Christianity's Basic Strangeness

This Sunday concludes our Synchronize series, our engagement with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It has been a meaningful study for so many of us. We have come to see that the life Jesus calls us to is not merely an improvement on the life we already have. It is instead an altogether new life, a life that can only be described as that which is found on the far side of a squeeze: “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14). What might these words of Jesus mean? To begin with, his words resonate with our intuitive and deep-seated awareness that we need to move on from where we are. As human beings, we somehow know we are not yet complete, not yet home, not yet where we need to be. Most our current cultural conversation is about this need to go forward in some way. Our politics are filled with the language of a better day, a better world, a better life. But why is Jesus telling us that the way forward is through the tight squeeze? What does he mean by this?

Maybe more importantly for us, are we willing to trust Jesus when his way seems so strange at times? How are you personally doing with his call to follow him through the squeeze? Really, how are you doing?

One of my favorite Christian thinkers, John Stackhouse, recounts overhearing an honest and unguarded conversation along this line:

I sat in a pew on a Sunday afternoon recently, awaiting the start of my son’s piano recital. Their teacher had rented a church for the occasion, and the families of her pupils – some of whom had apparently not been in a church for some time, if ever – were staring at the images all around them. As a father and daughter behind me began to remark on the pictures they saw, I was struck again by this basic principle of Christianity’s strangeness.

“Isn’t Christianity weird?” the teenage said to her father in a stage whisper. “ I mean, all these pictures of a dead guy on a cross. All this blood and suffering and stuff.”

“Yeah,” her father replied with a nervous chuckle. “It’s gross, isn’t it. I don’t get it.” (John Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics, pp. 163-164)

On one level, the gospel can be hard to understand. It makes no sense to say that humanity’s deepest hope and highest good is found in and through the pathway Jesus walked -- the path that led through suffering, and death on a Roman cross. But it does makes sense if this is the only passage through to the widest and most open country there is. And that is what Easter is.

See you this Sunday at 9:29 and 11:11.

Bob Osborne

Some thoughts for further reflection:

  1. When, or why, have you ever been confronted with the strangeness of Christianity? Have you ever been struck with the seeming absurdity of the way of Jesus?
  2. How would you describe the squeeze Jesus invites us into? What has it been like for you?
  3. When have you found that being squeezed was in fact the only way into a better life?
  4. What are you looking for? How will you know when you get there?