Christianity is a disappointing religion.
What makes it disappointing is not any of its institutional failures. It’s not any of its well-known sins. It’s not the secularization of the West. It goes back a lot farther than that. Christianity is disappointing because it’s based on a disappointing figure.
Jesus was a huge letdown.
Now before you write mean comments and reject what I’m saying outright, think about it for a minute. The Jews were looking for a Messiah that would rescue them from their oppression. They were expecting a warrior king that would destroy the Romans and lead the Jews to their rightful place as the leaders of the world. The Messiah was supposed to be a violent usurper, a leader of a rebellion, a King of the Jews.
But that’s not exactly what he was.
The expected Messiah would be a King. In the line of David. Highborn, most likely. Probably in a palace somewhere. Jesus was born as the bastard son of a carpenter, surrounded by feces, and placed in a used feeding trough.
The expected Messiah would be a rescuer. He would release captive Israelites, and restore them to a position of power and influence. Jesus allowed his own cousin to be beheaded at the hands of the Jewish governor, and at the end of his life, left the Jews in the control of the Romans.
The expected Messiah would be well-behaved. A champion of the Law and its traditions. Jesus hung out with tax collectors, foreigners, prostitutes, fishermen, and heretics. He challenged the experts in the Law, and defied many of their traditions (and broke their understanding of Sabbath. Regularly).
The expected Messiah would demand service and loyalty. He would take the place of honor and be waited on by those whom he came to save. Jesus washed people’s feet. He lowered himself to a position of service, and asked his followers to do the same.
The expected Messiah would fight for himself, and conquer his enemies. Jesus prevented his followers from fighting on his behalf, and allowed himself to be tortured and killed in the most humiliating way possible.
Honestly, if Jesus is really supposed to be the Messiah, the savior of the Jews, the King of all Creation, shouldn’t he act like royalty? Shouldn’t he take some interest in his own well-being and status? Shouldn’t he unleash some God Power and call ten thousand angels and start doing what he came to do?
Except he did exactly what he came to do. He came as an unassuming man, he served, and he died.
What a disappointment.
The disciples certainly thought so. When Jesus died, the disciples dispersed. The end. It was a cool dream, a nice story, a good ideal. But Jesus died. He lost. He disappointed all of them and if anything, he made things worse for them. They expected so much, and they were completely let down.
Really, by all human standards, Jesus was quite possibly the worst Christ anyone has ever heard of.
And yet, he saved humanity. Not just the Jews, and not just from the Romans. He saved all of humanity from death itself by willingly entering into it. Through weakness, submission and disappointment, God overcame the power of sin and death. He embraced it, and in so doing, overcame it.
It’s one of the mysteries of our faith. How can a faith that rests on a man who chose to submit to evildoers bring about life?
It’s foolishness. Even Paul says so. There’s no reason that the world should respect Jesus and his death on a cross. It defies logic.
But God works through weakness. 2 Corinthians 12 tells us that, but so does the entirety of the Old Testament.
God rescued the Israelites from Egypt through an octogenarian stuttering shepherd. He overcame the power of the Midianites through the weakness of Gideon and his 300 fighters. He beat Goliath and the Philistines with a teenager and a sling. And he overcame death by dying. Overcame sin by being overcome by sin.
If you look at it from the perspective of the world, Jesus was a big fat disappointment. So much potential, all of it wasted.
But that’s precisely what he was going for. Weakness. Disappointment. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Degradation. Those qualities that nobody looks for in a leader, and Jesus embodied them all.
And if we’re going to really, truly follow him, we need to be disappointing too.
If we want to look like Jesus, we have to join him in his weakness. We have to make ourselves servants. We have to place ourselves in positions that will be degrading and humiliating. We have to turn the other cheek, even if it means getting the crap kicked out of us. We have walk the extra mile, even if it means getting blisters on our feet and lost on the way back. We have to love our enemies, even if it means they take advantage of us.
We have to be disappointing.
When the world looks at the Church, they shouldn’t see success and power. They should see weakness. When the world sees the Church, they shouldn’t notice grand buildings, or rich pastors, or successful business models. They should notice how we embrace service, even to our own detriment. They should experience a Church that derives its identity in submission, wrapped up in sacrificial love, and disregarding standard measures of success.
Jesus was disappointing. He was a giant letdown. He defied all the expectations that the Jews had for their Messiah, wrapping himself in humility and embracing weakness as a way of life. So when the Church is known for its success, influence, and power in the world, the Church isn’t a very good representation of Jesus.
Christ wasn’t honored by most people with any importance in society. He wasn’t held up as an example. He wasn’t rich, he didn’t have political power, he didn’t hold influence.
He was a homeless rabbi that preached about how God wants you to surrender and to be taken advantage of. Then he proved it by allowing himself to be killed.
So perhaps the Church’s greatest failure in the world is that it’s too respectable. Perhaps the biggest problem with the church is that it has too much influence. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the Church in the world today is that it’s just not disappointing enough.
And maybe what ought to be said about Christians is how disappointing we are. How we had potential to be great, and we wasted it by serving others, by allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of, and by never looking out for our own self-preservation.
Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. He did not seek to make himself great. Rather, he lowered himself in obedience to God, serving those the rest of the world deemed unworthy of notice. And for Christians to truly become like Christ, we must also embrace that lifestyle, lowering ourselves, seeking to make ourselves less so that God can increase in us.
And in this way, we become like Christ.
Because if only a disappointing Christ can save the world, maybe only a disappointing Church can change it.
May we be a disappointment to the world through our embodiment of Christ. May the world come to know God through the disappointment of Christ, and may the power of God overcome us in our weakness.