I’m one of those people who eats to live rather than lives to eat: most of the time, I just want to be fed. When we go out to eat with friends, the evening is about the company for me, not the food we eat. Sitting in a restaurant, I can be entranced by the sounds of sizzling meats, whiffs of exotic sauces, dazzled by the colors arranged on the plate, but if any of the above are not connected to foods in my wheelhouse, I pass.
I think of my tastes this way: if I embraced new foods, I might like them. And if that happened, I might have to enlarge my expectations for a meal. And with larger expectations come more hassles, like devoting more energy to selecting an “interesting” restaurant, spend more money on a greater variety of foods, etc. Sure, the “payoff” might be larger but the extent to which I would have to go in order to reach it might be more of a pain in the ass than knowing what I want and ordering it. When it comes to food, I like my world contained and predictable. Perhaps I just don’t care enough to exert the effort.
Turns out, I am not the only person with this type of mentality—and it’s not limited to food.
The Gospel of Matthew, which serves as the bridge between the Old Testament and the New, focuses on the life of Jesus (with most attention afforded his religious work and ultimate death). As most people know, Jesus was sold out to those who felt threatened by what his work meant to their power. If these people had accepted who Jesus claimed to be—which his miracles seemed to support—they would have to change a whole lot, and it seems they weren’t having that.
Even if you don’t believe in the miracles this book depicts him performing—turning a few loaves of bread and a couple fish into enough food to feed five thousand and then later four thousand, walking on water, curing the afflicted of their blindness, diseases, etc.—there is still much here that paints a very respectable picture of Jesus. It’s pretty clear why he was such a threat to those in power. It also hints at the change he would bring.
People flocked to Jesus as if he were an ancient rock star. These people were moved greatly by what they heard from this man and the deeds they witnessed him perform. His reputation had preceded him wherever he went. This also meant that they were more inclined to start listening to him and less to those in power.
So what did people learn from Jesus? Where Jesus traveled, he brought love and often healing. He advocated turning the other cheek (5:39), praying for those who persecute you (5:44), and not bragging about being charitable (6:2). He also suggested that a person cut off the body parts that cause him or her to sin (5:30)—you know, like a hand that tempts you to steal, etc. (One wonders how you should treat thoughts of infidelity.)
He also took action, and perhaps this was the change the presiding priests were threatened by most: he cleaned the religious house. Surprisingly (based on my notions of Jesus), he wasn’t satisfied with doing so nicely: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (10:34)—though this may have been a metaphor.
Then again, those in power may have feared some of his choice quotes, words designed to change the way people lived their lives:
“Man does not live on bread alone,” which was said to the devil, who had lead Jesus into the desert. He’s referring to needing God in his life, not just sustenance (4:4)
“Do to others as you would have them do to you,” which is self explanatory (7:12).
Taken together, it’s easy to see why he was such a threat to people, for if they embraced what he had to say, they would have to expand their world views and also—perhaps—do a better job following the word of God. These people didn’t seem to want to work that hard. They didn’t even want to work that hard to discredit the man.
When challenged on his authority, Jesus took several different people to task for trying to trick him, namely about his supposed lapses in following Old Testament laws (to which Jesus points out contradictions) (15:4-6) and other officials who question him (21:23). Clearly, he was not willing to toe the line, which also makes him an interesting rebel figure.
I don’t look at my own rigid mentality as all that limiting. I do, however, recognize how in a different context, this approach to things is a bad thing. Unfortunately for Jesus—and perhaps the world—other people couldn’t—or simply wouldn’t embrace change, even when it was the right thing to do.