The first time I heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” I was around 10 years old. I was in my local library looking for adventure books; the librarian wanted me to read a certain novel and I didn’t like how the front cover looked. She gave me a stern lecture on how book covers are chosen and why it is unhelpful to evaluate a book solely on how it looks. I’ve tried to follow her advice ever since.
Judging by the image above, I can imagine some people seeing the cover of “the Bad Habits of Jesus” by Leonard Sweet and refusing to read it either because of the title or the “biker” image on the front. However in the words of my childhood librarian, save the judgement until after reading.
The Bad Habits of Jesus starts with a premise that is sure to raise a question or two. Bad habits? How could Jesus have any bad habits? He’s Jesus after all. Son of God, sinless, perfect, healed people, great teacher; the thought that he did anything untoward goes against all that is taught in Sunday school. And yet, when Sweet put out a request on his Facebook page as a way of crowdsourcing his followers to list any bad habits they thought Jesus had, the page was flooded with comments. Apparently, when people think about it, there are a number of things that Jesus said or did that were outside the cultural norm of 1st Century Judaism, or ‘bad habits’. Among the many who had something to say were Sweet’s current Tabor College Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation students. A few of their “bad habit” observations made it into the book.
In the 2000+ years since Jesus left this earth, many ideas have sprung up about who he was and what he did. Over the centuries the Church has often removed the radical, scandalous nature of Jesus of Nazareth, especially as the institution became more and more connected with the powerful and elite in society. Christian faith was reduced to a ticket to heaven, and the life and teachings of Jesus relegated to a backstory for what was ‘really’ important: Jesus’ death and resurrection. What I love about Leonard Sweet, and this book specifically, is that the author reminds his readers that who Jesus was and what he did matters, and for those who claim to carry his name, ‘Christian’, there is an expectation that his life be taken seriously.
In the Apostles Creed there is a significant comma. In the second stanza the creed states,
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Did you see it?
The comma after ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ and before ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate.’ What goes in this space? The entire life and teachings of Jesus; unfortunately, this comma removes the entire life of Jesus and renders it irrelevant.
Throughout history, Christians have been so caught up in proving the significance of the death of Jesus, or his Divinity, that His humanity has been removed. What Sweet’s book attempts is to remind readers that Jesus was human as well as divine and that his life and teachings matter a great deal to his followers today. In this way, as Sweet points out on page 191, this is a book about the Incarnation. While Jesus walked this earth, what were some of these bad habits? Here’s a list of some of the chapters: Jesus Spit, Jesus Appeared Wasteful, Jesus was Constantly Disappearing, Jesus Hung out with Bad People, and others.
My favorite was Chapter 10: Jesus Spent Too Much Time with Children. As someone who has worked with children and youth for 30+ years, I found much in this chapter to rejoice over. This quote stood out particularly, “Jesus treated children as if their relationship with God was an important as any adult relationships. Jesus constantly sacrificed his rabbinic dignity to reduce the distance between himself and a child. Jesus preached to the children, hoping the adults would get it. That’s one reason he told stories.” (pg. 116-117) As I get older and more “dignified”, I need to continually remind myself that Jesus sacrificed his rabbinic dignity to bless children.
My devotional reading this week has focused on Luke 6:46-49. In verse 46 Jesus states, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” Notice the focus is on doing, not believing, trusting, or holding onto a golden ticket, but doing what Jesus says. What I loved about The Bad Habits of Jesus was the reintroduction of how truly radical and life changing putting Jesus words into practice really is as a follower.
I read this book and highly recommend it. If you’re still thinking of a gift for someone on your Christmas list, this would be an excellent choice.