Why did Jesus use harsh language?

direct jesus

At times, the faith requires us to use tough words to people. Why? Because implementing the faith is like small intervention moments with human sinners.

If you’ve watched the show Intervention on A&E, you know that the job the interventionist, or therapist is to first deliver the patient the bad news of their sickness or addiction. The problem becomes desperate when the patient does not know they are sick or wants to avoid the topic of their sickness altogether. After all, the solution to get help is meaningless unless the patient realizes they have a problem and wants to fix it.

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I recall seeing this idea played out one day when I was watching the Dr. Phil show. On this show, there was a sort of intervention set up with a woman who suffered from bulimia. The bulimic woman was physically frail. It was evident by her appearance she had a severe problem. The sad part is that she did not think she had a problem. In fact, she physically turned away, wanted to change the subject, and insisted she knew her body better than Dr. Phil. Clearly, she had an “I want to avoid the topic,” “I know better than you” disposition because she didn’t want to hear the truth and let go of her troubling addiction.

As a good interventionist, Dr. Phil saw right through this. His method became more direct to her because he had to snap the woman out of her damaging delusion. He had her stand in front of a mirror and asked her a serious of questions about her lifestyle. She had to answer these questions while looking at herself in the mirror. So, in order to help this woman, Dr. Phil had to make her uncomfortable. By mentally shocking her out of her comfort zone, he was simultaneously helping her recover from her addiction to save her life. Now, the addict naturally hated this method, but the process of short-term pain – long term gain is more beneficial to her than the rather cheap idea of “Let’s avoid the topic because I don’t want my feelings hurt.”

addict

Now, we will apply the above scenario with the sickness of the entire human race. The basic understanding of the Christian assessment of the human condition is that Christianity declares we are all sick. This is what sin is – although most people have become numb or annoyed to the word “sin” so to accommodate I’ll use the word “sick” instead. What is the great human sickness? It is ourselves. Namely, it is pride – the first of the seven deadly sins. Pride is all geared to the self. Whereas the humble person seeks to find the truth, in pride, the self determines the truth. Pride is simply a person that does not like to be told what to do. In pride, the self must be in charge and always in their comfort zone. Moreover, with pride the second a person’s thoughts become uncomfortable, the person will cunningly shift their problem to another topic much like the bulimic women did on the Dr. Phil show. Given that we know the human sickness is pride, and we know that in order to address pride one needs to be more direct with the person, let’s examine a common objection to Christianity.

A typical objection people have to Christianity is that it is “too harsh and too judgmental in its methods.” In a previous article, I’ve thoroughly refuted the “too judgmental charge.” So, in this article, I’ll take a look at the “too harsh” claim.

In the grand picture of salvation, Jesus is the interventionist, and we are the addict that suffers from the addiction of pride. In any intervention, we can see it is a common practice for a therapist to be more direct when the situation is severe, and the person he is communicating with does not seem to grasp the problem. If we can examine the moves of Jesus we can see that Jesus, himself, applies this same method. The way Jesus communicated to people reveals not only a lot about his method but explains the disposition of the people he was communicating with. Jesus mainly taught to people through parables and stories. Now, he did this so people can sincerely seek the truth and ask questions in a humble fashion, but he also spoke in parables so he would hide the truth from the proud and arrogant (see Matthew 13: 10-15, 34-35). Therefore, we can conclude the state of that person reveals how Jesus speaks to him or her. Obviously, this makes sense because how you communicate to a toddler is going to be different than how you interact with a teenager. Furthermore, how you communicate to a drug addict is different than communicating to a coffee addict. You need to be more candid with a teen over a toddler given their level of understanding, and you need to be more direct to a drug addict than a coffee addict given the nature of their problem.

At many times throughout the Gospels, Jesus was very blunt with his audience. Much like an interventionist, he often used harsh, in-your-face tactics to get through to people. After Jesus healed a man, the Bible reads, “Jesus sternly charged him say nothing about this”(Mark 1:43). The key word here is “sternly”; and notice Jesus was “stern” in connection to healing someone. Also, the Bible communicates that he “strictly” ordered people about certain things (see Mark 3:12, Mark 5:43).

chord

Jesus gets even more aggressive. When people used the temple as a place of business, Jesus made a whip of chords and used it to drive out the merchants (see John 2:13-17, Matthew 21: 12-13). His language becomes very up-front so he can get his point across. He called his disciples “fools” (see Luke 24: 25), he referred to a Canaanite woman as a “dog” (see Matthew 15: 26), and he called Peter “Satan” when Peter refused to listen to his instructions (see Matthew 16:23). Moreover, he referred to his many critics as “a wicked and adulterous generation” (see Matthew 16:4), he “upbraided” his disciples (see Mark 16: 14) and repeatedly used harsh language about judgement “and being condemned” (see Matthew 25: 41, 13: 41-42, Mark 16:16).

