I find it fascinating that Jesus rejected the very things that so many of us ascribe to him—and that includes what the Church has ascribed to him. In the Temptation stories provided by the scripture it seems clear to me that Jesus rejected miracle as the basis for his ministry. When the tempter approached him in the wilderness and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,” Jesus rejected the notion. Yet that is precisely what so many of us want Jesus to do. We want miracles. We want Jesus to prove himself by doing miracles, just as the people of his own time wanted him to prove himself in that way . Faith for many is about Jesus turning “stones into bread,” turning catastrophe into triumph, turning disease into wellness, etc.
Jesus, so it seems to me, also rejected the notion of “mystery” during those long days of sorting things out in the wilderness. The tempter suggested that Jesus climb to the top of the parapet of the temple and throw himself down. Don’t worry, the tempter said, if you are really God’s Son the angels will be there to catch you. After all, if God is for you those angels won’t let you “strike your foot against a stone.” Yet many of us believe that in having Jesus on our side, we will be protected from all harm. After all, if you belong to God, nothing bad can happen to you—even if you do something silly like jump from the parapet of the temple. Rabbi Harold Kushner tried to help us get over this hangup when he wrote his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. But we persist, wanting mystery, wanting some kind of special blessing, thinking we are protected, wanting angels to be there to catch us, so that bad things can never happen to us. We have forgotten that Jesus rejected this notion.
It also seems clear to me that Jesus rejected authority as a part of his ministry (the Bible, the Church). He refused to bow down to any authority even when all the kingdoms of the world were offered to him if he would do so. He refused to exercise authority as a way of making himself known. Yet, we have laid that “authority” on him even while he rejected it.
Verna J. Dozier in her little book, The Dream of God, quotes the Grand Inquisitor, in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, saying, the church “corrected Jesus’ mistake and founded the church on these same three temptations—miracle, mystery, and authority,” by choosing the comfort of “declaring the Bible the Word of God instead of taking seriously what the Bible says—that Jesus himself is the Word of God.” God became incarnate not as a book, Dozier writes, but as a person. I might add, God became incarnate not as the church, but as a person. Jesus did not come to “turn stones into bread,” or to mysteriously protect us, or to “lord it over us.” Jesus did not call us to worship him. He called us to follow him. There is a vast difference between these two notions.