I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left my mouth. Sitting in my office was a young man who had been cheated out of $200 by someone else in the church. Both men attended our church, and one guy really did owe the other $200. But the guilty party wasn’t in the office, the other guy was–and he was full of anger and frustration because of his loss. That’s when I made my hasty suggestion:
“You could forgive him his debt,” I suggested. “Jesus told us to do just that.”
“Well I’m not Jesus!” he nearly shouted back at me.
End of discussion, end of ministry time, end of opportunity to take the yoke Jesus offers. It was my mistake. Not for suggesting a perfectly Biblical remedy to his anger and frustration, but for expressing the solution in such a way that he would consider it impossible.
It’s impossible to be like Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus was perfect. He led a sinless life. He was God-come-to-earth and his life sets the bar impossibly high for any of us.
I believe that the central problem in nurturing followers of Jesus in North America is our view of Jesus as the Impossible Mentor.
It’s a paradox: nearly everyone is willing to acknowledge Jesus as a worthy role model, but almost no one seriously believes it is possible to live up to his example. Our esteem for Jesus’ life of obedience to the Father and our desire to be “just like Jesus” does battle with the deep-seated notion that it is impossible to be like him. Who would choose a mentor who is impossible to imitate?