On the Corner
by Bob Docter –
Have you ever wondered why the leadership of the Jewish religion—the Pharisees and Chief Elders—failed to accept this long-awaited Messiah—why they ignored the opportunity to achieve a fulfillment of the promises of their God as he presented himself to them—why they missed the great adventure of faith in Jesus evident in his spiritual qualities, the power of his message and most of all, Jesus as a person? Why did they fail to allow the warmth and genuineness of his love invade their hearts; why did they fail to embrace the accuracy of his criticism, the miracle of his touch, the truth of his words?
He revealed God as Father of mankind in a deeper, wider, more essential and more personal sense than had ever been contemplated or anticipated in all of Israel. He did not formally abandon the old teaching of Judaism, nor did he perceive it as obsolete. He came not to destroy anything but to teach the manner of its fulfillment—to change the specific language of rules into non-literal principles of interpersonal interaction. He came to make straight the pathway to God by helping people learn how to love God not as an obligation, but as a choice. He saw the means of transferring that love for God into a belief that Jesus was the Christ—Messiah as he spoke of a non-literal interpretation of the notion of love for our neighbor.
They missed a great opportunity. Why?
Perhaps this rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees, the high priests and the elders stands as the key tragedy of the Gospels. He was not what they expected—different from anything they conceived. They did not expect a carpenter’s son, and most certainly, no one from Galilee.
I suspect they wanted a king in the image of David who could solve all their problems—especially get rid of the Romans.
Perhaps their prior experiences and training on their interpretation of God did not provide them with a readiness for either his spirit or his message. They seemed mentally, morally and spiritually unprepared—rigid—unaccepting of someone who speaks of being born again (John 3:3)—rejecting of comments that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
Perhaps they feared the immensity of the change he proposed along with his apolitical stance, his questioning of them in such a way as to require them to make public their rigidity with his temerity to heal a man on the Sabbath directly in front of them.
Perhaps they needed the “Nicodemus experience”—where Jesus spoke to him simply and personally. With power he articulated the fundamental principles of a new covenant between God and man—where John said that…we must look up to the Son of Man so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life—for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:15-16).
Perhaps they were so blind they had no idea they were living in darkness, and the darkness was safe and comfortable and specific while coming into the light threatened exposure. They couldn’t tolerate that this is the verdict: that light has come into the world, but man loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).
Perhaps they had forgotten how to love God and show it—forgotten how to love their neighbor and do it—forgotten the meaning of “righteousness” and ignored it.
Enough talk of historical Judaism. Perhaps they missed the boat in not recognizing the one we call Christ as the promised Messiah—perhaps it had to be that way to satisfy God’s plan—who knows? Certainly not me!
Let’s label some of the “perhaps” paragraph above and make a little assessment about us—all of us who call ourselves Christians.
What opportunities do we miss?
The first has to with expectation. If we were to be involved in a Maranatha prayer (O Lord come!), what kind of person would we expect—someone who looked like the Jesus of the first century—long white robes, flowing dark hair, handsome, smiling pleasant face? Maybe it would be someone who looked just like you. Wait—maybe it’s that little guy who sounds obnoxious. No, I don’t think we’d fare well with reality matching expectation here. We’d certainly miss it if he came as “one of the least.”
The second concerned the issue of readiness. Are we mentally, morally, spiritually prepared? Are we living and acting out the reality of our belief? Bill McKibben, writing in Harpers wrote: “America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developing nations and the least Christian in our behavior. That paradox illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.”
The third and fourth have to do with belief, light and darkness. While confession with the mouth is important as a beginning of a belief system, it is the actual behavior that measures belief. What do we do? Are we living with secrets, afraid of discovery?
The fifth perhaps concerns exposure. The priests, elders and Pharisees sensed that Jesus’ popularity could bring light over matters where they preferred darkness. I wonder how many matters of that type exist within Christian churches—including The Salvation Army today. Do we shun disclosure and avoid the light or are we transparent?
The sixth pertains to righteousness. McKibben writes: “In the days just before his crucifixion, Jesus summed up his message for his disciples; he said the way you tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner.” In 2004, the share of the economy provided the poor was second to the bottom of all developed countries. “In fact, by pretty much any measure of caring for the least among us you want to propose—childhood nutrition, infant mortality, access to preschool—America comes in nearly last. To these categories Jesus would have paid particular attention.
Would we do any better than the Jewish leaders of Scripture?