Posts Tagged Jesus
Jesus was notorious for surrounding himself with the ordinary, the lowly and the unsophisticated, people that we might think of as ‘losers’. This shows Christians that God’s love is not reserved for the beautiful, the wealthy, the powerful – the world’s winners- but that God loves everyone. However, as Christians focus on Jesus as God we tend to forget that he was a rabbi, a teacher, who’s simple message was difficult for many people to grasp. It seemed that the more someone was schooled in religion, the more powerful or affluent, the more thick headed that person was likely to be.
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
But for the worn out, the tired –the ones looked down upon as stupid and infantile – Jesus’ message seemed to click with them. Somehow the “losers” got it.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Why did Jesus’ message seem to resonate with the lower classes and not with the intelligentsia? Was it simply because they were suffering and desired relief? Was it because they were victims of a collaboration between religion and empire, ready for social change? Or was there more to it than that?
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
What was Jesus saying here? That he hung out with “sinners” because they needed his healing grace but not with the Pharisees because they already had their act together? Doubtful. More likely he was being sarcastic, pointing out that these ‘simple’ sinners, unencumbered with years of scholarship, lofty ideals and the belief that they owned special knowledge, were open to his teachings. Their minds were not cluttered and weighted own with heavy doctrines and dogmas. After all, they weren’t paid to think.
Unlike their righteous rulers, who understood how the world worked, the ignorant common man suspected that something was not quite right with their lives, that something needed fixing. Today we know that it was the righteous who probably needed fixing the most. So, why didn’t Jesus spend more time with them?
Maybe because he knew it would be a waste of his time. Those who already “know” all the answers are just too hard headed, too rigid, and too afraid to consider many counter intuitive messages. Instead he spent his time with the common people and from them he called his apostles, his best students. Maybe it was harder for an educated, successful man to follow Jesus than it was for that camel to thread the needle.
For that matter, how do we know that Jesus only called those twelve men? Maybe they were the only ones who initially heard his call, hearing something of value in it. Maybe they were the only ones who understood enough of it to teach it. Later, they too became Masters, like Jesus. They proved this with their willingness to sacrifice their own lives rather than lose the Way.
Another teacher, who lived 3000 miles away and 500 years earlier, spoke in ways that pre-echo Jesus’ teachings.
My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.
Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.
The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.
Perhaps this has some bearing on why Paul and Timothy were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Could it have been because the word – the Good News about a way of living with and in God – was already being spoken there?
In an earlier post I talked about how Jesus displayed his propensity for mercy and inclusion when he met the woman at the well in John 4:1-42.
At that time I was basing my remarks upon what is the current wisdom among many progressive Christians, that the Jewish culture of the time was racist, sexist and obsessed with legalistic purity and social class. In contrast Jesus, and by association, Christians, stand out as models of exemplary behavior. Of course, Jesus being Jesus, would be the best example of how we should treat others, but we don’t need to demonize the Jews in order to do so.
As you may know, I am reading Amy-Jill Levine’s book, “The Misunderstood Jew” and I keep coming across material that causes me to take stock of my world view. At one point she illustrates the obvious inconstancies with the popular Christian take on this story:
1. Although we think of the Samaritan woman as being marginalized due to her ethnicity, we need to remember that here Jesus is in Samaria and he would have been the marginalized minority. He is the daring one, by initiating a conversation with a Samaritan. The feud between the Jews and the Samaritans was a two way street.
2. We assume that his disciples are amazed because he is talking with an unclean woman but it may be just as likely that it is because he is talking with a Samaritan as well as a woman. Jesus had other exchanges with women in the Gospels and it did not often astound people, casting doubt on the presumption that Jewish men did not address women in conversation. That being said, undoubtedly first century Palestine was patriarchal and Jesus himself had no women in his inner circle. Christianity can not seriously claim to be a uniquely ‘feminist’ tradition.
3. It is suggested that this woman was of ill repute, as she was drawing water alone, at midday. She also admits to having had several husbands and is living with a man out of wedlock. But this, according to Levine, does not make her ritually unclean, as the Law does not specifically address these issues. If she actually had been a shamed and shunned women it would have been unlikely that the villagers would have listened to her account in the first place, much less believe her.
I think it is important to consider what Levine and other Jewish scholars are saying here. The common Christian take on scriptures (which I am guilty of) – that in which Jesus stands out vividly against a backdrop of a despicable people and a despicable system, is a terrible misrepresentation of an entire nation, their history, faith and culture. Certainly it is not necessary for us to beleive this in order to see the divinity of Christ nor appreciate his teachings. The gulf that has existed over the centuries between us and our Jewish brothers and sisters is the result of misunderstanding each other’s beliefs. In our case this misunderstanding has resulted in two thousand years of crusades, inquisitions, pogroms and the Holocaust.