Jesus also had harsh language for whole cities (see Matthew 11:20-24) and nations (Matthew 25:31-33) implying that people who lived in these areas are in serious trouble and need to listen up. Now, what is Jesus doing with all this tough language? He is doing exactly what Dr. Phil or any good interventionist needs to do. He needs to use brash words and tactics to shock people out of their delusional comfort zone so he can help them. In fact, he said that he is like a doctor that came for the sick (see Mark 2:17). Well, when people do not know they are sick, the divine doctor has to be more up-front with them to help them.

Even when Jesus is healing people, he continues this in your face method. Jesus told the ill man he healed to “sin no more that nothing worse befall you” (see John 5:14) implying the hard teaching that the man became ill because of his flawed past. Jesus was frank with the  Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4: 7-18) indicating that “you have had 5 husbands and the one you are with is not yours.” There was no mild or meek teaching in the story of the unrepentant servant (see Matthew 18: 34-35), or in the instance of how to deal with people who wrong you (see Matthew 18: 15-17). When Mary Magdalene wanted to give him a hug after he appeared to her in resurrected form, he, in fact, told her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John  20:17). This verse implies Jesus is more concerned with following the correct rules the Father gave him rather than simply responding with an emotional appeal.

Now, people will often indicate that the “direct Christianity” approach will rub people the wrong way. Well, in looking at this claim we can see that when Jesus used this aggressive method, it naturally rubbed people the wrong way also. When Jesus taught the people in the synagogue the direct and ugly truth about who he is and their problems, they violently revolted at him and wanted to throw him off a cliff (see Luke 4:20-30). When Jesus delivered his difficult teaching to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” the crowd very much rebelled in an outrage against his words (see John 6: 42,52,60,66). Here, let us realize that often times an addict will at first revolt against their interventionist or therapist (see here and here)

JesusThis revolt is simply because the truth is, at first, going to be hard to hear. The rich man who “went away sad” didn’t like Jesus’ teaching either (see Matthew 19:22). In fact, Jesus even plainly said that the world is going to hate him and his disciples because of his teaching  (see John 7:7, 17: 14-16). Indeed, we see that people took up stones to throw at him because of his instructions (see John 8:59). In fact, to sum up the entire Gospels is that people disliked Jesus’ teaching so much they tried to kill him (see John 10: 31-33, John 11: 53) and eventually did kill him.

Of course, his instructions and his method is not going to be received well. This is the whole point! Many people were constantly put off by Jesus’ teaching and his approach (see Matthew 16:24-25, 19:10, 19:25, Mark 6:3). In fact, when the disciples told Jesus that people were “offended” by his harsh words, Jesus didn’t respond by “Gee, I’m really sorry guys.” Rather, he basically acknowledged this is the type of reaction he expected – no need to apologize let’s move on (see Matthew 15: 12-14).

The divine doctor expects sick people who don’t think they are sick to be “offended” by the news of there sickness. Therefore, when people respond to the faith by merely saying, “you hurt my feelings,” this type of response makes about as much sense as an obese person telling his personal trainer, “you hurt my body.” Under the Christian assumption, your thoughts are messed up (a.k.a., sin). So, Jesus is expecting your thoughts to revolt to his teaching just like a personal trainer expects an obese person’s body will revolt to the workout.

Obviously, what is going on here is when the interventionist has to use direct and harsh tactics to give the delusional addict their hard to hear, yet necessary news of their problem, the addict will naturally revolt and experience a freak out to this news. The addict’s revolt at Jesus reveals the age-old response if you don’t like the message take down the messenger.

Here, we come to the critical point that if Jesus is the truth (see John 14:6, 18:37) and if the truth is what people need (see John 8: 31-32) than the truth at first is going to be scary for people. The truth is like smelling salt to the human senses. It is designed to wake them up from their dazed state. In fact, when Jesus first came into the world as a baby the Gospel indicated that “all of Jerusalem was troubled” (see Matthew 2:3). Now, why in the heck would a baby trouble people? Well, once we know Jesus is the truth, we can understand that when the truth comes to people, it will be scary. It would be like someone who knows all your inner thoughts is now approaching you. Of course, this would freak you out because it would expose how messed up your soul is. The sin addict much like the drug addict does not like it when the truth of their addiction is exposed.

