Posts tagged ‘Pharisee’

Was Jesus a Liberal or a Conservative?

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People love to claim Jesus.  This is especially true in the realm of politics.  At the beginning of the year, the Pew Research Center published a report about the faith commitments of those serving in Congress.  As it turns out, Congress is a very religious place:

The U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s…Among members of the new, 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians. This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95% of members were Christian.

Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new, 115th Congress, all but two identify as Christians…Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian (80%).

In a society where people who claim Christianity are on the decline, the fact that so many members of Congress would continue to identify as “Christian” is worthy of our attention.  But claiming Christ is not always synonymous with following Christ.  Indeed, both of our nation’s two major political parties have had moments where their actions did not comport particularly well with Christ’s commands.

Regardless of what politicians and parties may say about Jesus or how they may represent Jesus, in His own day, Jesus demonstrated a persistent refusal to be co-opted by any political power.

In Matthew 22, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question about a woman who had been married seven times to seven brothers.  Their question has to do with whose wife she will be at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day: “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her” (Matthew 22:28)?  Sadly, their question is dripping with insincerity because the Sadducees did not even believe in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day (cf. Acts 23:8).  They were too enlightened to believe in something so outlandish.  Another theological distinction of the Sadducees is that they accepted only the first five Old Testament books of Moses as canonical rather than the 39 books that other Jewish religious groups accepted.  Though I have no historical proof of this, I am pretty sure the Sadducees had these five books printed in red and called themselves “Red-Letter Jews,” claiming that the rest of the Old Testament canon did not really matter – only what Moses had written.  In today’s terms, the Sadducees would be aligned with theological liberals.

As Matthew 22 continues, on the heels of the Sadducees come the Pharisees.  If the Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day, the Pharisees would have been the theological conservatives.  They also have a question for Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36)?  This was a hotly debated theological question in the first century with no uniform answer.  More progressive teachers like Rabbi Hillel summarized the law like this: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary” (b. Shabbat 31a).  Other more conservative rabbis asserted that, because all Scripture is given by God, to try to distinguish between greater and lesser commandments in the Bible is foolish.  When the Pharisees present their question to Jesus about the law, they want to know whether He will answer liberally or conservatively.

Whether it is the Sadducees or Pharisees who approach Him, Jesus refuses to play according to their liberal and conservative assumptions.  Contra the liberal Sadducees, Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:29-32).  And contra the conservative Pharisees, Jesus says there is indeed a greatest commandment, but it is much weightier than the one postulated by Rabbi Hillel.  One should not just avoid doing injury to someone else, one should actively love that other person in the same way he loves God Himself (Matthew 22:37-40).

Ultimately, the problem with both the Sadducees and Pharisees was this:  both groups were self-assured.  They were smug in their superiority and blinded by their own self-styled orthodoxies.   And because they were so sure of themselves, they never could quite be sure of Jesus.

Of course, there is a third group of people with whom Jesus interacts.  The Pharisees derisively refer to this group of people as “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11).  This group, however, out of all the groups of people with whom Jesus comes into contact, seems to get Him the best – not because the people in this group are so spiritually astute, but because they need an assurance they cannot find in themselves.  So they find it in Jesus.

Regardless of your political persuasion, Jesus asks us: “Are you so sure of yourself that you cannot find security in Me?  Are you so smug in your superiority that you cannot see the shamefulness of your own sin?”  In the Gospels, Jesus lays bare all those who trust in themselves, whether conservative or liberal.  He will not be co-opted.  But He can be trusted.  Where does your faith lie?  In you, or in Him?

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January 16, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Heart Cleaning

When I was a little kid, one of the places my dad used to take me was the zoo.  I loved to see the animals – the bears, the giraffes, the elephants, and the otters.  I especially liked the otters.  They always seemed so playful and energetic.  But as much as I enjoyed seeing the animals, they were never my favorite part of my zoo trips.  No, the highlight of these trips was always my ride on the zoo train.  At my local zoo, they had a real, coal burning, steam engine which ran a mile long trek around the perimeter of the zoo grounds.  And I loved to ride it.  The wail of the train whistle, the chug, chug, chug of the pistons, and the waft of the smoke rising from the train’s stack always mesmerized me.  I also loved the open-air cars.  There was nothing like having the wind blow in your face as lots of beautiful scenery whizzed by beside you.  In fact, I always wanted to hang my head out the side of the car and feel the wind rush through my hair.  But in each car, they had these notices posted: “Please remain seated and keep your hands and arms inside the car until the ride has come to a complete stop.”  I despised these notices.  And my dad would never allow me to fudge the rules…not one bit.  Whenever I’d try to stick my hand out the side of the car to feel the breeze, my dad would grab it and point it up to the notice.  I could look at the scenery whizzing by outside, but I could not stick my hand out the window to get closer to it.  I had to keep my hands to myself.

In worship and ABC this weekend, we looked at the story of a sinful woman who comes to anoint Jesus as He is dining with a Pharisee named Simon.  As I mentioned in ABC, many scholars believe this woman not only lived a sinful life, but a scandalous one as a prostitute.  When Simon sees this woman weeping over Jesus and pouring perfume on Him, Simon mutters to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).  Simon is upset that this sinful woman would dare to touch Jesus…and that Jesus would allow her to do so!  In fact, from this, Simon deduces that Jesus cannot be a true prophet – for a true prophet would never let a sinful woman come into contact with Him.  Simon believes this woman should keep her hands and arms inside her own little space at all times.  She should keep her hands to herself.

According to Old Testament law, coming into contact with something or someone which was physically, spiritually, or ceremonially unclean rendered you unclean.  For instance, Moses writes:

If a person touches anything ceremonially unclean – whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground – even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty.  Or if he touches human uncleanness – anything that would make him unclean – even though he is unaware of it, when he learns of it he will be guilty. (Leviticus 5:2-3)

Moses is warning, “Be careful what you touch!  Because if you touch the wrong thing, you will get the wrong result – you will be rendered ‘unclean’!”  So please keep your hands and arms inside your own little space at all times.  Keep your hands to yourself.

A touch can defile.  This was the way the religious leaders viewed sinfulness and righteousness, uncleanness and purity.  This is why Simon is so upset with Jesus.  After all, He is allowing a clearly unclean prostitute to defile His ceremonial cleanness without so much as a wince!  Jesus, however, knows better about purity and uncleanness:

Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean.”  For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean.” (Mark 7:15, 21-23)

Jesus knows that a sinful woman cannot defile a pure person, for a person becomes sinful not because of some external source of wickedness, but because of his own sinful heart! The Lutheran Confessions explain, “Neither sin nor righteousness should be placed in meat, drink, clothing and like things” (Apology XXVIII 7).  These external things cannot defile us.  It is our own hearts which make us wicked.

This sinful woman’s touch does not defile Jesus’ purity.  But Jesus’ purity does cleanse this sinful woman.  Jesus announces to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).   This woman’s sinfulness is no match for Jesus’ forgiveness.  And the same is true for us.  We are cleansed through faith in Christ!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

October 24, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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