Though she is not Jewish, I am sorry for having insulted this woman, and in the process our Jewish friends.
I’m kind of fond of that pop-religious expression, “What would Jesus do?” – WWJD. I can’t remember all the times when, confronted with a moral dilemma, I asked myself that very question. And I can’t ever remember getting a wrong answer. Simplistic? Naive? You betcha, that’s me. But in reality I am much too middle class, much too worried about respectability, to ever attempt what Jesus would really do.
Looking at those habits and customs that the modern American church holds dear; respectability, responsibility, orderliness, high moral character, a good work ethic, financial independence, respect for authority, tradition and family values – I wonder how all these traits became so important among those who claim to follow Christ?
I tend to think these qualities are important as well and, when it comes to dealing with my own children, have discovered that I am a clone of my father. Attempting to relate with with my 21 year old son, I wonder why he and his generation insist upon being so confoundedly rebellious. Why doesn’t he just get it? (Just as my friends and I didn’t ‘get it’ 30 years ago). Is it because he was raised outside of the church for the first 14 years of his life? (Then what was my excuse when I was his age?)
But if someone actually followed the way of Jesus, actually did what Jesus would do, would they fit into the mold of what a good Christian should look like? For example, when we look at just a few of the many incidents in the Gospels that describe Jesus’ behavior, we can see that;
He was disrespectful of parental authority. (Luke 2: 41-50)
He disregarded established religious tradition. (John 2: 1-11)
He ignored the advice of his family and was insensitive to their feelings. (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35)
He openly criticized nationally respected religious and political leaders. (Matthew 21:32)
He was a scofflaw. (Matt 12:1-12)
He mocked religious doctrines and traditions. (Matthew 3: 4-15, )
He hung out and partied with people of ill repute. (Luke 7:34)
He and his friends were intentionally homeless and subsisted off of handouts. (Luke 9:1-5, 58)
He joined a religious ‘cult’ and then broke away, forming his own cult-like group of followers. (Luke 3:1-19, Matthew 11: 1-15)
He spoke arrogantly about his favored relationship with God. (John 8: 39-58)
He taunted the powers that be in a reckless, even suicidal fashion. (Luke 4: 28-29, Mark 11: 15-19, Mark 12:14-17, Matthew 27: 11-14)
Jesus was never respectable, never cautious, and never thrifty. He did not dress well nor did he bathe every day. He spoke his mind openly and with little regard for how others felt about it. He cared nothing for appearances and was not concerned about being seen as ‘guilty by association’. He didn’t seem to worry much about his good reputation.
He was not married, with two kids, a steady job and a mortgage. He did not support the government and was, if anything, apolitical; speaking out on issues of justice and morality that transcend politics. He certainly did not strive to be an elder or deacon of (or much less join) a local church. He was even rude to his mom and dad. Of course he didn’t act this way just to be a pain in the ass – he had good cause.
We know next to nothing about Jesus from the time he was a young adolescent until he was about thirty years old. Considering the fact that most people tend to mellow a bit with age, I wonder what he was like in his early twenties. I’ll bet he was a real pistol.
Perhaps I need to be a little more tolerant of my own son’s ‘wild and rebellious’ nature.
I found this fellow’s site, “The Ongoing Adventures of Asbo Jesus” and was really taken by it. His name is Jon and I believe he is a professional cartoonist in Britain. His blog contains some work of his that he says “no one would be daft enough to pay for!” According to Jon, in Britain “an ‘asbo’ is an ‘anti-social behaviour order’… the courts here award them to people who are deemed to be constant trouble in their neighbourhoods… presumably according to their neighbours!”
These are just a couple of his cartoons and he has many. His sense of humor is biting and thoughtful and his site is well worth the visit; http://asbojesus.wordpress.com/
(You may want to zoom you page up a notch or two to be able to read all the captions. Of course your eyes are probably a lot better than mine.)
For hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus the Jewish people waited, some patiently, some not so patiently, for the coming of the Messiah. The prophets foretold of the power that he would wield as he restored Israel to its proper place at the head of all nations. Those that had subjugated and persecuted God’s chosen people would be dealt with in a swift and decisive fashion.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.
He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.
Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be cut off;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.
They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will lay hands on Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.
The LORD will dry up
the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand
over the Euphrates River. [
He will break it up into seven streams
so that men can cross over in sandals.
There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from Egypt.
