20-12 Jesus The Radical
There's a radical in each of us, even if the years have mellowed it.
The way to express it is surely through radical devotion to the Father's
cause. On one hand, Jesus spoke to men as they were able to hear it, not
as He was able to expound it. Yet on the other, He gave His radicalism
free reign. The Sabbath miracles seem to have purposefully provoked the
Jews. When He encouraged His men to rub the corn heads and eat them like
peanuts as they walked through a field one Sabbath, He knew full well
this was going to provoke confrontation. And he said what was anathema
to the Jews: " The Law was made for man and not man for the Law"
. Where there is human need, the law can bend. This was a startling concept
for a Jew. Jesus described the essence of His Kingdom as mustard seed,
which was basically a weed. It was like a woman putting leaven [both symbols
of impurity] into flour. Surely the Lord was trying to show that His message
was not so Heavenly that it was unrelated to earthly life. It was real
and relevant to the ordinary dirty business of life. The woman who have
everything she had was noted by the Lord as His ideal devotee. He taught
that it was preferable to rid oneself of an eye or a limb and to sacrifice
sex if that is for us the price of entry into the Kingdom (Mk. 9:45-47).
The parable of the man who built bigger barns taught that in some senses
we should in His service like there's no tomorrow. He expected His followers
to respond immediately, to pay the price today rather than tomorrow, with
no delay or procrastination. There is an emphasis in His teaching on immediacy
of response, single-mindedness and unrestrained giving. This is radical
stuff for 21st century people in the grip of manic materialism.
His simple claim that God can forgive men all sins was radical (Mk. 3:28)-
for the Rabbis had a whole list of unforgivable sins, like murder, apostasy,
contempt for the Law, etc. But the Lord went further. His many words of
judgment werenít directed to the murderers and whores and Sabbath breakers;
they were instead directed against those who condemned those people, considering
themselves righteous. He calls those who appeared so righteous a Ďgeneration
of vipersí. The publican, not the Pharisee, finds Godís acceptance, according
to Jesus. And again, the Lord is making a telling point- because Rabbis
held that repentance for publicans was almost impossible, because it was
impossible for them to know exactly all the people theyíd cheated. Very
clearly, the Lordís message was radical. He was out to form a holy people
from whores and gamblers, no-good boys and conmen. And moreover, He was
out to show that what God especially judges and hates are the things that
humanity doesnít think twice about: hypocrisy, self-righteousness, judgmentalism,
exclusion of othersÖ Another example of the Lordís radical collision course
with the Rabbis is in His comment that Godís care even embraces sparrow
(Mt. 10:29). For the Rabbis explicitly forbad prayers that mentioned Godís
care for birds, because they argued that it was dishonouring to God to
associate Him with something so small as a bird (Berith 5.3).
And the Lord purposefully stood that idea upon its head.
Judaism focused repentance and forgiveness around the temple; but Jesus
offered forgiveness to all and sundry, out there on the street.
The realness of His person backed up the truth of His claims to
grant forgiveness. And it was a forgiveness they evidently felt
; it wasn't mere philosophy. And it was backed up by healing
miracles which spoke to the reflective as live parables of the reality
of that cleansing and forgiveness. This is what, put together, made
Him so unique and magnetic. This was what gave that radical bite
to the teaching of Jesus. Truly, the more real, the more credible.
This is what enabled a man who lived such a short life, in such
a backwater, never rising to public prominence until age 30, and
then only being in the local limelight for three and a half years...to
influence the lives of millions world-wide over the next 2,000 years,
in a way which nobody else has ever done, and to become Lord of
the empire which had crucified Him.
Presenting The Radical Jesus
The essential spirit of the great commission was “Go!”,
following on as it does from the repeated commands to “go”
and share the glorious news that Christ had risen. And yet so many
congregations of believers seem to stress instead “Come in
to us!”. And every manner of carrot is dangled before the
public to entice them to ‘come in’ to some church event.
But the emphasis was clearly, and should still be, upon ‘going’
to people. Our turning of ‘Go!’ into ‘Come to
us’ is all part of a wider picture, whereby the group of hard
core, desperate men who first followed Jesus, the whores, the gamblers,
the mentally ill, the marginalized women… have all been diluted
into a religion of conformists, a spiritual bubble in which we risk
nothing, sacrifice nothing, and comfortably continue in the way
of our fathers who were also members of the same church as we are.
It’s this mindset which is in my view our most serious problem
as a community. We need a shake up. Perhaps we need to remember
that the teaching of Jesus was actually not directed initially at
irreligious people; it was rather to the people of God, to those
within the ecclesia. We need to read the Gospels from that viewpoint.
They are a radical call to a radical life, a life and way of thinking
that’s not about sitting around in a church doing humanly
sensible things, taking the safe decisions and options, raising
our children in a cocoon of safety and ‘fun’, often
to see them walk out into life either indifferent to Jesus, or as
merely passive members of a church. It’s not about ‘a
religion that makes sense’. It’s not about God always
keeping us safe on the roads if we pray regularly and go to meeting
on time and read the Bible now and again. It’s about a call
to do that which is humanly nonsensical, but to give and give up
things in faith, to risk, to aim high, to leap in faith. I see this
spirit in those newly baptized. But so often I see it quenched by
their attendance at church driving them into the status quo, the
utter monotony of civilized church life, within a nominally Christian
culture. I’m not against churches; to be together in the body
of Christ is a vital part of our growth. But it has to be said that
all too often, the structure ends up rationalizing apathy, and absolving
the newly converted individual from the great weight of personal
responsibility which they feel to take Christ to their world. Somehow
we have to ensure that we all keep in personal contact with our
Lord, with the spirit of the Gospels, that we never lose that sense
of personal encounter with Him. For this will ever keep us from
worrying too much what others think of us, doing what is smart and
acceptable and right in the eyes of men… rather we will think
only of what is right in His eyes. We’ll get the spirit of
David as he danced before the Lord, being himself, with his wife
mocking him for what he was looking like in the eyes of men (2 Sam.
6:21,22). The cause of the Kingdom must be forcefully advanced by
“violent men” (Mt. 11:12). This was the sort of language
the Lord used. He wasn’t preaching anything tame, painless
membership of a comfortable community.