My two small children have a knack for boiling all virtue and vice down into two categories: “Nice” and “mean.”
I’m no grouch about that. I want nice children. And as basic civic values go in a diverse society, decency, courtesy, and tolerance are important. “Nice” works a lot of the time. But when more serious matters of discipline and formation arise, we see its limitations. It is well and good to avoid the meanies on the playground; but it won’t do to say “You’re mean!” when loving parents deny children a third scoop of ice cream or won’t let them knock holes in the wall for fun. Nor is it faithful to diminish Gospel truth for the sake of not seeming “mean.” On the other hand, some things that might be labelled “not nice” are actually willfully malicious or downright psychopathic: e.g. everything from physical assault or cruel insults to spitting gum into a urinal or borrowing someone’s car and returning it with an empty gas tank.
But typical niceness is a far cry from true Christian virtue. We need look no further than Jesus himself, who, like the prophets of Israel, is rarely ever nice, easy-going, or even safe. As Mrs. Beaver says about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “He isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the king.” Jesus isn’t nice, but he’s good. Indeed, he is goodness incarnate. He would never remove the football right before the kick, as Lucy meanly does to Charlie Brown. But he never minces his words about how to live.
For our edification, in descending order, here are ten times Jesus wasn’t nice, but is always good.