Rethinking Jesus: Jesus was probably bullied

by Kyle
published March 7, 2015


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There’s a funny little chapter in Isaiah. Sometimes I’ll read it to people when I do street evangelism without telling them where it is. It says things like, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that fell upon him was for our well-being.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Then I’ll ask them, “Who is this passage talking about? Where is it in the Bible?” Nine times out of ten, people of all backgrounds — agnostic, Jew, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, etc. — will say the passage is about Jesus, and is found in the New Testament. While it’s about Jesus, it was written over 700 years before Jesus was born.

That same passage describes Jesus this way: “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and familiar with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him.” (Isaiah 53:3)

It’s easy to think this is talking about the few days leading up to Jesus’ death, but I don’t think that’s the case. According to Isaiah, Jesus had more than just one experience with suffering. Sorrow and grief characterized his life. Most of the people in Jesus’ life mistreated him.

At least when he began his public ministry, Jesus’ own family didn’t believe in him. As he really began to get some attention, his family tried to explain away his behavior by saying he had gone crazy. (Mark 3:21)

Just a few chapters later in Mark, when Jesus returned to Nazareth and taught in the synagogue, the people who grew up with Jesus were amazed at his teaching, but said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3) In a culture that identified men by their fathers, this is a sharp statement about the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth. How likely is it, really, that the people of Nazareth believed Mary’s story about the virgin birth? It makes me think that, at best, Jesus was shunned his whole childhood as a bastard. More likely, he was actively bullied for it.

Apparently, this reputation preceded him. While Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, the religious leaders argued with him about their heritage through Abraham and sniped at Jesus, saying, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” (John 8:41) The implication was, “We were not born of fornication ... like you were!”

Notice, though, how Jesus did not let the way people treated him become the main point of his life, or even the framework by which he treated other people. Jesus was not bitter, mean or depressed because of his circumstances. Instead, he was joyful, merciful and gracious.

Jesus’ own suffering informed the way he treated other people. Earlier in John 8, it was Jesus’ lifetime of sorrow that helped him identify with the woman caught in adultery. It was Jesus’ own ostracism that let him show compassion on the countless lepers he healed who lived on the edge of society. The woman at the well in John 4 was important to Jesus because he knew how she was treated for having five failed marriages, and he knew why she was at the well in the afternoon instead of in the morning like most women in that culture. It was his familiarity with sorrow that explains why “like a lamb that is led to slaughter ... He did not open his mouth” to complain. (Isaiah 53:7) “A bruised reed he would not break and a dimly burning wick he would not extinguish” (Isaiah 42:3) because of the compassion only someone who suffers can have.

A friend of mine passed away last week. She was the perfect example of this. The youngest of eleven children, Debbie was born with cerebral palsy. She trusted in Jesus early in life and, instead of allowing her disability or low socioeconomic status shape her into someone who was bitter, lazy and self-centered; her “disability” made her work harder and love deeper. If anyone was “familiar with sorrow,” Debbie was. But she made the choice somewhere along the way to allow her struggles to form her into a compassionate servant instead of an angry miser, and she made everyone in her life better for it.

Now the question is laid at our feet. How will we choose to respond to the difficulties in our life. We can’t really do anything about them except to choose our response. Will you allow the inevitable junk of your life to warp your heart and harden it against everyone else and their inevitable junk? Or will you choose like Debbie and follow Christ, allowing our own difficulties to soften us and inform our compassion for others?

What do you think?

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