Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Is Jesus important because of his ideas?

A reader of my list of Jesus' five ideas responded in part,
If the teachings of Jesus were all that he left, he would have long ago been absorbed into the folds of history and little known, I firmly believe. So, the question you are dealing with seems to me a diversion from the Gospel and not all that helpful.
As I have tried to point out in my elaborations on these ideas, it was precisely Jesus' incarnation of this life and the legacy of a community of disciples who have -- at their best -- articulated these teachings into real life. Far from being a diversion from the Gospel, they are a description of the the good news of how the Kingdom of God is to be made real here and now.

It is certainly true that Jesus' student followers have not consistently brought to life the Kingdom of God in the world. The powers and principalities on which the kingdom of this world is based are seductive. Without a clarifying proclamation of the alternative foundations on which the Church is to be founded we will be more easily seduced.

My contention is that these five teachings distinctively mark how Christ is embodied in the Church. Jesus' teachings are important because they are critical for understanding who he was, what his life meant, and how his student followers are to continue to live God's presence in the world.

Making Christ a Reality

This brings us back to the fifth big idea of the Jesus Movement: The Kingdom of God is at hand. Trust in God.

The truth of the proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand comes about as Jesus' followers trust God. By giving way to the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community which they form around the open table of the bread and the cup, the Kingdom of God becomes real around them.

Christianity is not about an abstract transaction that takes place between an individual and God. It is about making the power of God a full-blooded reality here and now.

As Jesus' student followers faithfully gather together, they become the reality of Christ, alive in this world.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

More Strict than Legalism

To say that Jesus was not legalistic can be mistakenly understood to say that Jesus was more lax than the legalists. This is not true.

In two particular cases, we can readily see that Jesus' stress on purity of heart takes one into much more difficult terrain. In the case of adultery, Jesus says that even if one looks lustfully at another person's spouse, he or she is guilty of adultery. Similarly, Jesus teaches that if one says to his brother or sister, "You fool!", he or she is liable to judgment.

Jesus' warnings against legalism do not let us be careless. Instead they ought to center Jesus' followers on the cultivation of the spiritual disciplines and practices that help us to grow to maturity in love and grace.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

4. Emphasis on purity of heart as opposed to legalism.

Jesus is reported in the Gospels as violating the commandment of keeping the sabbath holy and to be careless of the cleanliness codes. With respect to each of these legal rubrics, Jesus pointed to what he took to be a more fundamental reality about the purity of one's heart.

Jesus recognized that a rote obedience to particular legal formalities could betray not an exemplary righteousness, but a prideful desire toward self-righteousness that isolated one from dependence on God. Not only might such an attitude divert one's attention from God as one's savior, but has the danger of leading one into a community-destroying judgmentalism or the arrogance of a competition to be the "most holy."

Jesus said of the cleanliness codes that what makes a difference is what is inside one, not what goes into someone from the outside. He said of the sabbath laws that it was more important to do good and heal on the sabbath than to restrict oneself arbitrarily from activities that would help one's neighbor. Jesus points beyond the laws and codes mark the boundaries of community life by regulating behavior to the point of having rules at all. That is, Jesus wants his followers to understand that rules are to help us live well together, not to be instruments of competition, judgment, or arbitrary restriction.

The rules are not sacred in and of themselves, they are means to a community of witnesses to God's enduring and gracious love. When Jesus claims that the sabbath was created for the good of persons, not persons for the good of the sabbath, he was making just this point.