Isaiah 11: 10-16
John the Baptist prepared those who would listen for the imminent appearance of the Messiah. He also warned them that upon his arrival they should be prepared for judgment followed by harsh punishments and great rewards. He singled out the religious ruling class for particular admonishment, as he saw them as being unfair in their treatment of God’s people.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
This righteous anger and outspokenness on John’s part led many to wonder if perhaps he was the Messiah. John was quick to correct their mis-perceptions, letting them know that the one that followed him was not to be trifled with. His talk of the One Lord coming to reward the faithful and wreak vengeance on the sinful was music to the ears of the poor and wounded Jews, who had suffered for so long under the domination of so many foreign and pagan lords.
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John 3: 15-17
John publicly identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah who has come to save his people. Yet Jesus looks and acts quite unlike what the Jews had come to expect. John himself doubts Jesus’ authority;
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Matt 11:2-6
Jesus does not respond with a clear yes or no, instead describing the nature of the ‘true’ Messiah as contrasted with that of prophecy. Not long after this, as described in Matthew 16, Jesus asks the apostles who they think he is;
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus is obviously pleased with their response, particularly Peter’s. He indicates that Peter realized his divine nature through revelation, not by what any man had said. The inference here is that it was commendable that Peter had made up his own mind about Jesus instead of relying upon the current wisdom obout what the Messiah would be like.
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
And then he does something strange. He tells the apostles to keep his authority secret.
Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Many have suggested that Jesus did not feel the time was right to announce his true identity. Perhaps instead he knew that his message was in most ways contradictory to what the people expected of the Messiah.
He follows this up with a mysterious prediction that very soon he will return in divine glory to fulfill the prophecies. He even stresses that it will be within the lifetime of some of his listeners.
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
There has been plenty of controversy as to what Jesus actually meant here. His literal second coming obviously did not take place in the first or second centuries. Two millennia later it still has not occurred and various self proclaimed prophets have read the signs and announced that the time was at hand. This is in spite of the fact that, although he tells us what signs would presage the event, he also says that no one could predict this time with any accuracy.
From Thomas Darby to Charles Taze Russel, Hal Lindsey to Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye many Christians have become excited about the prospect of the End Times and Armageddon. As plain as the meanings of the apocalyptic scriptures are to these people, many others do not see them in quite the same light. Anticipation of the Messiah’s coming as warrior King at the command of legions of angels as they assist him in battle against the forces of evil is something that the millennial Christian has in common with conservative Judaism.
Jesus’ pacifistic teachings were hard to swallow for a people who had waited so long for justice to be served. They could not accept this ‘weak’ way as The Way to salvation, a Way that enables the follower to experience peace and joy even when oppressed and persecuted. Some objected because they had so much to lose if they risked following this ‘messiah’. Many more, envious and bitter with those who had been ‘blessed’ with more than they had, relished the idea of violent retribution. This Jesus of Nazareth did not meet their expectations of the Messiah and he was soundly dealt with.
The same branches of Christianity that seem to have the most difficulty with Jesus’ simple yet ‘soft’ message of love, sacrifice and grace are also those who are most inclined to take the apocalyptic scriptures literally. To zealously look forward to an exacting final judgment followed by the harsh and brutal punishment of most of the world’s people may be preventing much of the Church from effectively serving the Kingdom. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, or not? Has he come to free us from bondage by showing us his Way? Or will we continue to wait for someone who more closely feeds our ‘righteous’ hunger for vengeance and retribution? It was while nailed to the cross that he said, “It is finished.”
Your Jelly Fish version of Chrissianity (sic) is well documented…great job “coverting”(sic) souls to Christ with you gummy bear Jelly bean Jesus version of the Gospel! You guys are well defined by this little piece appropriately called “Back Rubs 4 Jesus” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=mohixsVRNdc ) Ha! That suits your sweet, sweet, candy cane Chrissianity (sic) just fine! What a farce! Chocolate Soldiers every one of you!
This was a recent comment on an article I wrote about the largely negative consequences of extolling a gospel of hell and damnation; https://sharpiron.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/intimacy-not-intimidation/#comment-1209
There were other more reasoned responses, some of them even suggesting that my position may be exaggerated, but I think the digestion of this one particular remark is the proof of the pudding. Although this fellow’s ‘ministry’ is a little over the top and would garner little sympathy among many of us, his wording is not really that outrageous. I find it to be similar to what has been expressed by many conservative Christians.
There seems to be a lot of resistance to the idea of remembering Jesus primarily as he has been portrayed in the Gospels. Many of the arguments I hear say that the image of Jesus found in the Gospels, the patient, loving, peaceful and tolerant peasant, fond of little children and the lame as well as lepers, prostitutes and thieves, represents only one aspect of God. There is also God the punisher, the wrathful, the one who hates sin to such a degree that he cannot tolerate sinners. It is said that this picture of God can be found throughout the Old Testament as well as in John’s Revelation. I personally don’t see this vision in scriptures, but nevertheless, I don’t believe that this is the real reason why so many are fond of this stern and vengeful depiction of God.
