The pictures of Jesus painted for us in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe what it was like when he walked among us during the first century in the areas around Galilee and Judea. But what if we transformed his time among them and saw him living physically among us today? How would he fit in today? What if he came to church where you worship on a given Sunday? Would he feel accepted? Would we welcome him to preach to the church where we are? If he did preach and spoke in our language, how many would be offended by the words he used? Somehow, I don’t think Jesus would have bought into all the politically correct language of our day. He didn’t accept such language in his own time.
One of the reasons he didn’t fit with most of the religious crowd of his own people, the Jews was that he wouldn’t buy into the attitudes and actions of those who were regarded as the most spiritual among them. The group he most often spoke of as hypocrites was the Pharisees and Sadducees of the day and they were the ultra conservative and the ultra liberal of his own time. Both would have loved it if he would simply have let the other one have it and declared that their attitude and teaching was completely wrong. But, he spoke with equal fervor against both of them and then it wasn’t primarily about what they believed and taught as much as it was their failure to do even what they taught others to do. It was their inconsistency of life and their emphasis on the insignificant while overlooking the matters that were vitally important was so frustrating to him. Think of him saying to them you hypocrites, you pay tithes of mint, anise and cumin but have omitted the more important matters of faith, justice, mercy and faith. These you should have done without leaving the other undone. They were more concerned of the small, that made no real difference than the huge matters like justice, mercy and faith.
What is so interesting about our own time is that everyone tends to think that they are following Jesus fully. It is the other folks who differ with us in some way that are the hypocrites or the ones who are dead wrong. No one ever walked among people who demonstrated more love for us than Jesus. He loved all people and offered hope to the ones who were rejected by society around them. Yet, his loving and reaching out to the poor, rejected and hated in society didn’t mean that he refused to take a stand on different moral issues and left the impression that everything they did was all right. No one ever spoke with greater clarity on immoral behavior such as sexual immorality and adultery than Jesus. He pointed out that these things rise from the heart of a person and that it is our hearts that need to change and it will lead to a change of actions. The religious leaders wanted to pass more rules and deal with every little insignificant idea to make certain people did right. Jesus had the habit of looking at the wrong actions and looking behind it to see the attitudes that led to that action.
Think of the Sermon on the Mount when he walked down different commands like not murdering or not committing adultery and he demonstrated that behind the murder was anger and calling people by derogatory names. He pointed out that adultery started with lust in the heart. Thus he worked to change people from the inside.
Today it seems to me that we want to make certain that no one says anything that might make anyone else feel uneasy with their life, yet never wish to reach deeper than the wrong action to discover the things behind the action. Instead of recognizing that we too are sinners that need to turn from sin to God in repentance, we shout loudly that no one is to judge us for what we are doing. “It’s between me and God” is the common mentality. But is it merciful for anyone to allow another to move on in the wrong direction rather than taking a chance we might offend them to help them see they are on the wrong road.
Can you imagine Jesus turning to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they criticized him for saying to a man who was cripple that his sins were forgiven, to say that it was their truth that only God could forgive sins, but his truth was that he too could forgive sins? No, Jesus only knew of one kind of truth. Things that were right and from God were “The truth.” He didn’t have a personal truth that was just his and that everyone else could have their own truth. Too often we are so determined to justify our actions that we are ready to reject God, Christ and the Holy Spirit to uphold our own actions. We even set ourselves up as the judge and jury, not just of our own actions, but of the actions of God. If we can look at what God does and it doesn’t fit what we would have done under the same conditions, the result must be that either there is no God or that he did wrong.
Think of the seven qualities Jesus blessed in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount and think how well these qualities are accepted in our own time. He praised being “poor in spirit” and says this person will be blessed with the kingdom of God. He praised “Mourning” and said they would be comforted. He praised being gentle and said they would inherit the earth. He praised being hungry and thirsty for righteousness and said they would be filled. He praised mercy, purity of heart and being peacemakers. He noted that those who live that life will be persecuted for living such a way, but they will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Can you imagine picking up a book on leadership or successful living and the chapter heads being humility, mourning, gentleness, hunger for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart and peacemaking? I can’t either. Yet those were the very qualities Jesus declared would make for a great person, one pleasing to God and who would influence others in the right direction. I don’t really think those qualities would be any more recognized as the right stuff for great lives anymore today than they were in the first century. The reaction of the religious leaders of that day to Jesus was to plot his execution. What would it be today? Would we do the same?