The Troublemaker [Jesus story #8]

Ted Grimsrud—April 29, 2021

I suspect there is a very fine line between growing up to be a sociopath and growing up to be a prophet. I know of a story from about sixty years ago. There’s this little first grader, let’s call him Teddy. His teacher thinks he has done something severely wrong and confronts him. He denies everything, vociferously. You did too!, she snaps. No, I didn’t! Then the teacher pulls the trump card available to teachers in that time and place—she hits him. What’s interesting is how Teddy reacts. It makes him mad, and he never imagines that he was in the wrong. It certainly didn’t scare him to get into trouble—at least not when he was mad. This could be a sign that he would grow up to be a sociopath, or, maybe a prophet. Or maybe a little of both.

Now the story we have from Jesus’ youth is a little different. But we do see that when he was twelve already he showed a lack of fear about getting in trouble. To his parents’ chagrin and without their permission, he stays behind to visit with the teachers in the temple. Maybe one way to see this story is as part of his training in becoming a troublemaker.

Jesus as troublemaker

Several years ago, I came across the idea that, in trying to figure out what Jesus was about, we have one clear historical fact. He was killed as a troublemaker, executed by the Roman state as a rebel. So, whatever else we might want to say about Jesus, if we are to take his life seriously, we must account for that event. What did (and what does) it mean that in such a fundamental way, Jesus was a troublemaker?

Let’s note several biblical passages that seem to speak to the troublemaking theme in the broader biblical story.

The word of the Lord came to me saying, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “you shall go to all to whom I send you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you. Out of the north disaster shall break out. I will utter my judgments against my people, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. They will fight against you; but I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.” Jeremiah 1:4-8, 14-19

You, O Lord, are my refuge; you have redeemed me, faithful God. I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. I am the scorn of my adversaries, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I hear the whispering of many—terror all around!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31

The high priest arrested the apostles. During the night an angel opened the prison doors and said, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” The next day, they were arrested again. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things.” Acts 5:17-32

Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, or Elijah, or an ancient prophet arisen.” He asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” Jesus sternly stated, “I must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the leaders of our people, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Then he said, “If any of you want to be one of my followers, you must deny yourselves and take up your cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:18-25

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