I think we often forget just how radical Jesus's ministry really was.
In a wonderful case of synchronicity, our Journey Group was discussing a topic yesterday that fit perfectly in with the message that our pastor had delivered that morning.
At Stonepoint, we are starting a message series called Upside Down, working through the Beatitudes. And yesterday's was on the first beatitude. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Happy are the beggarly. A complete reversal of our societal instinct to build ourselves up, to be self-sufficient, to be "good" on our own. Instead a reminder that we are to be in constant need of Jesus' provision. We are to beg for it. To pray without ceasing for it. To not be independent, but wholly dependent on God. Radical thinking for the Jews that were hearing the Sermon on the Mount as it was happening, and radical thinking for us today.
In Journey Group, we are working through Prodigal God by Tim Keller, a book that helps change our traditional thinking about the story of the Prodigal Son. That reveals that when Jesus told this story it was not met with a warm reception of people being amazed at the lengths the father would go to celebrate his son's return. There wasn't that warm fuzzy feeling about the parallels in how far God goes to pursue his people. The story of the Prodigal Son was delivered by Jesus to an audience containing a lot of Pharisees. A lot of older brothers. As such, the parable was more of a warning to an audience filled with the kind of people who would most relate to the older brother. Those who had followed the law and done everything that had been asked of them, and who would likely be more than a little perturbed by their father's lavishing of gifts on the wayward younger brothers. On sinners. Again, a radical turn from what the Pharisees would have expected from God. And a radical change from how many of us see the story today.
Yet, Jesus throughout his ministry sided with the wayward, younger brothers. With the sinners, the tax collectors, and the prostitutes. He attracted those people to him and turned their lives upside down. And he frustrated and angered the religious, the moral, the older brothers.
He sided with a Samaritan woman over Jewish custom, a double offense. He sided with a woman caught in adultery over her accusers. He sided with Mary's extravagance over the caution of even his followers. He called Matthew and ate at Zacchaeus' house, but turned over tables in the temple. His parables spoke of righteous outsiders like the Good Samaritan.
As put in Prodigal God, "Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."
This hits home, because even being part of Post-Modern churches since the early 2000s, those churches still end up attracting the same kind of people. Even those churches begin to look more homogeneous, instead of increasingly heterogeneous. More mainstream than eclectic.
I've long believed that one of Satan's greatest victories was making Christianity widespread, accepted, and mainstream. Paving the way for "social churching" - attending for the social benefits, because it's done, because it is what good people "do," to be seen, because it is the power center of the community, and on and on and on. It's what is normal and just the way things are done in America. Going to the building "church" for any other reason that a deeply held conviction and belief in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
It took Christianity away from the "Way," away from something that was dangerous, that was radical, that was life changing. Something that had a cost to follow. Away from a motley group of outsiders all living life together and sharing in the struggles.
After all, don't a lot of modern churches start to represent the Pharisees, the older brothers, much more than they do the younger brother?
If Jesus came today as he did back the, who would he be more likely to hang out with? Our fellow church members? Or those that we would never even allow in our doors?
Would Jesus feel comfortable in our church?
Or would he just see it as another bunch of Pharisees that are missing the point?
The verse Jesus quoted to the Pharisees, to remind them of his purpose is from Hosea 6:6. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." He was reminding the Pharisees of a passage that they undoubtedly had memorized, but had completed missed the meaning. It's reflective of the entire purpose of Jesus's ministry.
The Old Testament, the Jewish way required sacrifice for cleansing. It required the Jewish people provide sacrifices to be considered clean. An act they were required to do for their salvation.
Jesus came and flipped the script. Now He was the ultimate sacrifice. And what was required for salvation was the mercy and grace of God. And He expected those qualities to then be demonstrated in His people.
Jesus was reminding the Pharisees that He cared little for their outward actions that were performed out of duty. For those observances that they prided themselves in. He looked inward and showed His mercy to those who would accept it.
To the younger and older brother alike, if they would only both recognize their need.
If they would become beggarly for it.
Then theirs was the kingdom of God.