Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Amazing Differences

When noticing the interaction between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, there is an amazing disconnect - they seem, not only to be on different pages about God, but from completely different planets. That is why there is so much conflict recorded in the gospels between Jesus and the religious establishment.
What are the reasons for such radical differences in their approaches to faith? While I do not know all the answers, I have noticed a couple of things that may be valuable for those who live in the religious establishment today, but who long to live more like Jesus.
First, I think that Jesus and the religious leaders had different assumptions about sin. For the religious leaders, sin was something external that defiled only upon contact. Therefore their most solemn obligation was to AVOID sinful people, places, and situations. Jesus, on the other hand, said that sin was an internal problem that could never be solved by simple avoidance. What was needed was a heart transplant. This difference led to completely different stances when it came to relating to other people. The Pharisees thought they were the only clean people in the world (their name means "separated ones"), and that they should carefully avoid all sinners. Jesus realized that if you are clean then you will not only not be defiled by sinners but you might be in the position to offer them some help. So the Pharisees were extremely self-righteous and Jesus was the friend of sinners.
Second, Jesus and the religious leaders worked from different texts. To be sure, they both had the same Scriptures, but they emphasized different things from that Scripture. The religious leaders were convinced that "Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy" should be the main text for anyone seeking to please God. It was even essential in their eyes to keep all the extra laws concerning the Sabbath that the elders had formulated over the years. But for Jesus, there was a different set of texts. He loved to quote "I desire mercy not sacrifice" (particularly to the religious leaders) and he was convinced that the entire law was summed up in the commands to love God and neighbor. Jesus knew that laws are important only if they fulfill their function of serving people and pointing them towards God. The religious leaders were more interested in a rigid keeping of the law, regardless of how it affected people.
These two differences (an assumption about sin and a selection of texts) lead the religious leaders to have a sectarian mindset concerning what people can be accepted in God's name, and a tyrannical view of God who is just waiting for people to make a fatal mistake! Jesus offers a much more compelling view of the church and of God. Anyone who will come is welcome, and God is a loving host who delights in throwing parties for people who do not deserve it!
Your choice about what kind of church to be associated with generally still runs along these lines. Think about it...

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