I took a half-day away this morning, hoping to read through the four gospels. I was able to read three — Matthew, Mark, and John.
For the past several years, Jesus has fascinated me. This fascination is increasing exponentially as I get older. His absolute boldness is awe-inspiring, and His undefeatable wisdom is mind-blowing. Time and again He was challenged by groups of elite, scheming, highly-motivated religious leaders, and time and again He sent them away with their tails between their legs. And He did it by speaking truth, every time.
But perhaps more striking is His comprehensive ministry. He was simultaneously a world-class thinker, impenetrable debater, and masterful teacher as well as a helper of the poor, healer of the sick, companion of the lowly, and personal discipler of twelve intimate companions.
I told Cindi a few days ago that reading the gospels always creates an intense tension for me, especially as I think about our future. On the one hand, I admire and desire a biblically-saturated life of the mind — spiritual scholarship. On the other hand, I cannot escape the longing and responsibility to associate with the lowly, to help the outcasts and the needy, and to relieve the burden of those most desperate. I do neither well, but want to do both like Jesus.
And Jesus never alleviates this tension for me. I don’t walk away from the gospels thinking, “Jesus sure was one-dimensional; He was just a real scholar,” or “Jesus was all about one thing: meeting immediate physical needs.” Instead He pulls on both ends of the tension, calling (by His example) for rigorous thinking about the truth and relentless ministry to the needy.
This doesn’t mean that I have to spend the exact same amount of time studying as helping homeless people (or vice versa). “Balance” doesn’t mean doing both things with a tangible, strict proportionality. But it does mean having a heart for both and a practical expression of both in my life. It also means seeing how they complement and reinforce each other instead of viewing them as competitors. And it certainly means never using my responsibility to one as an excuse to avoid the other.
Jesus engaged in high-level theological debates and spoke simple words of healing. He gave lashing rebukes to religious hypocrites and comforting words to mourning parents. He spent entire nights in solitary prayer and entire days with a tag-along Galilean hospital (including psych ward). He flipped tables in the temple courtyard and played with random Hebrew kids. He taught truth and He washed feet. He thundered with the very words of God and died silently on a cross.
After I got home today, I tried to be like Him. And it was very hard. I didn’t do too well. But tonight I’m thinking that I can’t give up trying. What I saw today in the gospels is too beautiful to go unreflected. Perhaps it’s a bit like traveling to an incredible national park and trying to take pictures that will show your friends back home what it was really like. You know that the pictures won’t do it justice because they’re limited and incomplete and blurry and tainted. But you have to try. It’s too beautiful not to try.