Every year as I read through the Story of God, I come to the heart of the matter in the Gospels, Jesus. Jesus amazes me more every time I look at him. Fresh from the reading of the Hebrew Bible, there is much in the Gospels quite familiar. The infancy narratives remind us immediately of Sarah, Hannah, and even Judith. The people constantly mumbling, testing and even rejecting Moses are doing the same to Jesus. The people of God, less than receptive to Jeremiah and Ezekiel and even responded physically are doing the same to Jesus. These anointed ones by God were viewed as disturbers of the peace. The four Gospels present Jesus of Nazareth as one who was deeply molded by these images of God’s called ones.
But we often sanitize Jesus just as the Pharisees scrubbed the Hebrew Bible. As I reflect on seeing Jesus in 4D there are some things hit me pretty hard as a person who takes the Bible seriously. Sometimes it seems like Jesus just blows up our religious point of view. We need to come to grips with the truth that Jesus was not murdered because he was nice or because he told people to love.
Jesus and the Doctors of Doctrine
Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for doctrinal error. This is rather shocking given the stereotypes we cast of the Pharisees. But Jesus is on record as saying that for the most part the Pharisees were biblically correct (Mt 23.1-2).
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, therefore do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do what they do, for they do not do not practice what they teach.”
Jesus did not disagree with the content of the Pharisee’s doctrine. Indeed, the Pharisees were the doctors of “precision obedience.” Yet Jesus condemned these outstanding doctrinal teachers as “children of hell!” (Mt 23.15). Jesus condemned the Pharisees for three primary reasons:
1) their failure to distinguish between the weightier matters of the Bible and the insignificant matters;
2) He condemned the Pharisees for their self-righteousness;
3) He condemned the Pharisees for their lack of compassion, mercy and grace.
It was not the sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors that hung Jesus on the Tree. That infamous honor goes to the proclaimers of precision obedience to commands.
Jesus, Mercy and a Divorced Woman turned Preacher
This is personally good news because I am divorced. Jesus knew the Bible as well as the doctrinally correct Pharisees. The Nazarene however drank deeply from Exodus 34.6-7, Hosea 6.6, Jonah, Micah 7.18-19, God “delights” to show mercy.
“For I desire HESED [steadfast love] and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings …”
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity …
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing mercy.
He will again have compassion upon us …
He will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea”
When Jesus encountered a woman that had gone through multiple divorces and was currently cohabiting with a man (her life was obviously a train wreck!) he did not lecture her on the Ten Commandments. He did not tell her that she was “living in sin.” He did not tell her to unscramble her eggs (as I have heard and at one time even taught). Jesus did not shame her.
What Jesus did with that woman at the well is astonishing. It was, and is, scandalous. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus told her to go to church. Go worship in “Spirit and truth!” And the Gospel of John tells us she became preacher. The woman, the multiple divorcee, became very first preacher of the Gospel according to the Bible in fact. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he? … Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4.29, 39).
Jesus allowed Scandal
Jesus often did things because he wanted to, not because he had to. And sometimes he did things, seemingly, to make a point. He did them to rub our noses in our hypocrisy. In one of the most scandalous stories in the Bible, a woman of a well known bad reputation, came in caressing and rubbing her hair all over his feet. Jesus allowed this to take place. There is not an iota of protest from Jesus toward this woman.
If this was not a story in the Gospels but was a story about Bobby Valentine, preaching in church and some woman off the street sat at my feet and was rubbing them I can promise you, church folks would be aghast. But Jesus looked at this woman, who never says a word, and said “your sins are forgiven!” She did not even ask for it! (Lk 7.36-50). And Jesus pronounced upon her the priestly blessing of Numbers 6.22-24, “go in peace/shalom.”
It does not take much imagination to see how an episode like this would ruin the career of any preacher.
Jesus Gave to the Poor
In a little detail about the Nazarene, lost in the drama of the Last Supper and washing of dirty feet, we learn that Jesus’s little band of Israelites practiced the spiritual discipline of giving alms to the poor. John writes “Some thought that because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him … that he should give something to the poor” (13.29). The only possible way the disciples could have imagined that Judas was being directed by Jesus to share from the “common purse” with the poor is if that was something Jesus and the disciples were in the habit of doing. Jesus practiced the the commands of the Torah.
A recurring command in the Hebrew Bible, connected to all the festivals, is sharing of our means with the powerless and poor. To “give alms” was an essential Jewish practice (one of the “Three Pillars of Judaism”) and this little side detail in John gives us a brilliant window into Jesus’s personal practice of righteousness. In his own poverty, the Messiah was generous with those who were even poorer.
Jesus Attended Worship
Jesus was fully immersed in the corporate worship of his people. Not only did Jesus keep the festival of the Sabbath but the liturgical calendar of the Hebrew Bible. We know little of this from the Synoptic Gospels but the Gospel of John is a different story. The Torah required Jewish men to make a pilgrimage three times a year to the Temple (Passover, Weeks/Pentecost; Tabernacles/Booths). John tells us that Jesus was in the temple for various festivals in 5.1; 6.4; 7.37; and in 10.22. The last festival is that of Hanukkah. Hanukkah was not required but celebrated the Temple and Jesus loved his “Father’s house.” For Jesus to voluntarily make the difficult trip to Jerusalem indicates his “dedication.” If Jesus was there it was because he wanted to be there. Public worship in the Temple was, according to the Gospels, important to Jesus.
Jesus Begs Disciples
Jesus is constantly begging his disciples to have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” He says this in a myriad of ways. For instance he may say “have you understood this” (Mt 13.51). Or “have I been with you this long and you still do not get it?” Or he will say “go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Jesus did not doubt many could quote scripture, but he doubted that quoting was equivalent to understanding it.
Jesus said and did many things that offended good, decent, religious people to the core. They could quote the same Bible Jesus did. They could go to the same worship assemblies that he did. They could be scrupulous about precision obedience to technical matters. And never see and never hear but instead become so angry that good and decent law abiding people conspired in the most horrific crime in history.
These are just a few things that I noticed going through the story of Jesus again. Some I already knew. Some impressed me all over again.
If we look at Jesus in 4D he is going to challenge us. He is even going to offend us.