Living in the Contrast
And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” Exodus 3:3
I wonder if the disciples suffered with “neck-snap” injuries. You know the kind. Someone says something that catches you off guard and you jerk your head around so fast that something “snaps”. It’s painful. I remember my first neck-snap. I was in the seventh grade and the class was having a discussion on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I can’t remember what I said but I remember with great clarity what the person behind me said. I remember because those words resulted in a severe head-snap. The words that wafted from behind me were, “I want to be a teacher.” They were only a second out of the student’s mouth and a split-second past my auditory receptors when I jerked my head around so fast that, to this day, I still see those flashes of light that sometimes accompany extreme head-snaps. I did not expect to hear a peer, or anyone under the age of 40 (which seemed old at the time), actually say they wanted to go to school when they “grew up”. The thought of it shocked me…which led to the aforementioned head-snap. (Sidebar: Today, I am a teacher. God likes to have fun with His students.)
The reason I think the disciples might have suffered from neck-snaps is because there must have been many times when they experienced the unexpected; times when Jesus’ words or actions were the exact opposite of what they, unknowingly, anticipated. In fact, I bet Jesus left behind a string of people rubbing their necks wherever He went. Even before His birth Jesus was causing neck-snaps. It had to start with Mary when she was told that she’d been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah; that had to cause a head-snap. Then, too, there’s Joseph and his unexpected news concerning the expectant condition of his fiancé. You think that didn’t leave Joseph rubbing his neck? And the list of sore necks continues with the Jews, the Pharisees, the woman at the well, the blind man, Nicodemus. (Born again? Say what? Neck-snap!) And what about the thief on the cross? Even in His final earthly hours, Jesus was still doing the unexpected. He was still turning heads.
As I think about all the times Jesus spoke and acted in an unexpected manner, I realize that He always spoke and acted in an unexpected manner. Jesus defined with His very life the concept of contrast, because that’s where He lived…in stark contrast with the world around Him. When the seas were raging, Jesus slept in the boat; when Lazarus’ time was running out, Jesus’ feet were standing still; and when Jesus gave His final lesson on leadership, He did so by washing His disciples’ feet. It was an unexpected ministry, led by an unexpected Savior, that fell upon an unexpectant people. The very One who separated the light from the dark continued to be the Light in the dark; a providential contrast, a perpetual head-snap.
And then there’s us, the modern-day Christians; the modern-day expectant Christians. We blanket ourselves with our expectations. We like knowing what to expect and when to expect it, so we expect to get out of church at a certain time, we expect our pastor to “feed” us, we expect ministries to be done and the gospel to be shared (by someone else), and we expect our faith to fit into our lives rather than requiring our lives to fit into our faith. Yes, we expect a lot. But in doing so, we also expect too little because in our world of similarity we cease to see, much less be, a contrast. And if Jesus lived within the contrast, shouldn’t we do likewise? In Matthew 5:16 we are told, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” To a dark world, God calls us to be a light. In Matthew 5:39-41, we again see Jesus’ call to live in opposition to the world when He says, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” In other words, do the unexpected! Do the opposite of what others would presume…and so let your light shine in the darkness.
As uncomfortable as it may be, living in the contrast is where we are meant to be. For it is here that we stand in opposition to the world and in juxtaposition with our Lord; it is within the contrast…the unexpected… that our light scatters darkness, our confidence shatters doubt, and our faith splinters disbelief. Isn’t it in the moments of contrast that we see the unexpected most clearly? Wasn’t it the contrast between knowing what fire does to wood and seeing how flames did not consume the shrub what drew Moses to the burning bush…and led to his head-snap? And wasn’t it the contrast between Paul’s confidence and the crew’s fear in the wake of a shipwreck what led the sailors to do a double-take? And, when Daniel walked into the lion’s den, when Peter slept between the prison guards, and when Paul and Silas sang while in jail, wasn’t it their unexpected behavior that caught the eye (and jerked the necks) of those around them? Isn’t it in the moments where the unexpected infiltrates the expected that we see faith most clearly? Yes, this is where we are called to stand for this is where our Lord first stood: in the contrast, in the disparity, in the unexpected; that we may turn heads, and necks, and hearts.
Do you remember your first spiritual head-snap? Can you recall the time when God first made your head spin…and your neck pop? Have you recently seen someone…or been someone…whose behavior shone in stark contrast with his present circumstances? Have you had a burning bush experience in which the unnatural transcended the natural and you just had to take a closer look? What did you see…peace in the midst of disorder, hope in the face of despair, faith in the presence of disbelief? We have been saved by a contrasting Savior (He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf; 2 Cor. 5:21), sanctified by a contrasting Spirit (“Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7), and secured by a contrasting Father (He who created us also bought us; I Cor. 6:20). Isn’t it time we did what we were created to do? Isn’t it time we caused those around us to rub their necks and to look back at us…only to see our Father? It’s time to live in the contrast…to do the unexpected, which, of course, you expected me to say…right?