Pulling up to the red light, I saw the arm hanging outside the window, cigarette in hand. Cautiously, not wanting to make eye contact, I looked things over. The pickup had seen better days. No rims on the wheels and rusting throughout the body. Junk and trash were littered in the truck bed. Then, nervously, I spied a glance at him. Scruffy is probably the best word 1 can use to describe what he looked like. What really caught my attention though was his tattoo. Visibly, on his right forearm, were letters. I spelled them out: U-N-S-T-A-B-L-E. I was a little taken a back — UNSTABLE. At least I’d been warned.
Now I don’t often picture Jesus in a pickup truck, smoking a cigarette, with a tattoo on his right arm, but you never know. As the encounter continues to fade from memory, the word UNSTABLE hasn’t. If Jesus’ person and ministry were characterized by anything it was instability. We get a hint of this “imbalancing act” and what’s to come later in Jesus’ life in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46, 5 1-53): “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.... He has shown might with His arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry He has filled with good things; the rich He has sent away empty.”
Is it any wonder that there eventually will be a price on Jesus’ head? Yet, who really wants to live in a world where the first are last and the last are first? That’s too much instability. Rather than be embraced by His hometown of Nazareth for bringing glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, the townspeople were infuriated at this upstart preacher, especially His comparisons to the prophets Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:16-30). Jesus challenged their expectations as to who and what a Messiah was then and still for us today. Ask St. Peter (Matthew 16:13-28).
Just when we’re ready to settle into our routines and relax knowing what’s coming next, Jesus upsets things all over again with His words. We’re told to love our enemies; pray for those who persecute us. He tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon. Then there’s the supposed blessedness of the Beatitudes. Another hard one is to stop judging others. Doesn’t Jesus know the type of people that we work with? It’s like He wants to rob me of my complacency of faith or something.
Pope Francis has been making some people nervous and unstable as well. In a recent interview for Jesuit publications, he called the church to be more inclusive saying: “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.” He went on to admit that the church, at times, “has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules” going so far as to say that “we have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
Though the first impulse may be to seek safety and security, Jesus is just as likely to be found in the margins, shadows, alleys, even pickup trucks. It is there where the Church invites me to go, stretching myself, allowing me to feel uncomfortable, and, finally, to meet Christ. I don’t always like it, but I know I need it — instability. It’s what keeps me Catholic.
Daley is a freelance writer and teacher at St. Xavier High School. The Catholic Telegraph November, 2013