Putting Jesus in a Box No one likes to be put in a box. No one wants to be “profiled.” No one appreciates being pinned down in a stereotype of looped into a generalization. Yet, for as much as we hate when this is done to us, far too often we do it to others and the consequences are serious: from this seed in our heart rises the ugly weeds of racism, bigotry, pride, and exclusion.
We should not be surprised, then, to learn that the consequences of putting Jesus in a box are disastrous!
In Mark Chapter six, Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth. Up to this point, Jesus has been riding a growing, surging wave of powerful kingdom of God ministry: he has been preaching that the Kingdom of God is near and that all should repent; he has healed a man with leprosy, a paralytic, an unclean woman and many others; he has cast demons out of many; he has calmed the storm; he has even raised a dead child to life.
But now Jesus comes to his hometown. And there he is put into a box: “’Where did this man get these things?’ they [the congregation in the synagogue] asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:2-6).
If it is an common mistake (with serious consequences) to put people in a “box” it should not surprise us that it is an all too common mistake to put Jesus in a box! Let me unpack a couple of ways people put Jesus in a box.
The Secular Box Many people put Jesus into what I will call the “secular box.” We can see hints of this box in the people of Nazareth’s interaction with Jesus. It goes something like this. “Jesus is a great guy! He is one of the greatest people who ever lived! Look at everything he did! I affirm Jesus as one of the great religious leaders!” The lack of faith that is at the root of the “secular box” is the denial that Christ is the Son of God, the Cosmic King, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. The Gospel stories of Christ say – in multiple ways – that Jesus Christ, though fully man, was also the very Son of God. They say that in Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Universe, entered human history. They say that Jesus is the very self-disclosure of the Infinite-Person of God. While there are many forms that the “secular box” takes, the essence of it is that it denies that the identity of Jesus as the Son of God in human flesh and constricts Jesus as nothing more than a great, influential, beautiful religious teacher.
The Spiritual Box Many people put Jesus into a “spiritual box.” This box also takes many forms but goes something like this. “Jesus is the Son of God. He came into this world to make me a better person, a nicer, kinder person, a “nice guy.” This version of a lack of faith can also be seen by the congregation in Nazareth. Here they are in church drawing near to the presence of God; reading their Bibles; saying their prayers; trying to live under the authority of God’s law. And here comes Jesus – the very Presence of God, the very Word of God, the Mediator between God and Man, the very Law Giver and Law Keeper. And they totally miss the point! What they should do, what they need to do – right now, without any squabbling, without any compromising or bartering - is to bow their knees and swear their allegiance to Jesus Christ; what they should do is to open up their hearts and lives and families and plans and priorities to his authority; what they should do is run to him for healing and reconciliation with God and with their neighbors; what they should do is weep before him in repentance and wash his feet with their tears; what they should do is commit to bringing the Kingdom of God into every sphere of their life. But they don’t! They miss Jesus. They put Jesus in a box and the consequences are disastrous.
The Consequences of Putting Jesus in a Box What are the consequences of putting Jesus into a box? They are many. The are disastrous! Let me list just a few! First, we miss meeting face-to-face our Creator, the one who knows us best and loves us most. Second, the beautiful, life-changing power of God’s Kingdom is not unleashed in our heart and life. Third, we miss the high drama and epic call of partnership with Jesus in extending the graceful Kingdom of God. Fourth, we don’t get the chance of dying, of losing life, “our head” (literally as John the Baptist did) because we love and are not ashamed of our Savior Jesus Christ. Finally, and most disastrously, in trying to save our own skin, in watching out for our own life, and in gaining the whole world, we are in danger of losing our immortal soul, eternal separation from our Creator God who is life itself.
“Then he [Jesus] called the crowd to him and along with his disciples and said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:34-36