RevolutionaryPosted: February 24, 2013
3: JESUS LIBERAL PHARISEE
This short passage may hold an important clue about Jesus and his ministry. First of all we learn that not all Pharisees were unfriendly to Jesus. The Pharisees were a broad group of people working on redefining Judaism and the Law of Moses. This movement had begun during the time of captivity in Babylon, and the effort to redefine Judaism was gathering momentum, because so many Jews were living outside of Israel away from the Temple. The rabbis were becoming as important a source of leadership as the priests or Sadducees.
Now there were strict Pharisees and there were more liberal Pharisees. Certainly Jesus would have been numbered among the more liberal like Rabbi Hillel. After the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Sadducees, the priests, were all killed or deported. Thus the main opposition to the early church, resisting the claims of the Jesus movement, came from the Pharisees. The Pharisees still survive in the form of Rabbinic Judaism. The early church then found itself in competition with and in opposition to the Pharisees, but Jesus himself would have been identified as a Pharisee although a more liberal Pharisee. The Pharisees in our scripture were certainly on Jesus’ side over against Herod.
SLIDE 4: HEROD WORRIED ABOUT JESUS
We can note from this passage that Herod was concerned enough about the ministry of Jesus to consider having him arrested and perhaps executed like John the Baptist. According to the Gospel of Mark Chapter 6 verse16, Herod was afraid, that Jesus was John returned from the dead to haunt him. When Jesus asked his disciples, “who do the people say that I am?” They replied, “John the Baptist.”
SLIDE 5: JESUS WAS DANGEROUS
We might ask then this morning, if Jesus was so meek and mild, why was Herod so concerned about his ministry? In Herod’s eyes Jesus was dangerous — radical and revolutionary. He advocated for the poor. He preached sharing. He opposed the oppression of the peasants and the fishermen. He said radical things like, “the meek will inherit the earth.” Herod represented the wealthy over against the poor. He represented the way of violence to keep the masses in their place. He had the power to arrest and execute people in his territory.
SLIDE 6: CHOICE OF CAPERNAUM WAS STRATEGIC
One reason Jesus conducted an itinerant ministry was to stay one step ahead of arrest. His choice of Capernaum as his headquarters was strategic. He could walk just over a mile and escape from Herod’s jurisdiction, into the Tetrarchy of Phillip. He could climb into a fishing boat and sail a few short miles and find himself in the territory of the Decapolis. At one point Herod’s secret police were so close on his trail, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon — a completely different Province. If Jesus had not been arrested and killed in Jerusalem, he probably would have been executed eventually in Galilee.
SLIDE 7: WHY WERE THEY AFRAID OF THEM?
Why was Herod so afraid of Jesus? Why was George Wallace afraid of Martin Luther King or Ross Barnett so afraid James Meredith? Why was the British Viceroy afraid of Mahama Gandhi? I heard a story on NPR Ira Glass’s “This American Life,” that provides a clue. This story was told by the father of a four year old.
SLIDE 8: SHE WANTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT JESUS
It all began at Christmas two years ago, when my daughter was four-years-old. And it was the first time that she’d ever asked about what did Christmas mean? And so I explained to her that Christmas was celebrating the birth of Jesus. And she wanted to know more about him. So we went out and bought a kids’ bible and had these readings at night. She loved him, and she wanted to know everything about Jesus.
So we read a lot about his birth and his teaching. And she would ask constantly what that phrase was. And I would explain to her that it was, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And we would talk about those words and what that meant.
SLIDE 9: HIS MESSAGE WAS TOO TROUBLESOME
Then one day we were driving past a big church and out front was an enormous crucifix. She asked, “Who’s that?”
I guess I’d never really told that part of the story. So I said, “Oh, that’s Jesus. I forgot to tell you the ending of the story. Well, you see Jesus ran afoul of the Roman government. This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the authorities of the time that they had to kill him. They came to the conclusion that he would have to die. That message was too troublesome.”
SLIDE 10: MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
It was about a month later, after that Christmas, we’d gone through the whole story of what Christmas meant. And it was mid-January, and her preschool celebrates the same holidays as the local schools. So Martin Luther King Day was off. I knocked off work that day and I decided we’d play and I’d take her out to lunch.
We were sitting in a restaurant, and right on the table where we happened to plop down, was the art section of the local newspaper. And there, big as life, was a huge drawing by a ten-year-old kid from the local schools of Martin Luther King.
She asked, “Who’s that?”
I replied, “Well, as it happens that’s Martin Luther King. And he’s why you’re not in school today. So we’re celebrating his birthday, this is the day we celebrate his life.”
“So who was he?” She asked.
SLIDE 11: A PREACHER LIKE JESUS?
I said, “He was a preacher.”
She looked up at me and asked, “Like Jesus?
“Yeah, actually he was. But there was another thing that he was really famous for. He had a message.”
She asked me, “What was his message?”
“He said that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.”
She thought about that for a minute. And then she said, “Well that’s what Jesus said.”
SLIDE 12: DID THEY KILL HIM TOO?
“I guess it is,” I replied. “You know, I never thought of it that way, but yeah. And it is sort of like ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”
She thought for a minute and looked up at me and then asked, “Did they kill him, too?”
SLIDE 13: MAUNDY THURSDAY – GOOD FRIDAY
On Maundy Thursday after sharing communion we have a Tennebrae Service reading the Good Friday scriptures. After reading the part of the Good Friday story, where the crowd asks Pilate to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus, we have a short prayer of confession that addresses, “Did they kill him too?”
“Jesus, can’t you understand? You called our leaders hypocrites. You showed the emptiness of our worship. You sided with the poor – the nobodies. You said the harlots and tax collectors would enter the kingdom before us. Your teaching was too radical. You asked too much. Can’t you see we must get rid of you? Barabbas is less dangerous. We can handle his kind, but you are too disturbing. Can’t you understand, we have to crucify you?”
SLIDE 14: NON-VIOLENT HEROES WILL PREVAIL
The light that shines forth from a truly authentic and courageous human being causes the powerful to tremble. For power based on lies, terror, violence and intimidation will always attempt to destroy the truth, and the forces of darkness always live in fear. For the truth will out. The truth sets people free. In the end the people of the lie will fail. The non-violent heroes of the truth will prevail.
SLIDE 15: FORESHADOWING OF DEATH
Our scripture this morning includes foreshadowing of Jesus’ death: “I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jesus could foresee his death, and he knew his execution must become a symbol. Dying in a dungeon in Galilee or being beheaded in a fortress like John the Baptist away from public view would not embody the national crisis. Only if Jesus had an opportunity to confront the Temple authorities would his death highlight the need for spiritual reform. In the words of Jeremiah 31:33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
SLIDE 16: AUTHENTICITY & COURAGE
The truth is if we have the courage to follow Jesus inevitably we will incite some of the same kind of hostility and opposition Jesus faced. We sometimes like to believe that being a Christian will make us good solid middle class citizens, who are liked and well thought of, but we are not called to be “Christians.” We are called to follow Jesus. Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that Jesus was not crucified on a cross of gold between two candle sticks, he was executed by the state between two thieves, because he dared to challenge the conventionally good people who were in charge.
If we were charged with following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict us? Following Jesus requires authenticity and courage. Bravery is not one of my strengths. I feel more like the disciples on the night of Jesus’ arrest, ducking out and vanishing at the first sign of confrontation or trouble. My prayer is that during this Lent and Easter I might be encouraged by the resurrection. I might find new fortitude to follow the way of Jesus with renewed authenticity and faith. So if you will pray for me, I promise to pray for you that together we might become authentic and faithful to the way of Jesus.