Often people have this image that Jesus was always nice and sweet. As the French say, au contraire. We witness many examples of people being scared by even the site of Jesus. When Jesus came in resurrected form people didn’t jump with excitement. In fact, the response is very much of “trembling” (see Mark 16:8, Luke 24:36-38). At the transfiguration, the response to Jesus was that of fear (see Mark 9:6, Matthew 17: 6-7). When Jesus finally visited John after he promised he would come, did John respond with joy at Jesus arrival? No, John “fell on his face” in fright (see Revelation 1:17). When Jesus performed a miracle at sea the response of the disciples was not of excitement, but rather of fear (see Mark 4:40). When Peter realized who Jesus is (the truth) he became terrified, went to his knees and basically said, “You need to leave, because I am a sinful man” (see Luke 5:8). Indeed, when people understood who Jesus was he repeatedly had to tell them “don’t be afraid” (Luke 5: 10). This implies that the truth will at first be scary.

intervention

These examples indicate that Jesus and his teaching will put an uncomfortable fear into people. That is the whole point. When someone teaches authentic Christianity to people, it is supposed to rub them the wrong way. This is all a part of the intervention process. Now, it is not designed to keep people in the scared, trembling position. Rather, it is the first step of their conversion healing. Often times in an intervention, the addict will physically and mentally rebel (see here) This is because their sickness has come into the light. This shaking and trembling is actually associated with what is called in psychology as cognitive dissonance theory – or the classic “fight or flight” response.

Let’s come back to an important distinction in how Jesus communicates with people. We can notice that the more humble the person is, the more gentle and soft Jesus is in his words and approach. Nothing can be more innocent and humble than children as children will more easily listen to people than adults will. Thus, to have childlike humility (see Matthew 18: 1-4) is to receive the gentle Jesus. However, the more prideful and arrogant a person is, the more direct Jesus needs to be in his method. The reason he does this is because he needs to move a prideful person down to the level of humility so that person will receive his medicine. Recall, Jesus said he came as a doctor for the sick (Mark 2:17). Only when you know you are sick will you listen to the divine doctor and take his medicine. When you know you are sick, you are at humility. However, if one is sitting at pride, from their perspective they are not ill. This is not good because they won’t take the medicine or even listen to the doctor if they think they aren’t sick. So, it is necessary to show the addict (the sinner) their sickness so they can move to humility, and, in turn, take the medicine.

In sum, if a person has pride they will receive a direct, harsh Jesus. If they are humble, they will receive a gentle, nice Jesus. Jesus is helping both people, but notice his method with people in group 2 (pride) is more direct precisely because he has to lower them to group 1 (humility). This fall from pride to humility is going to be a painful process for a prideful person. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus scorns the Pharisees. The Pharisees represent pride. The Pharisees thought they were perfect – not sick at all. It is a historical fact that the Pharisees refused to receive Sacramental baptism (see Luke 7:29-30). Why? Because you don’t need to take a bath if you think you’re not dirty. The Pharisees felt they did not have sin, hence, no sacramental cleansing was necessary for them. Therefore, Jesus’ language with the Pharisees was harsh precisely because they were drenched with pride. Conversely, the sinners who knew they were sick received more of a gentle, mild response from Jesus. In knowing they are sick, these people represent humility – knowing they are flawed; knowing they don’t have all the answers and seeking the one who does.

In more insight of picking the humble over the pride is Jesus’ statement, “For judgement, I came into this world, that those who do not see [humble] may see, and that those who see [pride] may become blind.” (John 9:39). In fact, the next verse in which the Pharisees converse with Jesus proves that the Pharisees fit into the second category – that of pride. In short, to the humble and child-like Jesus reveals the Father’s will, but to the pride and arrogant, he withholds the light necessary to see the truth (see Matthew 11: 25-27, 13:13-16).

This formula of pride=hash words and humility=nice words is displayed Jesus’ classic line:  “Those that exalt themselves will be humbled, and those that humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12, see also 1 Cor. 3:18-23, 10:12).

And in another line this formula is implied: “I have not come to call the righteous [proud], but sinners [humility] to repentance.” (Luke 5:32). Repentance is a term that keeps popping up, and repentance is uncomfortable. Only the humble person can honestly repent because only the humble person knows they are sick.

Additionally, the story of the sinful woman and the Pharisee in Luke 7: 36-50 amplifies the point that Jesus is favoring humility over pride. The reason Jesus had compassion for the sinners is because they know they are sick and humbly go to the divine doctor for help.

