Luke 5:17a (CEV)
17 One day some Pharisees and experts in the Law of Moses sat listening to Jesus teach. They had come from every village in Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.
“In” or “Out”
I usually write these studies about a week in advance, because I know how life is – things come up, I get busy, the kids get sick or need things, someone calls up and needs to go to coffee. But it’s Sunday afternoon already, and I’m re-writing this study one more time, in the hopes that this time I can get through it right.
You see, I’ve met a lot of people like these Pharisees in my life. I met them at school, when the kids decided whether I was ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the cool club (I was ‘out’, in case you couldn’t guess). I met them when I went to Christian camp and the kids decided whether I was ‘in’ or ‘out’ (yep, still ‘out’). I met them at Sunday school, I met them at church, I met them in my neighbourhood (you guessed it, ‘out’, ‘out’ and ‘out’).
So I struggle with the Pharisees. I see in their actions the desire to figure out – to judge – whether Jesus is ‘in’ or ‘out’. And then I flinch, because in my experience, this kind of judging never ends well.
Jesus in many ways comes out of the Pharisaical tradition. He’s a ‘rabbi’. He believes in resurrection. He honours the synagogue system and regularly teaches in the synagogues, and he clearly believes in the concept of a Messiah … given that he says that’s him. But then he veers off into some different territory. His teaching goes beyond what the Pharisees would ever teach. He takes concepts that they accept as truth and tweaks them just so or sometimes turns them completely upside-down, but either way leaves the Pharisees confused and upset.
But these Pharisees come to check Jesus out because they have it in their heads that if only they could get people to keep all of the rules, then things might be okay. If only they could get people to study scripture enough, wash their hands enough, tithe enough, avoid touching the sick or the dying or the dead, then maybe the Messiah would come. And if only they could be good enough for God to send the Messiah, then maybe the Messiah would overthrow the Roman rule and free them from the oppression that they were forced to live under.
And so they need to know whether Jesus is the answer to their prayers (he’s ‘in’) or whether he’s going to be the ruin and downfall of Israel (that would make him ‘out’).
This is a big deal. The rise and fall of Israel might hinge on the back of this decision. Which means they need to be 100% sure. So they call in Pharisees and experts of the Law of Moses from all over Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem – the whole of Israel – to meet “on site” where Jesus is teaching and conduct a formal evaluation. This is bigger than the playground huddle to decide if I can join the skipping group at recess. The question on the table is whether Jesus is the Messiah that the rumors suggest he might be, or a heretic. Is he ‘in’ or is he ‘out’.
But the problem with this kind of judging is that so often people miss really important details in the process. The Pharisees are so worried about becoming ‘polluted’ by the ‘wrong’ people or thoughts or ideas that they can’t actually hear the valuable things that Jesus has to say. Their fear of corruption and the negative consequences it promises to result in make them incapable of seeing Jesus for who he is, or wrestling with the challenges that Jesus leaves them faced with.
It would be nice, as we read through the book of Luke, to think that this fear of corruption is something from Bible times. That it has nothing to do with us today, in the modern day. But every time someone is warned about those people, over there it’s usually based on a fear of corruption. Don’t hang out with those (drug addict) people because their addictions might rub off on you. Don’t hang out with those (insert hated religion of choice) people because their wrong ideas might rob you of your faith. Don’t think about what those (scientist, liberal, conservative, artist, feminist) people have to say because it’s going to corrupt you and wreck you and bad things will happen to you if you do.
And when these kind of messages surround us and bombard us, it’s hard not to listen. It’s hard not to start to buy in. It’s hard not to start to think that maybe they have a point, and, after all, those are very bad things that might happen, so probably better safe than sorry.
But as we’re going to see over the next few days, when love steps in the answer is a little different. Because love doesn’t start with a fear of corruption it can look past the label and see the person. Because love doesn’t start with an attempt to coerce God into acting a certain way it can be still long enough to hear God’s love for the person in front of them and reflect God’s love back to the person they see. And because love is worried first and foremost about love, not about the rules, it’s not constrained by what the rules might or might not say, it’s just able to do what love would do.Journal Questions:
- The first step to entering in to a situation with love is to recognize that it is in fact a situation where judgment is occurring. Think of a time when you witnessed judgment recently. It might be someone being treated as ‘less than’ at work, someone being jeered at on the street, a comment on a Facebook post that scrolled past this week.
- Listen to ‘Gungor’s’ song ‘Us for Them’.
- What does it look like to choose to live as ‘Us for Them’ in the midst of the constant stream of judgment that we encounter every day as people?
- We don’t have to agree with everything someone else thinks or believes or chooses to offer love instead of judgment. What would it look like for you to choose to be love and step into the situation of judgment that you thought of in the first question?
- Are you willing to do that this week?