wailing in the arms of his frightened and exhausted mother. He is the civilian that tyrants threaten and slaughter as they cling to and grasp for power. He is the “illegal,” unwelcome and unwanted. He is the needy one, utterly unable to help himself, completely dependent on the compassion of others.
He is among the threatened. He is one of them.
So why is a King, a commander of armies, a man with everything he could ever want so afraid of this little baby?
By crouching among the powerless, Jesus is a threat to those who stand with the powerful.
By letting himself be rejected, the Son of God is a threat to those who refuse to welcome the stranger.
By giving away and giving up all he has, even his life, Christ is a threat to those who despise the poor and take advantage of vulnerable.
By speaking of God’s mercy and grace with his whole life, the Word made flesh is a threat to those who would try to use his words like a weapon.
Perhaps I should take back what I said earlier. Maybe Jesus is threat, after all.