For Youth Workers Post

Really, Jesus?

Will Penner

For use with devozine meditations for February 25–28, 2013.



“Finley Peter Dunne served as chief editorial writer for the Chicago Post in the late 1880s, but he was known especially for his humorous Mr. Dooley sketches that critiqued social issues, governmental policies, and elected officials. In one of those sketches, Mr. Dooley said, ‘The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead, and roasts them afterward.’

“A friend of mine often borrowed a portion of the quote to describe what he believed was the purpose of a good sermon: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

“I’ve often pondered his words, when I’ve prepared lessons or talks and when I’ve prayed or studied scripture for my own spiritual growth. If I’m allowing God’s word to truly penetrate my being, it should have some sort of transformative effect—perhaps comforting me when necessary but also often nudging me to action.

“As I ponder the words, actions, and attitudes of Jesus during his earthly tenure, I can’t help but notice that while he spent time comforting the afflicted, he also spent a good deal of time afflicting the comfortable.” —Will



Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited numerous books and youth ministry curricula. Most important, he is the husband of Christine Penner, Children’s Minister at First United Methodist Church in Dickson, Tennessee, and the father of five children ranging in age from three to twenty-one.



• a Bible for each person

• newsprint or large sheets of paper (optional)

• Print-Friendly Version of Session



+Jesus Said What?” is a fun little video that was developed as a teaser for a sermon series on some of the sayings of Jesus. It might also serve as a fun introduction to this topic.



Open the session by asking the following discussion questions, which may be written on newsprint and posted around the room, written one at a time on a white board, or casually discussed for a few moments each.

     Typically, when we think of the example of Jesus, what are the primary character traits that come to mind?
     Are any of the opposites true also? In other words, does Jesus ever exhibit traits that are opposite of those we think of first?
     What are your favorite passages that tell about what Jesus said or did? Why?
     What are your least favorite? Why?



Scripture: Mark 11:12–21

This is one of those passages that should be read verbatim. If people have different versions of the Bible, ask them to take turns reading this passage aloud; and then invite the group to note any significant differences. You might also consider asking a few volunteers to pantomime the action as the scripture is read aloud. After reading the passage, use some of these ideas to help your group discuss it:


Plenty of scripture passages point to Jesus’ “fully God” side. They are important passages because they remind us that Jesus was more than a great leader, a prophet, a healer, and a teacher. As John 1:1 reminds us, Christ was not only in the beginning with God; he was, in fact, fully God.

Mark 11:12–21 is one of my favorite passages because it speaks to the “fully human” side of Jesus. As the story opens, people have just hailed Jesus as king, waving and shouting joyfully as he entered into Jerusalem. For some reason, Jesus decides not to hang around, but to leave and to come back the next day. On the way, he grows hungry—a normal human urge. He sees a fig tree, so he goes to pick some figs. The tree doesn’t have any figs because it isn’t fig season. But that doesn’t matter. Jesus is hungry, and the fig tree isn’t bearing fruit—so he curses it: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Huh?

Then Jesus goes into Jerusalem. I often wonder if he was still hungry and irritable when he arrived at the temple. Some greedy folks are at the temple, taking advantage of people who are coming to make offerings to God, which also makes Jesus mad—so mad, in fact, that he begins to turn over the tables and drive the merchants out of the temple. Now, we should absolutely resist the urge to sanitize this passage and explain it away. In fact, look at John 2:13–16, in which the gospel writer records that Jesus takes the time to make a “whip of cords” before driving out the moneychangers.

I’ve watched my daughter braid her friends’ hair, and it takes some intentionality. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction on Jesus’ part. He is so angry because of what is going on in the temple that he braids a whip and then starts overturning tables in the temple. His act is premeditated and effectively vandalizes every businessman who has set up shop in the temple.

Certainly, one can understand this as appropriate righteous anger, since the moneychangers were most likely cheating faithful people out of a portion of their offering. We would be pretty angry if the ushers at our church were pocketing a portion of the Sunday morning offering as a fee for their services.

But the next morning, Jesus and the disciples leave Jerusalem again. They see the fig tree Jesus cursed; it has completely withered to the roots. Theologians find all sorts of allegorical meaning in this event, and I’d guess many of them have valid points. But the truth is still that Jesus cursed a fig tree because it didn’t bear figs when he was hungry—even though it wasn’t fig season!


Invite group members to offer their thoughts about the meaning of Mark 11:12–21, but make sure they resist the urge to settle on one right answer instead of living with the tension of a difficult passage.

Interestingly, the story of Jesus in the Temple is sandwiched between two episodes involving the fig tree. The sandwich is not likely to be coincidental. Perhaps both stories say something about the nature of people (and other living organisms, perhaps) to bear fruit that reflects what is found within them. Selfish people, for instance, find a way to become cheaters even when they’re being religious. Or perhaps the stories say something about the emotion of anger as a valid part of human expression. Regardless of the reason, one thing is sure: If we’re faithful to the scriptures, we have to admit that we can’t put Jesus inside one metaphorical box. He’s way bigger than that.



Conclude the session with prayer:

“Jesus, you said and did so many things that confounded the wisest and most religious people around. Even the disciples, who spent day after day after day with you, seemed to miss most of the lessons you were trying to teach. Please help us to resist the urge to think we have you all figured out. Surprise us, delight us, comfort us, guide us, and make us incredibly uncomfortable when necessary. Help us to grow in our relationship with you, not to some idea of you. We love you, and we want to grow closer to you. We pray in your precious name. Amen.”



Often, Christians like to sanitize the stories of scripture by sugarcoating the contents or by providing little quips to explain unusual messages or activities. Consider searching out and keeping a log of sayings or stories that seem bizarre to you, that would have seemed bizarre to the original audience, or that would seem bizarre if they were heard by people without any religious background. Allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the scripture, and live with some frustration before jumping too quickly to an explanation. You may discover that scripture will take on a deeper dimension for you.

—from devozine In the Habit (January/February 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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