Published on September 1st, 2019 | by Candace Simpson
Three Weird Things Jesus Said, But Okay
Jesus was a revolutionary, a teacher, an organizer, a faithful leader, a comrade, a healer, a mystic. He also was intentionally mysterious when he taught and spoke. His words often held double meaning and were coded for the protection of the Movement. These words frequently are not as clear to those of us who live 2,000 years later.
For people of faith, a muscle we ought to exercise more frequently is the muscle for curiosity. As a religious educator, I have learned that many have been taught, either implicitly or explicitly, about the infallible nature of the Bible. People can argue about what that means (I won’t, today), but at its core, this Holy Text is still a Text. And we don’t often engage these Texts with reading strategies that would aid our comprehension.
Why did this person say this, why was it recorded this way, what might it have done to the people who first heard it, do we buy it, how can it be useful, what other stories does this remind me of, what life experiences do I have that make this story fuller? Asking these questions can strengthen our faith walk. If all we do with the Bible is robotically rehearse the three points the pastor made about the text on Sunday in a sermon, we have not gone deep enough.
In that spirit, here are three times that I really did not understand what Jesus was saying. I offer this, hoping that other people who are struggling with the concept of “The Bible” feel empowered to do their own study.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
I suppose that following Christ incurs a lot of familial distress. Following revolutionaries historically comes with a host of consequences. Anyone who puts the People above Empire will be punished. For more on this, we can turn to the stories of Angela Davis, Josh Williams, Ramsey Orta, and Assata Shakur. These people, and so many others, have been made into “examples” so that The Masses are frightened into inaction and surrendering. This is how The Powers work.
Fighting the Power Monster will never leave us unscathed. We will come out with bruises and scars and debt and PTSD. But really, Jesus? You came to set a man against his father? That was intentionally on your to-do list? And if anyone else said that they were coming to sow discord in families and communities, would we buy it? Do we need to leave our families in order to follow Jesus? Sometimes people do.
Still, wow. Jesus, that escalated quickly.
“He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.”
When I didn’t have bills to pay, this was a great scripture to memorize and recite before my Statistics exams. But when my exegesis and preaching professors in seminary assigned it as the text that we’d study and journey with for a semester, it lost its novelty. What do you mean, do not worry about what you will eat or drink? The student accounts office still hasn’t processed my student loan refund check, so yes, Christ, I am worrying about what I’ll eat or drink. There are good reasons to worry. Worrying is a human response. And anyone who says “faith and fear cannot coexist” has not been honest with themselves. It is possible to be profoundly certain that you’ll be alright somehow and absolutely scared to step out on faith at the same time. That’s called “vulnerability.”
The Baptist preacher in me knows that this scripture goes very well with “His Eye is On the Sparrow.” But when all of Creation is in jeopardy due to corporate greed and human negligence, how can one trust that God looks for the lilies of the field, the penguins, the sharks, the trees, the bees, the coral? What happens when even Nature groans for mercy?
Side note: “For the Body is more than clothing” is now my new phrase when someone notices I’m repeating outfits. Mind your business, unless you’re taking me on a shopping spree.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
I met this scripture at a WomanPreach program a few years ago. In the company of other justice-loving comrades, we kept asking questions of this passage. It was the work of WomanPreach that gave me permission to ask my questions of the scripture out loud. I always had questions myself, but I’d felt silly asking them in real life. Among my questions:
- For this to be a parable (a made up story to illustrate a more spiritual meaning), could it have ended with everyone making it in the door?
- Why couldn’t they share oil so everyone could get in? How much oil did each person really need to gain access? Whatever happened to “one band, one sound?” Isn’t everybody responsible for each other, isn’t that what Drumline taught us?
- The kingdom of heaven is really going to be like an exclusive VIP lounge where you can’t wear flat shoes to enter, lest the bouncer say “I don’t know y’all?” Is that a place we want to be?
- How is this story of “you cannot enter” told by the same Jesus who tells a series of three “I was lost but now I’m back in the fold and for this we REJOICE” parables?
If I’m being honest, much of the Bible confuses me. When read literally or without the assistance of contextual support (like dictionaries, maps, or historical documents), you can get stuck. What I gained from seminary (in addition to a good bit of debt) was the permission to ask questions. I was freed from “having the answers” and instead challenged to “sit with the questions and reflect on what those questions say about/to me.”
If you are a seminary student heading to school this fall, trust that God can handle your questions. If you are a congregant looking forward to Bible Study picking up again in September after Pastor’s month off, trust that God can handle your questions. If you are curious about this faith and feel like you want to go deeper, trust that God can handle your questions. People have asked questions of God and the Faith since its beginning(s). God has not died due to our curiosity. Your questions, your screw-faces, your concerns do not make you less faithful. In fact, these wonders initiate you into the Faith. Seek. Question. Argue. Discern. Do so by yourself, with a friend, in a class, in community. This is how we grow.
These are words from Jesus.
“And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand…”
In other words, this faith is a riddle without an answer. The joy is in the question.
Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a
Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that
philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.
 This happened to me once. I hate wearing heels when I’m galavanting about the city. I’m trying to be reasonable and I care about my back health. We tried to get into this rooftop situation and the bouncer said “ladies need to wear heels, it’s the vibe we’re setting in the club.” Never again. This is why I don’t go to straight people’s parties anymore, because at least at the