Shapeshifting Hippie Jesus

A popular progressive blogger recently said that Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” in connection with his yoke being easy and his burden light (Matt 11:28).

So if Jesus’ teaching seems too heavy and hard for folks (Lk 9:23), does this mean that they merely need to reinterpret Jesus or soften his commands in order to ease their discomfort? I sure hope not.

I prefer Bonhoeffer’s sentiment that those who accept Christ’s commands are the ones who find his yoke easy and the burden light, but to those who resist them (him) his yoke is hard and the burden too heavy for anyone to carry. Just ask the rich man, or those listening to the Sermon on the Mount for the first time.

Jesus didn’t say, “accept yourself and take up your sword and follow me.”

Which translates this way today: I’m fine the way I am and I’ll fight (by whatever means necessary) anyone who says otherwise.

This seems to be particularly reflective of our narcissistic, morally relativistic American society still experiencing the destructive political and social consequences of the 1960’s. We can easily see the error of the tactics used by the Religious Right in the 1980’s to promote a power-over, politicized Jesus, but it was the social “hippie” revolution that completely emasculated Christ and transformed him into an anything-goes “love” guru.

If you follow my writings, you know that I’m not down with the cage-fighting Jesus. I’m an Anabaptist. I believe that Christ is love (agape) and peace as revealed on the cross, but these truths are understood in their purest form after letting Jesus define them for us in word and deed, even in the hard stuff.

It doesn’t happen, and will never happen, by shaping Jesus to fit a new cultural trend, what is politically correct, or what the current zeitgeist (spirit of the age) would have us believe about ourselves, the Messiah, and the sacred Scriptures.

Anyone who reads the Gospels will hear Jesus teaching a radical repentance to come into the Kingdom (Matt 3:8; Mk 1:15; Lk 5:32; 13:1, etc.), but our shape-shifting of Jesus to accommodate our cultural presuppositions about ourselves and our world appears to be keeping us from actually repenting of anything.

Jesus didn’t lay heavy teachings on people? No, quite the opposite. But this is where we are today: well-intentioned folks fed up with fundamentalism not realizing how dangerously close they are to reshaping Jesus to further their own interests and agendas—another version of fundamentalism, the libertine sort.

As Jesus said, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” to those who lived by the law. I’d say it equally applies to those who use fancy-free language that make folks feel better about their sin in order to promote an easy believism, or a moral therapeutic deism. They both stink to high heaven!

To be clear, I don’t think the one who said Jesus “doesn’t lay heavy teachings on people” really believes that the love of Christ is an “anything-goes” sort of thing, but this misleading rhetoric inevitably sets a person on a trajectory of disaster. It’s not the pathway of repentance for the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Christ ought to be forming us into his image, not the other way around. That is the critical difference. It’s certainly what has made all the difference in my life.

What do you think? When you read the Gospels, is Jesus laying down some hard stuff? Do you hear Jesus extending a high invitation and high challenge to those who would join him?

D.D. Flowers, 2014.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

6 responses to “Shapeshifting Hippie Jesus

  • Elizabeth Deviney

    Jesus does lay heavy teachings on people, but when he gives you the strength to carry them, they become easy and light. We only receive that strength when we submit to him.

  • Barry

    Interesting enough as I am a small time collector of antiques, my interests of late have been toward old farm elements. Most of them are from the mid to late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. The valuable ones are the ones that have all the original wood and the original iron hardware. Many of the pieces that capture my attention are the old yokes. I find myself imagining the creatures attached to them way back when, and them working the fields or transportation. Then thinking of the people that drove them and what they were doing and what they looked like.

    Jesus’ easy yoke is found in the freedom one has in Him. The freedom is acquired through all things Him, and without Him one stays hard and burdened. There is a path one must take to reach the easy and light. First, maybe, seeing one’s sinfulness and then repenting – these are a heavy yoke before attaining the easy one He offers. Then following Him, obeying His commands, and taking up one’s cross – more heavy burdens that must be bore before the easy yoke and light burden comes from Him.

    It fits the pattern of give to receive; love your enemies; humbling ones self to become a leader; walking the extra mile for the bully soldier; the gold becoming perfect by going through fire; trouble and strife that makes one strong and resilient… God’s reverse economy, the dichotomy, or the oxymoron. To attain His light burden and easy yoke, one must first pass through the heavy burden and hard yoke.

    When truly yoked to Him in repentance, following Him, obeying His commands and taking up one’s cross, peace will come as the burden truly lightens and the yoke truly becomes light. Notice Christ in the statement knows you will be yoked, and you will have a burden. He makes it light.

    Any time one feels burdened and heavy, they may want to look at the other end of the yoke and see what replaced Jesus.

  • artbucher

    The challange is to be more like him; like God in the flesh. That’s an impossible task to attempt without learning from him side by side daily. I think we might have lots of misconceptions about what we are attaining to, but it becomes clearer and clearer as we walk with him more and more each day. Thank God!

  • David D. Flowers

    Elizabeth, Barry & Art,
    I agree with all of you. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Blessings!

  • R.C. Babione

    Solid reality of Christ, brother. Jesus said, “Eat my flesh,” and “Drink my blood.” He lost a lot of followers that day. When He asked His closest disciples if they would leave, too, they said to Him, “Where can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”

    Partaking of Him, abiding in Him, living by His life – this is His easy yoke and light burden, IMO. I also believe it’s a light burden because He allows us to move out from under it whenever we feel He gets too heavy.

    Again, solid word. Thanks for sharing, brother.

  • Sean Durity

    You are exactly right that Jesus is transforming us, not the other way around. It is always dangerous to take one saying or aspect of Jesus (like “love”) and then use that to define who He was and is. That is because we will often mis-define that trait. We need the full examination of His life and the full counsel of Scripture. Good word, David!

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