2-12 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 weren’t 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 ‘generation of vipers’. The publican, not the Pharisee, finds God’s 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 they’d cheated. Very clearly, the Lord’s 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 doesn’t think twice about: hypocrisy, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, exclusion of others… Another example of the Lord’s radical collision course with the Rabbis is in His comment that God’s care even embraces sparrow (Mt. 10:29). For the Rabbis explicitly forbad prayers that mentioned God’s 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.



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