“If anything, Jesus challenges those who are uncommitted and certain while welcoming the committed and uncertain.”
– Ed Cyzewski, Unfollowers
We often look at the heroes of the Bible to increase our faith. But can we also learn from those who didn’t have much faith? Maybe doubt was as much the norm in the gospels as faith?
That’s what Ed Cyzewski addresses in his new book, Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus with Derek Cooper.
Ed takes us through a broad list of characters in the New Testament who had questions about who Jesus was, including: John the Baptist, Judas Iscariot, Herod, Pilate, the Emmaus disciples.
Then he gently shows what we might learn from them.
Does Jesus even fit our own expectations of the proper Messiah?
Here is Ed’s ideal Jesus:
“He’d shop at thrift stores and serve up fair trade, organic coffee—certainly light roast. My kind of messiah would write on a regular basis, enjoy gardening, and squeeze in service to others when possible. I suppose watching hockey would be optional. I’d also keep the part about turning water into wine. In short, my description of a messiah is basically an awesome version of me who bears minimal resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels.”
Substituting Jesus as an SEC football fan instead of hockey (Ed loves hockey; crazy, huh?), his point is valid:
“To one degree or another, we all imagine that Jesus looks just like us and wants the same things as us.”
And therein lies a problem, similar to the ones those in Jesus’s time also had.
Here are a few examples from Ed about what others expected of Jesus. See which ones you relate to . . .
- John the Baptist: A Messiah No One Expected
“The life of John reminds us that Jesus can surprise even the most prepared person. Once we begin to attach expectations and assumptions to Jesus, we may place ourselves in a position to miss him.”
“Sometimes God has to realign our expectations according to his plans before he can use us in ways that bring blessings to others, as well as ourselves.”
- The Townspeople of Nazareth: A Messiah Who is Extraordinary
“But Jesus wasn’t just asking his family and hometown friends to accept his own changes in religious beliefs. Jesus asked his hometown to change their perceptions about God, salvation, and who God wants to save.”
“I wonder how we would answer this question today: Where is God? Is God in a church building? On a mission trip? At a Christian music concert? At a Christian ministry conference? At a Christian book signing? A glance at the ministry of Jesus tells us where to find God: among the poor, prisoners, sick, grieving, and Gentiles.”
- The Pharisees: A Messiah Who Keeps the Right Company
“The mark of a committed follower of Jesus may be a willingness to share the love of God among the wrong people rather than practicing the right theology among the holy. If I’m not willing to risk my reputation to let a “notorious sinner” know about God’s love, then I may need some healing too.”
- The Galileans: A Messiah Who Makes Sense
“Jesus far preferred someone with doubts and reservations yet who was willing to think hard and ask difficult questions over those who just wanted to enjoy the perks of being associated with a messiah.”
- The Rich Young Ruler: A Messiah Who Makes Life Easy
“We don’t have to purge our garages and basements immediately to faithfully follow Jesus. Why not start with a simple question, ‘What is keeping me from following Jesus?’ Is something keeping you from serving the poor in your neighborhood? Are there constraints on your time or space that keep you from prayer?”
- Caiaphas: A Messiah Who Leaves Us in Charge
“I can see that I have sometimes been consumed by the smaller details of Christianity and ignored the more important matters of love, mercy, and justice. Everything began to change when I started visiting prison inmates and serving meals at our local community center. I don’t know how I could have missed the call of Jesus to selflessness and service to others. He spent his entire ministry healing, feeding, and teaching, but I had reduced him to merely a teacher who wanted to change what I thought and believed.”
So once again Ed has challenged me to keep the bigger picture in mind. He says that the point of the story is, “that we get to live and participate in it. We aren’t just students of Jesus who learn. We’re expected to experience Jesus and to let him shape our lives through the experience of him.”
Doubts and all.
* * *
I heartily recommend other books I’ve read by Ed that have helped me in real ways (while also making me laugh out loud—you don’t always get that in spiritual books!).
- on everyday creativity, Creating Space
- on following Jesus, Hazardous
- on Christian unity, Divided We Unite
If you like challenges to think then act deeper on your faith, also follow Ed’s blog, in a mirror dimly.
- I got hugged by Papa
- Memorizing Isaiah 55:11