Joy is so central to the Christian experience that any profession of faith in its absence seems inherently flawed.
Not that a grouchy, mean spirited Christianity that sours stomachs and scratches vigorously at some unknown itch doesn’t have its attractions. Some, in their ongoing quest to appeal to themselves and raise the measure of their status through their disapproval of other persons, things and situations find a deep peace and fulfillment in the grouchiness of their faith. They say, “Faith without Grouchiness is dead!” and strive at swallowing camels and pushing them through needle eyes as if their salvation were dependent upon such a painstaking severity.
But in Christ, Christ is all that is necessary. Jesus of course seemed a very approachable man, loved by children and common people. He was loved by all but those that could love only themselves. He thought almost all religions and most religious expressions even within the context of the true faith, absurd. Ridiculous. Even dangerous. But he never lost what even the Apostle Paul sees his way clear to call, “having joy in all circumstances”.
I’ll tell you an unpopular truth on Christian faith and practice, one largely absent from seminary training, session meetings and “bible studies”: Jesus was happy. He was a happy person that his followers loved to be around, so much that they would have followed him anywhere, even unto death. Why do you think it was a great expectation to be able to be with Jesus in glory forever and ever? Because of a morbid sense of foreboding?
Hey, when Jesus wanted to lay it on somebody and straighten them out, through an excruciating moral correction or a critique of their personality development, he could do that. He could just crush somebody when he needed to because sometimes people need their false self-interpretation to be crushed. When it was time to throw down Jesus was able and willing.
But most of the time, he was patient with people and their weaknesses; he understood the difference between willful rebellion and an inability formed through bad personal choices, upbringing, ignorance or abuse.
But one thing he was loathe to bear was a judgy, angry, mean-spirited religious personality. He would grind such a person to powder – not because of what it would do to him – but because of what it intended to do to others. Its intent was always to hold within one’s heart the glory appropriate only for his father. Self glorification is at the heart of every sin but when embraced, ruins the soul and makes its bearer a punishment to all around them because the glory is found in the subjection of others to its will.
So here, Christianity is often only incidental to its presentation. What might walk like the faith and talk like the faith and look like the faith, may not in reality be any true faith at faith at all. Remember with all due clarity that the Jews that Jesus interacted with on a daily basis, who sang the songs, attended the temple, performed the sacraments of that age, were often, by Jesus’ own measure and overt proclamation, incredibly fake. There was no truth to their religion at all. They were smoke and mirrors; pure religiosity; an outward manifestation of an inward absence. When their profession of faith did not present itself through Christian love, forgiveness and a blessed hope that they did not themselves deserve, their profession of faith became a profession of faithlessness. By all of their religion they were masking and hiding the Gospel from all they encountered through their gruff, inflexible narcissism. Hiding Jesus behind their backs for the sake of a hollowed out religion of Jehovah.
And so when the time came, it was so easy for them, the professors to say, “Crucify him! Crucify him! Give us Barabbus!” And really, Barabbus is the suited savior for religious people. He is angry and violent, gothic and rude, unbending, unbroken, and laughing and crude; unable to admit fault and bent upon insurrection with a love of other people’s blood; he is everything we want and nothing we need.
But Jesus… give us Jesus, who a bent reed did not break and a smoking wick he did not snuff out.
He was a friend of sinners and the broken hearted and did not come to save the healthy.
He will have none of them.