Isn’t it strange that people misunderstand Jesus?
Well, frankly, not at all.
It’s hardly surprising that Jesus was misunderstood in his own day, either.
He exposed injustice and hypocrisy with the effortless insight of someone who really knew how people operated from the inside out.
He ridiculed those who revered the past and didn’t perceive God moving in the present. He told stories that targeted the greed of the rich and promised them hellfire and damnation. He damned the holier-than-thou religious leaders and called them “white-washed tombs.” He declared that God was against them –as simple as that- and that their beloved City of David was going to crumble into the ground.
What if someone turned up here, in the fat, rich West, with no credentials or fancy sponsors, no denominational backing, or Church support… And he damns the Clergy, and the Politicians, and all the social leaders, claiming that God his Father has told him to do so. He exposes the selfishness of the society and its wealth with the intensity of a Jihad.
Should we have knelt and accepted it as a message from God?
No. We’d have denounced him as a fanatic, a cult-leader, a mad man. We deport people like that.
Well, that was their judgment too: “If he is permitted to go on this way, the Romans will come and take away our place and nation.” The priests and Pharisees, against whom he had specially spoken, were fiercer still. They felt there was no time to be lost. Plans for his removal started early.
But further still, his own friends and followers misunderstood Him. They heard him speak of a kingdom of justice and righteousness in which everyone should receive the due reward of his deeds. They heard Him say that this kingdom was not far off, but actually among them, hindered only by their sins and dullness from immediate appearance. They were stirred and agitated. They were ripe for anything, and any spark would have produced explosion. They thought the next call would be to take the matter into their own hands. It was like a call to revolution, awaiting only the lighting of the blue touch paper to ignite a bloodbath….
And into this mix, someone calls out to him from the crowd: “‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12).
Imagine, all that Kingdom talk of justice, mercy and love. So here comes someone wronged and to his astonishment, the Son of Man refused to interfere in his quarrel, or take part in it at all!
He implied that it was not His role to interfere. “Who appointed ME a judge or an arbiter?”
People often say religion has nothing to do with politics, and the point rests on a basis which is partly wrong, partly right.
On one level it’s a false assertion. It’s like saying the atmosphere has nothing to do with the principles of architecture. Directly, nothing – indirectly, plenty. You’d be crazy not to consider the climate in which you build. And that which the air is to architecture, the life of the Spirit is to politics. It is the atmosphere of every question. Directly, it determines nothing – indirectly, it conditions every problem that can arise. The kingdoms of this world must become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. How, if His Spirit is not to mingle with political and social truths?
And yet, as much as the assertion is false, it is also true. Jesus refused to get involved. He wasn’t Robin Hood, he simply forbade oppression. It was a judge’s part to decide what oppression was. It was not his office to determine the boundaries of civil right, nor to lay down the rules of the descent of property. Of course there was a spiritual and moral principle involved in this question. But his mission could not be downgraded into legal advice.
He laid down the principle “Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s;” but He refused to get into the nitty gritty. So, too, He would say, justice, like mercy and truth, is one of the weightier matters of the law; but be would not decide whether in this definite case this or that brother had justice on his side. You are responsible to figure it out yourselves based on the principle of love…
This is the life of the Spirit. It’s always people not projects. It’s the people who make political decisions…not the decisions themselves. Not this party or that party. Jesus calls us “family” and leaves us to figure out the implications of belonging together .
In his refusal, then, it was implied that His kingdom was one founded on inner life -a sort of spiritual disposition -, not one based on outward law and rules. So he calls to the brothers to figure it out, in love, with mutual fairness, and not the Law (even the law of what Jesus said). Nothing to do with kingdom.
Suppose that both were wrong: one’s a bully, the other’s greedy. But to take from one selfish brother in order to give to another selfish brother, what spiritual gain would there have been in this?
Or what if the one with the inheritance was wrong, and the guy who had come to Jesus right- a humble, meek man, and his petition only one of right. Well, to take the property from the unjust and give it to Christ’s servant, might be, and was, the duty of a judge; but it was not Christ’s part, nor any gain to the cause of Christ. He’s not bothered! He does not reward His servants with inheritances, with lands, houses, gold. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Another thing. He refused to be the friend of one, because He was the friend of both!
He never could be the champion of a particular group, because He was the champion of all groups. Let’s say that the asker WAS the injured party – or, at least, who thought himself injured. Well, Jesus had repeatedly taught the way to live in that condition; and had demonstrated the spirit which would have made his brother do right by him.
But the main point was not the money but the man! It’s not ultimately how much or how little, how fairly or unfairly you’re treated….it’s how you respond to those circumstances, and whether or not you live in love with your human family…. or not.
And this was His spirit always. The Pharisees thought to commit him to a side when they asked whether it was lawful to give tax to Caesar or not. But He would take no side as the Christ: neither the part of the Government against the tax-payers, nor the part of the tax-payers against the Government.
Daily we are confronted with human rights issues – and how can those issues be wrong? And yet, this verse speaks to that. Be cautious not to pit one class against another, or one section of the world against another.
For so many years the Bible was used to defend rank and wealth. Wrong! But neither is it poor against the rich. The Bible takes neither the part of the poor against the rich exclusively, nor that of the rich against the poor; and this because it proclaims family, humanity: Life itself, as it is meant to be lived, in fact.
Let’s think some more on this tomorrow…