20-16 The Radical Acceptance Of Jesus
His demands upon those who would follow Him were radical- to take up
a cross and follow Him, to hate father and mother, to sacrifice
all worldly ambition for Him. Jesus often spoke of breaking with
ones natural family; and His own example showed as ever what He
meant. Yet the family was the primary social unit in 1st
century Palestine, the basis of identity and security. The man who
wanted to first bury his father before following the Lord was rejected
by the demanding Jesus- when to properly bury one's dead was among
the most sacred obligations of Judaism. His standards were sometimes
unbelievably high. Whoever called his brother a fool (Gk. more-a
moron, but implying a rebel, an apostate- Ps. 78:8; Jer. 5:23 LXX)
was liable to eternal condemnation by Him. When struck on the right
cheek- which was a Semitic insult to a heretic(1)-
they were to not respond and open themselves up for further insult
[surely a lesson for those brethren who are falsely accused of wrong
beliefs]. And yet the compassion of Jesus shines through both His
parables and the records of His words; as does His acceptance of
people for who they were. People were relaxed with Him because they
could see He had no hidden agenda. He wasn't going to use them for
His own power trip. He kept saying, His concrete Kingdom was yet
to come. He wasn't going to heap criticism and guilt upon them.
And so people came to Him. Today people are wary of joining a religious
group because they feel they cannot be themselves, that they will
be forced into positions that do violence to their integrity. But
Jesus didn't treat people like this; and that's just why they came
to Him. And this surely must be a lesson for us, never to institutionalize
the body of Christ so that we turn people away from Him rather than
bring them to Him. His sensitivity to people was and is simply stunning.
Sensitive people today, living as we do in this hard world, can
find life unbearably difficult. Every encounter with others can
become excruciating. Yet Jesus, the most sensitive man who ever
lived, went through all this. Victoriously. The way He forgave the
thief on the cross, who had just " cast the same [abuse] in
His teeth" as had the unrepentant thief, is an essay
in this. Jesus was sensitive enough to understand the tortured spirit
and pain which gave rise to peoples' unkind behaviour. Jesus saw
the man's anguish, and had pity rather than anger with Him. And
somehow, in perhaps only His body language in response to the abuse
from the two thieves, the one thief was motivated to repent and
dare to ask for salvation.
Consider how He asks Zacchaeus to eat with Him- a public sign of religious
fellowship in first century Palestine. This acceptance of the man for
who and where he was, inspired Zacchaeus to then start changing his life
in practice- he then offered to give back what he had stolen. When quizzed
as to why He ate / fellowshipped with sinners, the Lord replied that He
had come to call sinners to repentance (Lk. 5:32). Think through the implications
of this. He fellowshipped with those who were so weak within the ecclesia
of Israel so as to bring them to repentance; His eating with them was
like a doctor making a home visit. The religious attitude of the Pharisees
was that one only fellowshipped someone who was repentant; whereas the
Lord said that He fellowshipped with people to bring them to repentance.
Note how in Lk. 19:1-10, the Lord offered salvation to sinners before
they had repented. Itís the same idea.
Time and again His parables sought to justify His association with outcasts
(Lk. 14:15-24; 15:1-32; Mt. 18:23-25; 20:1-15; 21:28-32). When the nobleman
came to ask Jesus to cure his son, Jesus agreed; and the man went home.
But it was only on the way home that he really believed. He came to faith
spontaneously, and not because Jesus insisted on it. Or remember the woman
who had had five men in her life, and presumably a number of children
to go with each of them. Her face and body would have reflected the story
of her life. She was living with someone not her husband. Jesus didn't
tell her to break up with the guy. He knew full well that if a woman left
her man, she had nowhere to go. Here was a woman who had been 'married'
five times. Who would want her? There were children involved. Probably
even her family had rejected her. Jesus accepted the real life situation,
and human failure to rise up to higher standards. One wonders whether
the very lack of specific demand from Jesus maybe motivated her to somehow
normalize her life. The gentle way Jesus treated these cases shows not
so much approval, but an understanding of the frailty of human nature.
And this is what enabled Jesus to be so unwaveringly committed to His
own perfect standards, and yet be so natural and at ease with the lowest
of the low.
(1) Joachim Jeremias, The
Sermon On The Mount (London: Athlone Press, 1961) pp. 27,28.