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Monday, January 04, 2016

The Harsher Jesus

Here's one for you, folks. Did you know that Jesus only spoke harshly to the conservative fundamentalists of His day? To everyone else He was ... nice. Or that's what they tell me.

Now, of course, it's easy to come to that conclusion ... as long as you don't bother reading in the Bible about what Jesus actually did. I mean, as long as the "Jesus" you have in mind is that smiling one or, better, the laughing one or, wait, even better, the "thumbs up" one, I'm sure that image will hold up fine. The biblical image isn't quite like that.

Jesus often spoke harshly against hypocrites. You know what a hypocrite is, right? No, wait ... I suspect you may not. A lot of people think of a hypocrite as someone who speaks of the wrongs that others do but does them himself. When a parent tells a child, "Don't do that" and the child says, "Did you do it when you were young?" and the parent says, "Yes", folks, we have a hypocrite. Except, that's not a hypocrite. A hypocrite is a person that claims righteousness he or she doesn't possess. They hold others to a standard they don't hold for themselves. And Jesus spoke harshly against those.
"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:5)

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matt 15:7-9)
And, of course, the Pharisees and Sadducees were hypocrites. There are a lot of harsh words for their hypocrisy. But it is not for their conservative views or "fundamentalism". On that Jesus said, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:20) Do you see what He's saying? "These guys are standing before you with the highest righteousness available. You'll need to exceed that." How far? "You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) He said of them, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matt 23:23) Yes, they're hypocrites. Yes, they missed justice and mercy and faithfulness. But they were faithful to tithe mint, dill, and cumin! "These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." He said of them, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life." (John 5:39-40) That is, they were right to search the Scriptures. Their failure was that they didn't come to Christ.

Now, clearly Jesus had harsh words for hypocrites and especially for hypocritical religious leaders. But don't think He reserved it all for them. It wasn't the Pharisees whom He chased out of the Temple twice with a whip (John 2:14-17; Matt 21:12-13); it was money changers. And His first message to the world was not "neither do I condemn you", but "Repent" (Matt 4:17). Some people (not Pharisees) came to Him with a troubling question. What were they to make of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices? Jesus didn't offer comforting words. His response was, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3) Whoa, Jesus, that's not very nice. Perhaps some of His harshest words were against those who mislead His people. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea." (Mark 9:42) Harsh, Jesus, really harsh.

Did Jesus speak harshly to the Pharisees? Yes, yes He did indeed. For their conservative religious views? Absolutely not. It was their hypocrisy that He spoke against. It was their "white-washed tomb" status, the "clean on the outside but dirty on the inside" persona. He didn't avoid the fact that the woman at the well was an adulteress (John 4:16-18) and He made sure to tell the woman "caught in adultery" to "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). He didn't comfort the rich young ruler who sought eternal life, but held him to the highest standard (Matt 19:21-22). Jesus told His disciples, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) I mean, that's pretty exclusive, pretty harsh, not inclusive or tolerant. And that was to His disciples. So, yes, He had harsh words for hypocrites, and many of the religious leaders of His day were just such hypocrites. But you, dear reader, be careful. Don't buy that nonsense line that "Jesus only spoke harshly to the conservative fundamentalists of His day." Because that isn't a mistaken idea; that is a lie.


Bob said...

what do you suppose people would say about the God of the old testament? He had a lot of harsh things to say. when God was in the burning bush talking to Moses, or when He was a consuming fire on the Mount Sinai, did he play nice? people would say yea, but that's the old testament.
opps... it's the same God, by a different name. Jesus said "before Moses was, I AM."

if only we could redefine his character, then we can make a god of our own choosing.
Jesus was kind, Yahway was mean...
Jesus was liberal, Yahway was conservative.
Jesus was a democrat Yahway was a republican.

maybe people don't understand that Jesus and Yahway are the same person. Go figure...

Stan said...

That is a problem, isn't it? If Jesus is God, then how Jesus spoke to people in the New Testament is not innovative, but ... God. And if Jesus (the second person of the Trinity) is God, then the God of the Old Testament is the same God and we need to incorporate His interaction with people into our model of how God relates to people instead of bifurcating Christ from God.

Of course, given the numbers of Christians who are quite sure that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the whole concept of "Jesus is the second person of the Trinity" is on its way out. That is, Jesus is not God ... and Christianity itself grinds to a halt.

Danny Wright said...

Reminds me of the "Thumbs Up Jesus". You should have included that pic in your post.

Stan said...

Yeah, I listed that Jesus in the list. I almost included the picture, but 1) find it too nauseating and 2) don't know about ownership and copyright stuff.