Consider the turning of the tables, the healings and picking grain on the Sabbath, or the scathing things he says in Matthew 23, to name just a few. In these and other instances, did Jesus set out to be offensive? It is highly unlikely that these numerous accounts were accidental. To suggest he didn’t intend to offend at times would be to argue for Jesus having a low-level social-emotional intelligence. On the contrary, he seemed very calculated in his decision-making process. Richard Rohr has said it almost seemed like he waited around all week until the Sabbath to get to work, just to provoke the powers that be.
You might say: Well, of course, he was offensive to the Pharisees. They deserved it.
Did he offend others who were not Pharisees? It appears that he offended Mary and Martha by waiting four days before visiting Lazarus after he died. He likely offended James and John when he rebuffed them about wanting the priority seating in the kingdom. Later, he tells the grumbling disciples that they must learn to be good servants to be good leaders. He tells us we must turn the other cheek, love our enemies, lay down our life, forgive countless times, and bless those who persecute us. Ugh!
It would seem that not only is Jesus willing to be offensive, but the whole Gospel is offensive. It is appalling to our egos who want to be right and special, pursue vengeance, and yearn to be self-protective, self-promoting, and self-righteous. No wonder his own people wanted to kill him.
The temptation in the Garden was to be like God. The hidden flip side of this desire is the need to deny our creatureliness – our humanity. In doing so, we have become little gods of our own little (and not-so-little) kingdoms, wreaking havoc generation after generation. The propensity to play God has led humans down a treacherous path of power and control games, dominance hierarchies, and a yearning to live autonomously.
What does the God of the universe do in such a situation? He comes into our human skin in the lowliest of statures to invite us back into right relationship: human beings created in the image of God. He embraces the humanity we want to reject. He calls us to give up our right to judge, the desire to play God, and our small ways of thinking. That is pretty offensive.
Jesus tells us the truth will set you free. However, speaking the truth, even in love, can be offensive, as we can see throughout the scriptures many times. The truth will indeed set you free, but first, it will piss you off.
In his work describing levels of spiritual growth, Rohr describes an inverse correlation between offend-ability and a healthy level of spirituality.¹ Indeed, a high level of offend-ability is one of the key hallmarks of a low-level spirituality. High offend-ability is related to a low level of empathy: the inability or unwillingness to see from another person’s perspective. Some other indicators of low-level spirituality include high reactivity, taking things personally, ascribing motives to another, all/nothing thinking, blaming, rigidity, certainty, and being preoccupied with security and safety.
By contrast, a high-level spirituality is marked by: low-level offend-ability, nothing to defend or prove to others, the ability not to take oneself so seriously, compassion for others, empathy, and the ability to embrace ambiguity, nuance, and paradox. Though he was accused of just about everything under the sun, there are no recorded instances of Jesus acting offended.
As stated in a previous post, we all carry landmines in our souls that can be set off when someone steps on them, either inadvertently or on purpose. Without even thinking, we often jump to blame the one who stepped on the landmine, causing an explosion in our souls. Unfortunately, the landmines are the responsibility of the one carrying them around, not the one who stepped on a tripwire causing the explosion.
A highly offended person (HOP) is riddled with landmines and has a propensity to blame other people for them. The HOP creates an atmosphere of fragile eggshells for all who dare to come close. Does this mean we have a right to offend others and be unkind? Certainly not. While Jesus was willing to offend, he was not unkind, nor did he break the golden rule.
People have a right to be offended and will often be offended. That reality did not stop Jesus from acting and speaking in ways that would offend people in the process of showing us the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To speak the truth in love, knowing that it will offend some, is the way of Christ.
In 2018, Saturday Night Live did a skit mocking the war wound of Dan Crenshaw, which caused him to lose sight in one eye. When asked about the skit, he responded with his motto: Try hard not to offend. Try harder not to be offended. He later was featured in a skit on SNL with the comedian, who sincerely apologized and allowed Crenshaw to return some jesting.² Ultimately, it was a lesson on forgiveness, bridging the gap between left and right, and being willing to laugh at oneself.
To let the fear of offending someone be our guiding principle is to participate in and promote a low-level spirituality. To live into and encourage a high-level spirituality, we need to practice being less concerned about whether what we say will offend someone, but rather, whether we are speaking the truth in love.
¹ Taken from a talk by Richard Rohr for Spiritual Directors called Where You Are Is Where I Will Meet You.
Catherine “Katie” Skurja is the founder and director of Imago Dei Ministries. Deeply rooted in and dedicated to Trinitarian principles, the ministry’s purpose is to help people everywhere engage in a Christ-centered healing process that transforms relationships with God, self, and others. Her greatest passion is to accompany people in the journey of discovering who they are in their Imago Dei (image of God). With training as a counselor, spiritual director, and in the work of inner healing prayer, Katie combines the three disciplines to help guide people through the layers of false self and shame in order to bring about the integration of the whole person.
Katie and Jim have been married for 33 years and have two grown sons as well as a few “adopted” daughters with whom they share life. She loves to garden, hike, walk on the beach, cook, and read.