Today's discussion centered around chapters 5-7 of NT Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. Timmy B, Kenji, Eric, Ted, and myself started talking during the break, and I found myself wishing out loud that we'd been able to video that conversation and start the discussion on that note. Turns out that wasn't necessary, as the presentation soon became a conversation, first amongst ourselves, and then moving to a class-wide forum, with helpful guiding questions from Ryan.
As our time together drew to a close, a number of people reflected upon the difficulty of following Jesus, and stories of failure to live up to our ideals surfaced. I was reminded of Hans Kung's statement that the church lives between the two extremes of sectarianism and syncretism, either ignoring (or flipping off) the surrounding culture or becoming so like it that it is indistinguishable. The Judaisms of the day were not very different, and could be charted between these extremes, rather than being salt and light (BTW - never thought about Isaiah 43:6/49:6 as background for that statement before today...Tom Wright has that thought-stimulating effect). In between, we live in the tension, with the marching directive 'follow me.' That's really difficult...but worth going for.
Many christians in the bible belt (where i first encountered god) cited verses like John 14:6 and Matthew 7:13-14 in an exclusionary fashion, using them to rationalize narrow-mindedness along the lines of 'if you're not with us, you're going to hell.' The peer pressure that was exerted in certain circles was pretty cruel, and, I'd now argue, contrary to the spirit of Christ. Yet as was reiterated today, Jesus didn't hide the challenges of discipleship from those who encountered him. He challenged his hearers to a new way of life, counter to the prominent options of his day. Among those options taken by first-century Jews: armed insurgence against the occupying Romans, which turned out pretty nastily each time it was attempted.
Jesus' "follow me" is the rubric through which I now read the words "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
The road isn't easy to walk, nor will it be the most popular, but it leads to life.
Maybe this text can be preached after all...