Whenever I would read through the gospels, I would always get a different picture of Jesus than the one I got at church or the one I got discussing him with others. In that picture, Jesus is kind, patient, loving, accepting...and He is all of these things. But when I read about Him, I can't help but feel like He's a little tricky or unclear- always answering questions with questions or some story that I would try to decipher. I just wanted to yell, "Why can't you just give it to me straight?" I knew that I loved Jesus because of who He is and what He did; I just wasn't sure that if I had met him in person that I'd like him very much.
Let me give you an example. Jesus is at a well and asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. Samaritans are considered "unclean" by the Jews, so I could understand that Jesus is crossing great cultural boundaries here. I think that if I were that woman, I would have been equally suprised that He was speaking to me, and I'd like to think that I'd give Him the water He asked for. But upon his next comment, "If you knew who I am, you'd ask me for living water," I'd be perplexed. My thoughts would probably be:
a) Is he trying to sell me some sort of fancy water-filter machine? or
b) Is that some sort of vague pick-up line?
McLaren asks in his book:
"What could possibly be the benefit of Jesus' hiddenness, intrigue, lack of clarity, metaphor, and answering questions with questions? Why risk being misunderstood- or not understood at all? If the message is so important, why hide it in evocative rather than techincal language?
How would you answer those questions? And how do your answers relate to you experience right at this moment, as a person reading this book? And how do they relate to me as I write these words? Am I trying to be clear? Direct? Or hidden? Or a mixture? What difference does it make?"
I'm not sure what the answers to all of these questions are, but I do know that if Jesus' message was given to me directly and simply that my human nature would want to turn it into a step-by-step formula. I would do these certain things to get these certain results and never ponder the mysteriousness or the captivating nature of Jesus.
On one hand, Jesus does give it to us simply. Love. That is the heart of his message, both hidden and explicit. On the other hand, he gives it to us in stories and metaphors, in poetry and parables, to give us the freedom to creatively love one another. There's no one single way to love every person, so He gives us examples and brains and hearts to try to do it uniquely and specially.
Jesus can be tricky to understand, and never receiving a straight answer can be frustrating. But He creatively answers our questions to keep us engaged and enamored. He met the Samaritan woman where she was living, in terms she could understand. By the end of their conversation, she understood that He was the Messiah and scurried away to tell others. The one thing He consistantly makes clear is that He loves people, all people, and He'll help us understand the rest in time.