Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Jesus Pattern
As we read through the Gospels a striking "pattern" dances gently across the pages of the life of Jesus. The most unsavory people are attracted to him wherever he went. We see a Samaritan lady, a mercenary hoodlum of Herod, a hostess to seven demons, a few tax collectors, and a woman caught in the very act of sexual misconduct. It is quite shocking actually!
In stark contrast Jesus received a very cold shoulder from the the religious "church-going" folk. The pious (and they were!) Pharisees thought him uncouth and even worldly, a wealthy young ruler walked away shaking his head in dismay, and even the open-minded Nicodemus seeks the shelter of the night lest he be seen talking to Jesus.
What is even stranger still is today the "pattern" seems markedly reversed. The Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the very folks who despised Jesus in his own day; while the folks who flocked to Jesus are hard to find and want nothing to do with us. What has happened to reverse the "pattern"? Why don't "sinners" like being around us today?
Somehow we have created a community of respectability in the "church." The down and out no longer seem to feel welcome in our assemblies. How did Jesus, the most holy person in the history of the world, manage to attract such notoriously flawed people? And what keeps us from following his steps? These are questions I believe we must ask, and face, if we are to be the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus understood his mission. He knew why he was here and that helped him "keep focused." We, the Body of Christ, are to have the same focus as the Head. But what was the focus of the mission of Jesus Christ?
The Gospels are fairly clear. Jesus, in the synagogue in his own hometown, delivered a "homily" on Isaiah 61. During worship he read a portion of the prophecy, it reads ...
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the Year of the Lord's favor" (Lk 4.18-19)
Jesus declares that this prophecy fulfilled even as the congregation heard it (v. 21). But the Spirit of the Lord came on Jesus for a specific reason, to empower him for a task, to give him a "mission." This text is programmatic for the Gospel of Luke. The Year of Jubilee ... the Sabbath of Sabbaths ... is front and center for the mission of Jesus. We might ask who are the poor, just as the rich man asked "who is my neighbor?" But the poor, the blind, oppressed are surely central for a church that claims allegiance to the mission of Jesus. Jesus' mission is to lead these captives in a new exodus to freedom, redemption and life.
Jesus' mission, as defined by himself, was to liberate the down and out people. His mission was to was a mission of mercy. His mission was to set the captives free. Notice none of the people targeted by Jesus were the respectable people with money and power, those who had it all figured out, none that were in control. The people addressed in this text are simply nobodies like those in Moses' original exodus ...
Jesus knew his mission to be the embodiment of Jubilee. The question for us is do we understand that our mission is the same as his? Jesus came to heal the world. To set the Jeffrey Dahmers of Tucson free. Jesus came to serve those in their third ... yes even fourth or fifth marriage! Jesus saw his task as that of a doctor (Lk 5.31f). He came to bring slaves out of bondage. He came to banish the suffering that vandalized God's good creation - the blind, the exploited, the humble. He even came to rescue me!
Some may think "Bobby there was more to Jesus' mission than this." I don't think so. Everything Jesus said or did in those wonder years on earth was to accomplish what he says right here in Luke 4. We have confirmation of this in numerous passages in the Gospels.
In Luke 7, John the Baptizer was thrown in prison with his life hanging on by a thread. He sends a fact finding crew to Jesus with a list of questions ... "have I made a mistake" (see v.20). The response of Jesus to the Baptizer is enlightening. It is remarkably similar to his sermon in 4.18f. Luke describes the situation in this way:
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sickness and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind? So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (7.21-22)
John's question was "are you really the Messiah?" Jesus' response was "look at what the Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to do." The new age has dawned, the new exodus of setting the captives free is in full swing. This mission is why Jesus was friends with sinners. This is why unsavory folk liked to be around him. This is why the respectable church going crowd were put off ... why they held their councils and why they branded him as a false prophet and eventually murdered him!
Luke reveals a Jesus hardly threatened by a person's so called "uncleanness." He reached out with his Word incarnated hands and embraced the unsavory with love and compassion. He talked to them. He listened to them. He touched them. He sat with them. He ate with them. He was seen with them. He loved them. He was on their side. This was his mission. Jesus brought the Good News of liberation, redemption, and wholeness to the folks the religious folks held at arms length. The Pharisees, the Essenes, the Sadducees all said in one way or another "you are not good enough." You are not clean enough. You do not have the right pedigree. You have tattoos. Your clothes are not proper. You are from the wrong side of town. You are the wrong color. We really haven't decided why but you still can't come!
Jesus of Nazareth smashed ALL of that! This situation was not of Moses btw! He led a mission of liberation for outcasts too! But Jesus said to the ones with no pedigree, the ones with no power or influence, the "sinners" of all stripes ... the God of Israel has NOT REJECTED YOU. The Father has sent me to proclaim his special favor on even you.
Sometimes we, like the church folk of Jesus day, we erect hurdles and barriers to God's grace. Certain tests have to be met before we welcome them. C. S. Lewis once remarked "prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in danger of that."
The "Logic" of Grace
Jesus' mission was one of grace to all. The mission of the Year of Jubilee was a rescue mission. We cannot really be too concerned with our own personal safety when on a rescue mission - it is inherently dangerous. This is how the Son of God ended upon a Tree. It wasn't the so called "sinners" who crucified the Son of Man! It was the elders, the deacons, and the Sunday School teachers who killed him!!
The church is the "body of Christ." Our mission is the same as Jesus'. Luke picks up on this theme from Jesus' "personal" ministry and shows how it is the mission of the Gathered People in in the book of Acts. There were no "needy" in the Jerusalem church. The assembly of God welcomed eunuchs and even unclean "Gentiles" The old way said "no undesirable people allowed" And Jesus said "come unto me all who are weary and burdened ..."
The early church struggled to follow the "Logic of Grace" exhibited in the Messiah. After some training in the ways of God they became renown in the Roman Empire for their support for the poor and suffering. The Christians, unlike many, readily ransomed their brothers and sisters from "barbarian" captors, and when the plagues hit, the Christians tended the suffering even as the world abandoned them. The early church took the mission of Jesus as their mission -- to receive strangers, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, and to visit the ones in prison. These were not ancillary ministries of the kingdom ... they WERE the thrust the kingdom of God into a world needing redemption.
Recently I have tried to picture the scene from Jesus' day. The poor. The sick. The sinners. The prostitutes. They all crowed around the picture of purity and holiness stirred by his message of healing, forgiveness and wholeness. The rich. The powerful. The Bible thumpers. The righteous. They are all gathered on the perimeter snorting in derision. They test his doctrinal soundness. They spy. They try to trap him in some debate on doctrinal minutia. I know these facts about Jesus' time, and yet, from the comfort of a middle class church in a wildly rich country like the United States, I easily lose sight of the real core of Jesus mission ... which is his message. I looked in my mind's eye, and to my consternation, I found myself among the church-goers of Jesus' day instead of loving and offering forgiveness to those who desperately need it. And I confess that I desperately need it!
If we are to be the Church OF Jesus we can see no undesirable human. The Logic of Grace is that God loves the poor. The suffering. The persecuted. The outcast. The divorcee. The misguided. Even, thankfully, the Sunday school teacher and preacher! If we dare to place the name of Jesus upon our buildings then we need to be rooted in his mission. Jesus challenges us to look at the world through what the early Christian, Irenaeus, termed "grace-healed eyes!" With Grace-healed eyes we begin to see the world through the Logic of Grace defined in the Mission of Jesus himself ... only then are we really the church of Jesus the Messiah.