Today we will continue looking at the way Jesus used the Scriptures with some specific examples:
- He openly disagrees with Scriptures that emphasize non-essentials and “mere human commandments” that made their way into what are presented as divine commandments (see Mark 7:1-23 and almost all of Matthew 23).
- He consistently and openly flouts seemingly sacred taboos like not working on the Sabbath, not meeting with women, not eating with sinners and non-Jews, not touching lepers, and purity codes in general. He is shamed and criticized for ignoring: sacred hand washing (see Luke 11:38, for example); taboos against touching the dead, unclean people, and unclean foods; and the practice of stoning women adulterers. Jesus has Jewish common sense and can never be called a legalist or a “conservative.” In fact, he is accused of being a libertarian and a non-ascetic, instead of following the strict fasting of John the Baptist and his disciples (see Matthew 9:14).
- Jesus reduces the 613 clear biblical commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).
- He minimizes or even replaces commandments, as when he tells the rich young man that it is all fine and good that he has obeyed the Ten Commandments, but what he really needs to do is sell everything and give the money to the poor (see Mark 10:21).
- He omits troublesome verses with which he does not agree, as when he drops the final half verse from the Isaiah scroll when he first reads in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). The audience would be familiar with the final line of Isaiah 61:2: “to proclaim a day of vengeance from our God.” Yet Jesus ends earlier with “proclaims the Lord’s day of favor.” There he goes again, light and easy with the sacred text! Good Protestants would call that “selectively quoting” and pious Catholics would call it “cafeteria Catholicism.”
- Jesus uses Scripture in rather edgy ways to defend people, like when he says that David went into the temple and took the loaves of offering to feed his troops (Mark 2:26) or tells the story of the poor man who works on the Sabbath to get his donkey out of a ditch (Luke 14:5). His general principle seems to be summarized in his famous line that “the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This sounds a lot like what many Christians would today call “mere humanism” or “situation ethics.”
- Jesus feels free to reinterpret the Law—for example, when he says, six times in a row, “The Law says . . . but I say” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48).
Many who call themselves conservative seem to believe that Jesus is fully divine and we are barely human. Liberals and many non-believers seem to believe that Jesus is only human, and the divine isn’t necessary. Both sides are missing the major point of putting divine and human together! They both lack the proper skill set of the contemplative mind.
Matter and Spirit must be recognized as inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Jesus is the Archetype of Everything.
.. Unfortunately, at the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE), this view—the single, unified nature of Christ—was rejected for the “orthodox” belief, held to this day by most Christian denominations, that emphasizes two distinct natures in Jesus instead of one new synthesis. Sometimes what seems like orthodoxy is, in fact, a well-hidden and well disguised heresy!
Perhaps quantum physics can help us reclaim what we’ve lost because our dualistic minds couldn’t understand or experience the living paradox that Jesus represents. Now science is confirming there is no clear division between matter and spirit. Everything is interpenetrating. As Franciscan scientist and theologian Ilia Delio says, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.
Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.
Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!
The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience.  In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.
You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?
Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.
Artwork depicting a crucified Ronald McDonald remains on display in Israel despite protests and calls for its removal from the country’s Arab Christian community.
The sculpture, named “McJesus,” was meant to be a critique of society’s capitalistic culture, Haifa Museum of Art officials told the Associated Press. The demonstrations began last week and came as a surprise to museum director Nissim Tal, who indicated that the sculpture had been up for months and shown in other countries without incident.
The AP reports that the protests were sparked by scores of visitors to the museum sharing photos of “McJesus” on social media, upsetting many Arab Christians, who considered the sculpture insensitive to their religion. Tal told the Jerusalem Post that more than 30,000 people have viewed the exhibit featuring “McJesus” since opening night in August.
.. “This is very offensive, and I cannot consider this art,” Amir Ballan, an artist in Haifa and a Christian, told the AP. “We will continue through peaceful rallies and candle vigils. … We won’t be quiet until we reach a solution.”
.. “This is the maximum that we can do,” Tal told the AP. “If we take the art down, the next day we’ll have politicians demanding we take other things down, and we’ll end up only with colorful pictures of flowers in the museum.”
Jani Leinonen, the Finnish artist behind “McJesus,” told the Jerusalem Post that the sculpture was displayed against his wishes. He said he wants it removed from the exhibit because he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS. The Palestinian-led initiative calls for boycotting Israeli goods and services to pressure Israel to end its occupation.
Israel argues that BDS is anti-Semitic and undermines the nation’s right to exist, and it has banned those associated with the movement from entering the country.