Just like snow can only enter when the temperature drops below freezing, God can only enter a person when humility has exceeded pride (see 1 Peter 5:6, Matthew 23:12, Luke 13:30, 1 Kings 21:28-29, 2 Chronicles 32: 24-26, Job 22:29, Psalm 18:28, Proverbs 18:3, 11:2, 16:19, 29:23, Sirach 2: 17, Isaiah 5:15, Daniel 3: 87, Acts 20: 19-24, Ephesians 4: 1-6, 1 Timothy 6:4,).

Given this, it is highly important that if pride controls a person, it must be flushed out any way possible. This flushing out of pride will have to be done in a direct, aggressive manner just like the Dr. Phil example illustrates.

sword

A lot of people tend to view Jesus as simply a man of peace that projected a nice emotional appeal. He actually never defined himself like that. He mainly defined as the truth (see John 14:6, 18:37). To those that think Jesus’ peace is not about the truth and more about “feeling good” or “getting along” Jesus himself indicated this water downed definition of peace is wrong. Shortly after announcing the mission of the twelve, Jesus declared, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come not to bring peace but the sword”(Matthew 10:34). Now, the sword Jesus is referring to is the truth (see Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17, John 18:37). And, this would make sense because Jesus’ mission was to take down the devil, who is describes “the father of lies” (see John 8:44). Well, if you are the truth, then by definition you have to cut out all the lies and deception so the truth can be seen.

Notice again how peace is associated with truth. Moreover, with the image of the sword, Jesus is proposing that the process of getting at the truth is going to be unsettling at first. The reason it’s going to be painful is because when you are seeking what is true, you’re going to have to give up what you want to be true. You’re going to have go beyond your self of what you want to be true and embrace an objective reality – the truth. In other words, to embrace the truth you have to go to a source outside yourself, and this will be a painful process to those who are soaked in pride. Also, notice that context when Jesus described himself as a sword in the truth was in the middle of his discourse on causing persecution and division (see Matthew ch. 10). So, he is illuminating the fact that teaching the truth and following the truth is going to be a painful process, but eventually will usher one into the end product – peace in reaching the truth (see John 8:32).

When a person follows what he wants to be true, he is merely following a comfortable, manufactured story in his head in which he pridefully determines the truth. However, when a person follows what is true, he will naturally have to humble himself to seek out answers beyond himself. Moreover, the process of following what is true will illicit much agony at first. Throughout the Gospels Jesus teaches that when his followers give up their way of thinking for his way of thinking, it will entail much suffering and hardship (see Matthew 16:24-25, 10:16-25, 38-39, 23:34-35, Luke 9:23, 14:27, 17:33, John 12:25). Additionally, Jesus plainly indicated that when you pass on his teaching to others, they won’t like you (see John 16:2, 15:8) and that his teaching will even cause division in your family (see Matthew 10:34-35).

jars

We are very much like alabaster jars. The jars must be broken in order for the fragrance to be released. In a similar vein, our pride must be broken so God’s message can be released to us. Once pride is destroyed, we’ll be in the state of humility. Once we are in humility, we’ll hear God.

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What Jesus is essentially doing is what every counselor, personal trainer, coach, teacher, parent, does. They basically say, “I need to go through the painful process of showing you the problem so you can be ready to receive the solution.” Now, to a humble person this is no big deal because a humble person acknowledges they have a problem. Therefore, humility expects to encounter a problem. But, to a prideful person, this experience of being shown their errors is going to be incredibly painful. This painful process is, however, short-term in that it moves them to healing in the long-term.

As a good interventionist Jesus is so committed to this short-term pain long-term gain process he explains how when he leaves it will hurt them, but ultimately is necessary to bring them fulfillment in the long run (see John 16: 20-22).

Notice after all this hard teaching and the anguish the disciples went through, Jesus finally gave them the peace they were looking for. We see this played out in John 20: 19-23 as he breathed on them he passed on to them his authority, his peace, and ultimately his power. Thus, in this episode, the disciples reached the pinnacle of what Jesus was trying to give them – peace like he has. Notice that this process of getting to this level was incredibly uncomfortable for the disciples. The best analogy to demonstrate this would be like when a personal trainer turns an obese person into becoming a personal trainer himself. To do this, the personal trainer needs to put the obese person through a workout program that will require much pain for him in the short term – but in the long term will help him and give him the ability to help others.

If we water down Jesus we’ll completely miss his message. Jesus is not some Barney-like character that has everyone hold hands to get along. He is a doctor that has to show you your sickness. This is incredibly uncomfortable at first. But, in the long-run will bring bring you peace and happiness.

 


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