I think this attraction stems from an ingrained need for people to identify with a group and the accompanying urge to keep those who do not conform outside of the tribe. A sense of insecurity pervades many churches, a fear that the flock will be corrupted by the sin of others. In practice this makes it easier for us to ignore some of the deeper meanings of Jesus’ teachings; those about unconditional forgiveness, love, mercy and tolerance. We often find it easier to accept Levitical exhortations against homosexuality rather than Jesus’ command not to judge others. (Matt 7: 1-2) [For more thoughts on why we have this tendency towards conformity check out this thread on ‘Suddenly Christian’ ; http://johnshore.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/why-must-others-be-like-us/]
We pay lip service to our slogans welcoming everyone to our churches, becoming gate keepers instead. When we forget that our churches are made up of nothing but sinners we find ourselves taking pleasure in our own salvation, even cultivating a sense of pride in our privileged position with God. We learn to notice those characteristics of the ‘saved’ versus the ‘unsaved’ and find ourselves, perhaps unconsciously, avoiding those who do not meet what we believe are God’s standards. We forget that God loves the sinner, the pagan, just as much as he loves each of us within the church. If he can find value in our lives, working through us and with us, what makes us think that he is not doing the same with them?
Though told to go out into the world and feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned, we tend to restrict these activities to our fellow church members. Perhaps just the idea of membership is the problem. Our churches take on the character of Coast Guard rescue vessels, our pastors at the helm while the rest of us serve as crew. We gallantly ply the treacherous seas of this world, searching for souls that need saving and hauling them on board. Not a bad analogy, perhaps, until the ‘saved’ realize that unless they agree with the captain’s theology or the crew’s uniform standards he may find himself tossed into the drink once again. It is easy to find yourself shunning the sinner when your theology tells you that God considers them fuel for the fires of hell.
How did we get to this point where we have “captains’ manning the helms and steering us into waters that appear to be Biblical yet turn out to be dangerously shallow? Why do those of us who claim to have met the risen Jesus feel the need for the guidance of generation upon generation of authoritarian pastors, vicars, priests and bishops? Could it be that a man-made hierarchy within the church contributes to the “common sense” that there is also another hierarchy; that of the churched versus the un-churched, the saved versus the un-saved?
In the second century, Irenaeus, Bishop of Gaul and student of Polycarp became alarmed at the lack of cohesiveness within the early church’s theology. He took it upon himself to identify those teachings that were false (heresies) and had a tremendous amount of influence over what became today’s canon as well as much of today’s church doctrines and dogmas. Although not everything he taught has been included in common church doctrine, much of it was first enunciated by him, including the idea that scripture was divinely inspired. Some of what we find most controversial to this day is grounded in his personal theology. http://www.lessonsonline.info/IRENAEUS%20OF%20LYONS.htm
One of the greatest challenges that he faced was how to go about establishing the authority that he (and other church leaders) needed to mandate what was truth and what was not. With this in mind he was able to find biblical and historical justification for “apostolic succession”; the idea, for example, that John the Apostle (allegedly) taught Polycarp who taught Irenaeus and so on and so forth. Once his authority was established those that disagreed with him were labeled as heretics and expelled from the congregation. No dissent, no compromise, no question was tolerated. Unfortunately, this is the model that the church chose to adopt. Elaine Pagels, in Beyond Belief notes that, like our clergy of today ” Irenaeus promises that he will explain for them what the scripture really means and insists that only what he teaches is true”. This stands in stark contrast to the type of discourse that can be found in most synagogues, where the rabbi and congregants remember how Abraham and Moses would question God, even getting him to change his mind on occasion.
Jesus challenged the religious authorities of his time; with their policies of excluding those who did not meet their standards of righteousness. He did not seem to be interested in establishing a new religion in his name but instead on shaking things up for the religious status quo. When asked, he tells people to follow his way, to be like him. He says that all of the law hangs on the commandment to love God and love each other. He tells us to love our enemies. He says that those who feel hate for anyone at all are at great risk. He says that the world will know that we are his followers by our love. He says all these things and then he hangs out with hookers and thieves. He tells one thief that he will take him to paradise, no strings attached. He embraced and healed lepers, who were thought to be guilty of terrible sexual sins.
This new religion, Christianity, soon became something that was rarely identifiable with the example of Christ. When weak they were persecuted by the Romans and displayed the strength one finds with God’s grace and mercy. Upon becoming strong, the church took on the role of persecutor and those dissidents that suffered at their hands now took on the role of Christ crucified, dying for what they held to be the truth. Today there are those who seek God but because their sin is seen so differently from many others they now stand outside the gate. If Jesus would invite them in, who are we to keep them out? Perhaps more importantly, what human has the authority to demand such inhospitality?