He challenged us so often – challenged our comfort, challenged our faith, challenged us to become something we’d never dreamed of. But most of all, I think, He challenged our notion of holiness. All my life I had been told that holiness meant separating yourself – from evil, from temptation, from things that might be someone else’s temptation. To be holy meant to resist every warm human desire as something dangerous – to be human was to fall under the curse of God. To be truly holy meant to spend your life walking away.
Apparently not. To Him, holiness always looked like walking towards. He was unafraid of sin. That in itself was a marvel, we had been taught all our lives to be terrified of sin. The only people who did not fear sin were those who were so wicked that they delighted in it. He did neither. It was as if sin had no power over Him . And the laws of the Pharisees? He despised them.
He would speak to women. Of course ordinary men speak to women, we have to, don’t we? But only in the right situations. Holy men, religious leaders, rabbis are generally people who will never so much as look at a woman except the members of their own families, and woe to any woman who is foolish enough to speak to them. I‘ll never forget that day, passing through Samaria, when He sat down to rest and sent us off to get food. When we came back He was chatting away to a Samaritan woman, and she was utterly enthralled. A woman. A Samaritan. We were not sure which surprised us most. If we hadn’t known by then that He always knew exactly what He was doing, we would have been seriously questioning His judgement. As it was, we were just thankful that there were no Pharisees around to see that particular incident.
But He wasn’t going to stay behind the Pharisees careful fences – not for anything. He’d speak to people He should have stayed away from if he’d wanted to make the “right” impression with the “right” people – even a Roman centurion! He even healed people on the Sabbath, and seemed quite convinced that showing compassion was more important than keeping a rigid interpretation of the Law. Often He made us feel uncomfortable. Not only was He constantly crossing bridges into realms that were uncharted, and probably unsafe – He was taking us with Him. What were we to think when He sent demons into a herd of pigs and the pigs promptly went and drowned themselves. We were rather embarrassed when the owner of the pigs appeared. It was rather an awkward moment for everyone except Jesus. He had us taking a little grain to eat when we walked through a cornfield, and wandering around in pairs to preach the Kingdom of God. What could be more ludicrous than turning guys like us into preachers and miracle workers? He touched the dead, He touched lepers – things that should have made Him unclean – but somehow it didn’t work like that. Instead they became whole, they became alive, he touched them and they became clean. It was all back to front.
I remember the night He let an immoral woman anoint Him. Any other religious leader would have felt befouled just by being in the same room; but He never drew away from her. Instead He told her that her sins were forgiven! It was as if -- I can’t think of a better way to say it – He saw people struggling on the wrong side, and, rather than leave them there, He crossed the bridge to where they were and carried them back across with Him. No bridge ever seemed to bother Him if there was someone on the other side who needed Him.
And there was one last bridge He crossed, and this still leaves me trembling with wonder. The greatest gulf that exists in this world is the gulf between life and death, but He crossed it, on that day I can still barely dare to remember, and then gleefully crossed back again, as if the conquest of death had become a small thing. He came back to tell us – no, to show us – that death is now merely a bridge from life to Life. And He will be there, waiting for us on the other side.