One of the first Jesus stories I remember grabbing hold of my imagination in Sunday School was the miracle at the wedding in Cana. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the changing of water into wine, but I do clearly remember Jesus’ shocking words to his mom when she informed him of the beverage shortage.
“Woman,” he said, “why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”
Woman? I thought. Jesus called his mom woman? Yikes!
Little did I know that my Christology (ideas about Jesus) was forming. Though the Sunday school teacher tried pointing out how this story shows Jesus’ power, all I could think of was what would happen if I tried calling my mom woman when we got in the car after church. It wouldn’t be good. What kind of person was this Jesus guy?
And then there’s the time Jesus was hungry so he walked over to a fig tree for a quick breakfast, but when he found no figs on the tree he cursed it, saying, “May you never bear fruit again!”
My young mind imagined a kid at school kicking and yelling at the vending machine after seeing it was out of Reeses. Again, my delicate notions of Jesus were forming. Though I never would have said it out loud, behind the scenes I was thinking that I might just want to keep my distance from this loon. In the back of my mind I pictured Jesus as a man who everyone knows is important but whom nobody actually wants to be around. Because let’s be honest, if this was Gary or Frank cursing the fig tree, everyone would be thinking, “Calm down, ya spaz.” I can see bystanders whispering to their friends, “Psych-o-path.” But since it’s Jesus we say things like, “Well he has every right to be angry,” or “He’s God, that means it is a righteous anger,” but deep down we’re not quite sure.
Whenever I would read something Jesus said or did that was, well, rude or crazy or arrogant, I would quickly turn the page and feign ignorance because it is Jesus after all, and a person’s not supposed to go around thinking bad things about Jesus. It wasn’t until I was a good deal older that I revisited some of these stories, intent on reckoning the goodness of Jesus that I had personally experienced with his apparent dubious behavior in the Bible. Digging deeper in the text I was astonished by what I found:
Jesus is better.
Story after story I discovered that my surface-level reading of the Bible had distorted my original perceptions of Jesus. Come to find out, the Greek word for “woman” that Jesus used was a gentle and loving way to refer to your mom. Calling your mother “woman” in Jesus’ day wasn’t anything like saying it now. This discovery caused me to reimagine Jesus’ tone as he addressed this dear lady whom he loved and respected. “Mamma, it’s not time for me to show my power yet.” (And notice how he does the miracle anyway, even though it’s not yet his hour, very possibly out of respect for his mom’s request.)
And the fig tree incident? After further reading in the Old Testament I learned that the fig tree was a biblical symbol for the Jewish religious leadership—leadership that at the time wasn’t bearing any fruit. Both Matthew and Mark place this story directly next to Jesus’ clearing out of the Temple and calling out the chief priests and the teachers of the law for their poor management of God’s house. Ohhhh, I get it. Jesus wasn’t being irritable when he cursed the fig tree, he was making a dangerous political statement that his disciples would have certainly picked up on (read Jeremiah 7:11 and 8:13…seriously, so cool).
The more I understood Jesus in his world, the more I understood that he is better than I imagined. Kinder than imagined. Bolder than I imagined. More passionate for His Beloved than I imagined. In fact, I now see that I have never once in my life overestimated God’s heart. Not once have I needed to reel-in an over presumptuous notion of His goodness and love. Not once has God had to correct an excessively audacious assumption of His identity, saying, “Take it down a couple notches, kid, I’m not that kind.”
Nope. It’s always been the other way around. God is incessantly challenging and stretching my notions of His character to match a goodness worthy of unending praise. This means knocking down stingy walls in my heart to make room for His abundant love. The hammer pounds on my modest doctrines and theologies as God announces, I’m better, Son. I’m better, Son. I’m better, Son.
Because God is better, son. You will see this in time. I will do my best to represent Him well, but when I fail you need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what circumstances suggest, no matter what rumors you’ve heard, no matter what you’ve come to believe,