When Jesus walked this earth two thousand years ago, it’s perhaps easy to imagine that most folk would have flocked to see and follow him. And indeed, the Gospels do relate that at certain times thousands went many miles even to remote and desolate places in their eagerness to see, hear and even touch him. There were times and places where he struggled to be alone, to pray and to rest, such were the demands from needy and troubled folk.
Was there something visibly striking about this man Jesus? Something in his manner that affected people – perhaps even unnerved them? Children certainly seemed to be attracted to him. Some public sinners risked greater scandal and abuse to reach him. For some people, encountering Jesus was truly life changing. His words and his deeds were remarkable, and the Gospels explicitly state that “he taught with authority”. Something about what he said and did resonated with his very physical presence.
And yet, not everyone was a fan. We know that the civil and religious authorities were alarmed and greatly concerned by him to the extent that they conspired to bring him down and eventually to destroy him. He directly acknowledged this by saying that his values would conflict with the values of the world, and those who lived his values, would encounter suffering and worse. He never denied the Cross that loomed in his future. He even turned and steadfastly headed for Jerusalem where he knew his life was in danger.
Truly, in his lifetime Jesus knew and experienced the warmth of friendship, the adulation of popularity, and the unceasing demands of a people desperate for healing. But he also knew opposition, mockery, deceit, slander, and even betrayal. His very disciples, those closest to him, were also clearly slow to understand his message, even to the point of quietly doubting and arguing behind his back.
Acclamation and scorn in equal measure? And yet, there is perhaps a reaction which is even worse than scorn and opposition… disinterest. The Gospels are not so explicit in this regard. We may wonder if Jesus ever met with disinterest: people who were simply not impressed by him. Did Jesus leave some people ‘cold’?
In my experience I have met individuals who appear not to have a single “spiritual bone in their body”, so to speak. For these people, any talk of eternity, of supernatural or transcendent matters, is simply nonsensical, irrelevant – even boring. I suspect if you’re reading this then you are not one of these people!
In the book of Revelation (3: 15 – 16) we read:
“… you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Pretty strong words, which the writer of Revelation attributes to God’s own Spirit. It’s almost as if God will accept followers and even enemies, but has a hard time with those who sit on the fence. In this sense, God welcomes the sincere atheist, who is after all someone who has thought deeply about spiritual matters and decided against any divine reality. God can cope with atheists! He can cope with sincere agnostics! At least they have paid a kind of compliment to Him by addressing His existence.
Given that God is not optional – He is the very ground of our being, who we come from, who sustains us, and who we are going to – perhaps the biggest insult that any person can give Him is to simply disregard Him. Mind you, God has a thick skin, and is merciful beyond all telling, so no one is cast off and He, as Jesus tells us in the Prodigal Father (Luke 15: 11 – 32), waits patiently for all His children to recognise and come to share His abundant life.
Ultimately, when we do discover the enormity of His love for us, no human being could ever remain unmoved by such love. The challenge of faith is to open ourselves to that love here and now,
in His love, always,