Summary: A look at who "got it" when Jesus came and who did not. What you would expect is not what happened.
Think about it for a moment. If you knew nothing about all the stories of the Bible, especially the New Testament stories about Jesus, who would you expect to be the most enthusiastic and welcoming to the idea of God visiting planet earth? Who would be those most eager, expectant and longing for God to visit his people? Would it not be those who were the religious leaders? Wouldn’t it be those steeped in the Scriptures, which they memorized, and the great traditions of the faith they claimed to follow? Shouldn’t it have been those who claimed to love God and were most familiar with the prophets who foretold what God would do in sending his Messiah?
Conversely, who would you least expect to welcome God’s arrival in the person of his Son? I would think that notorious rebels and sinners would head the list. I would certainly think that truly evil people filled with demons would have done all they could to oppose, attack and seek to destroy him.
If you thought about it, before you actually read what happened, you would probably expect that those who knew Scripture best and claimed to love and follow God most closely would be exuberant about the idea of God’s Messiah finally arriving, and those who appeared to be in rebellion against God would be hostile to his arrival. But you would be wrong. As I keep reading the Gospel stories about what really happened, I keep being shocked by the role reversals I read about there. In point of fact, it is sinners who seem to welcome Jesus most, while the religious leaders are not just un-welcoming and unbelieving, but actually oppose him and even plot his death. How can this be?
I’m always surprised by who “got it” in the stories of Jesus’ life and teaching and who didn’t “get it.” From the start we are confused about some foreign astrologers who arrive from distant lands and different religions, but who seem to be aware of what God is doing in the world by sending his King into it, while those in Jerusalem, who should know, are clueless. These foreigners travel a long distance to bring gifts. They actually come and worship. How is it that they are better at reading stars than the priests are at reading Scripture? And then there are shepherds, pretty much the nobodies of the culture, but angels come and announce the arrival of the Messiah, and they come to worship as well. I’ve always wondered why the angels did not announce the arrival of the Messiah to the High Priest, or the religious hierarchy of the day. Is it possible it would not have done any good? No one from the religious establishment ever visits Bethlehem. They do not even notice Jesus until his parents bring him to the Temple at age twelve, and even though they are impressed with his understanding, they seem to ignore him until he inaugurates his public ministry. Then the trouble begins.
It concerns me greatly since I am a religious leader. This calls for humility, introspection and honesty. As a religious leader who has felt the sting of sin and hypocrisy in my own life, it calls for diligence and self awareness. Sometimes being involved in the role of the church can get in the way of one’s relationship with God. Religion can become a substitute, or even the enemy of God. You make assumptions about yourself that are not true. And I have known enough bishops, theologians and religious scholars who have been enemies of the Gospel of Christ to make me very wary. It makes you wonder if Christ tried to come again today, as he did two thousand years ago, where the church would actually stand? I suspect it may not be too different, because God never comes the way we expect. He doesn’t look like we want him to look, say what we think he should say, or do what we want him to do.
So as we read the Gospel accounts we constantly read about the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus and turn him over to the political authorities. They try to discredit him, they plot against him. The Bible says, “Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him” (Luke 19:47). On the other hand, the Bible says the sinners “listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37), and “hung on his words” (Luke 19:48). Role reversal. I would have expected that it would be sinners who would hate him. Weren’t they living in rebellion against God? Wasn’t it they who hated rules and people telling them what to do, even if it was God? But they were shocked that God’s Messiah was not like what they expected. He was not judgmental and condemning like the religious leaders. He talked of God’s love and forgiveness and reconciliation. Prostitutes gave up their old profession to become Jesus’ disciples, finding wholeness, self-respect and new life. It was not the Scribes, but a sinful Samaritan woman who believed he was the Messiah. The Samaritans believed in him and asked him to stay with them, while the people in his hometown of Nazareth did not believe and tried to kill him by throwing him off a cliff. Sinners hung on his words, wanted to be near him and washed his feet with their tears (Luke 7:38). Tax collectors willingly became honest in their dealings.