Jesus would have made a horrible motivational speaker.
I know it seems weird, or possibly even heretical to claim, but Jesus would have been a horrible motivational speaker.
A motivational speaker is someone who comes in and helps you learn how to be successful. Depending on your final goal, the speech will be slightly different, but it’s going to focus on the traits needed to be successful in a chosen field. If the field is business, the speaker may talk about business plans, dedication to a chosen path, focus on what a company does best, and a work ethic that is out performing the competition. If the field is sports, it will focus on relentless hard work, on not backing down from an opponent, on learning to dominate the competition, and always focusing on winning. If the field is art, writing, or surviving college, the talk will change slightly, but many of the encouragements would be the same. Because even though we don’t always implement these traits in our lives, we know what the world says is needed to be successful. A motivational speaker would just remind us of these truths, and encourage us to live into what we already know.
Which is why Jesus would have been a horrible motivational speaker, because often the things that Jesus promotes would never lead to success; at least the way we typically think of success. Consider the things that Jesus promotes as ways to live into the Kingdom of God.
Consider the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Really, the poor. The poor aren’t blessed, it’s the rich who are blessed. Why would Jesus say the poor are blessed. Blessed are the meek. Seriously, the meek. The meek get picked on and bullied. The meek get their mouths smashed in on the football field. Blessed are the peacemakers. Peacemakers, no way. Peace is only made through the threat of unconquerable force. The strongest ensure peace because no one will mess with them.
In other places Jesus says similarly strange things. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well. Really, so I get two black eyes, instead of one? I don’t think so. Whoever has two coats should give one away. Why would I do that? Sometimes I like to wear something different. Two coats are really not too many. Freely give away your possessions to someone who is in need. But they’re lazy. They should just work harder. The reason they are poor is because they obviously don’t work hard enough. Anyone can succeed if they just work.
We hear Jesus saying these things and we think, why in the world would anyone want to act this way? You’re not going to be successful if you follow this advice. You’re not going to succeed in life. You’re not going to make a lot of money. All that’s going to happen is you are going to get picked on and taken advantage of; that’s no way to live.
Jesus would have been a horrible motivational speaker; at least the way we think of motivational speakers and success.
Which is why, when we think of transformation we have to realize that transformation requires us to change the way we think about what it means to be successful, or even what it means to respond to evil. We know Jesus calls us to a different life, but so often it’s really easy to be tempted to fall back into viewing success through the lens of the culture we inhabit. It’s easy to think of success as winning championships and making lots of money. But success in Jesus’s eyes is different. It’s not about acting the way the world acts; trying to be the biggest, fastest, strongest. Instead it’s about servanthood, placing others above yourself, loving those who are different from you, welcoming the stranger, and being willing to seek peace instead of war. It’s acting against our natural reactions or the way we want to respond. Instead, it’s encapsulating the witness of Jesus in our lives.
Paul says it this way, don’t conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed. (Romans 12:2) This isn’t just an inner attitude, trying to change our minds or making sure we go to church. Transformation means nothing if it doesn’t change the way we live on a day-to-day basis. Not just making sure we don’t cuss, but completely changing who we are as individuals. Slowly being molded into the image of the Son. That’s different and challenging. We will stick out from the world around us. We may not achieve success in the way culture views success. But, if we want any chance of transforming culture, or helping to live in a way that God’s Kingdom will come on Earth as it already is in Heaven, then we have to start living differently. It starts by living out this transformation everyday.
Jesus may not have been a great motivational speaker, but he makes a great Lord, and a great example to follow. May we focus on God to the point that through the power of the Spirit we are transformed into the image of the Son, from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18)