When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit I am more like the Pharisees than I am the blind man at the pool of Siloam. And I would fit right in at more churches than I can count. How many congregations have you seen that are judgmental, narrow, controlling–and all in the name of either holiness or pure doctrine, neither of which Jesus seemed to give a hoot about. In fact, on the holiness issue, I think Jesus would just shake his head if he were to read the sort of lifestyle statements some of our churches have people sign before they can become a part of the church. We need to rethink our definition of holiness.
Sometimes it seems that the goal is to make people squirm more than help people live right or know God better. It’s rather juvenile…It’s old and tired and transparent and yet gets treated like some revolutionary type of thinking or even sometimes as exegesis. Sheesh.
Well, what to make of all this? I really appreciate the interaction. And I have to admit that I didn’t provide enough context for that part of Ron’s statement. I remember thinking that including that sentence would detract from the main point I was trying to make, but for whatever reason (hurry?) I included it anyway. But what does Ron mean? Earlier on, he writes about the Jewish concern for Torah living that focused on being God’s people by keeping the three big law categories: Sabbath keeping, circumcision, and dietary regulations. Ron writes:
Maybe it is clearer now why sinners, tax collectors, the blind, the lame, and all the other people who couldn’t or didn’t fit the purity mold of Israel were considered outsiders. The Pharisees were convinced this was the way things needed to be in order for them to be a good and proper Israel. But beginning with the promise made to Abraham, the goal for Israel has never been to hoard the blessings of the love of God to themselves. The promise to Abraham was that through him and his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed…
He then compares the Jewish identity to an exclusive club with “very exclusive membership requirements that have been set in stone for generations,” with vast regulations and “a governing body that oversees careful instruction concerning the regulations” so that members abide by the nearly seven hundred laws on the books. Ron writes, “Are you getting the connections? When Jesus came on the scene, he essentially redefined Israel’s identity. He redescribed the boundary markers that determined who was in and who was out.” Specifically, Jesus was doing two things: “reframing Israel’s relationship to the law (the central piece of their identity) and redefining who was in and who was out (the central piece of their relationship to the world).” Later, Ron talks about Jesus in his relationship with sinners. Ron suggests, “Calling people ‘sinners’ was the stock-in-trade of the Pharisees.” Jesus, however, seemed to have a different relationship with sinners. He became friends with them. He “came to establish personal, unmistakable, intimate interactions with people…At the same time, he was antagonistic toward the religious establishment of the day, taking on the pastors, teachers, and church institutions and challenging the religious ‘requirements’ necessary to ‘belong.'” So, I believe Ron is saying, Jesus pushed past the normal ways that people defined who was in and who was out – holiness and doctrine – and embraced people who didn’t belong. He embraced outsiders. The implication is that today, we will avoid being defined merely by externals, and that we will also be open to relationship with those who are those who are “gay or pierced or addicted or poor or stinky or uncouth or [you fill in the blank].” Ron is clear that this leads to radical change (repentance or reorientation) when those who were formally excluded come into relationship with Christ. There’s more, and this may not help. You may still disagree, and that’s fine. Feel free to react in the comments – but play nice, I won’t be around today. It is – finally – my day off, and I’m going out to have some fun.