A couple of weeks back, I met a young Leo Tolstoy. In Saskatchewan. This surprised me. Not because he had no beard, or that he was still alive. What surprised me was that he was a thoughtful, Canadian Millennial, who, like the great Russian thinker, rejected any Christian understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God – yet at the same time thought Jesus was brilliant.
As one who claims to be a disciple of Jesus, why should I be surprised that someone finds my master brilliant? Shouldn’t I stand up and cheer rather than gape open-mouthed?
I don’t think my surprise was due to the inconsistency I see in his position. I suspect my surprise was a result of my being encultured to accept that “foolishness to the Gentiles” is all there is about Jesus.
In our second plenary session, Darrell Johnson asserted that if the church had heard and lived Jesus’ Sermon in Matthew 5–7, the world would not be where it is today. Jesus, after all, is the best and smartest human being who has ever lived. And if we listened, the world would be better. Tolstoy – both the original and my young friend – understood that.
Of course, Tolstoy misses much that is crucial: the deep problem of sin and death, the importance of encounter with the vindicated, risen Lord, the transforming presence of the Spirit, and so on.
But perhaps I miss the brilliance of “the light of the world” who gifts us the match to light the world of human relationships on fire. And perhaps my shame wrongly causes me to stuff Jesus “under a bushel,” even as I claim I’m trying to make disciples of this same Jesus.
I resolve never to be surprised that someone loves the words of Jesus. Rather, I will come alongside my sister or brother in hearing and doing the words of my master.
—Rod Schellenberg is lead pastor of Hepburn (Sask.)MB Church and a member of SKMB provincial Developmental Leadership Team.