Menu of Meditations

Conservative or Liberal?

I once preached a sermon in one of my former churches in which I made the statement that Jesus was a liberal. After the service, a woman came storming through the door where I was greeting, shaking her head. She said angrily, "That's a terrible thing to say about my Lord!" I had a hard time keeping a straight face. I was tempted to say, "Why do you think they crucified him? Certainly not because he was a conservative!" But I controlled myself.

When you ask church members, "Was Jesus a liberal or a conservative?", many of them will immediately say, "a conservative." Why has the church instilled such a distorted picture of Jesus in the minds of its members? Because if it emphasized the real nature of Jesus' ministry, the truth would shake the church to its roots. This is because the church is essentially conservative while the Master it professes to serve was a radical first century liberal. Something in that relationship is seriously out of whack!

Let's look at Jesus' ministry. It was a long series of encounters with the religious authorities who objected to what they saw as his blasphemous and sacrilegious behavior. For instance,
Mk. 2:24 - Jesus and his disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath. The Pharisees told him, "It is against our Law to do that." Jesus responded, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
John 10:30 - Jesus said, "The Father and I are one." The result was that the people wanted to stone him for blasphemy.
Matt. 23 - He called the Pharisees hypocrites, snakes and murderers and predicted their punishment.
Matt. 9:11-13 - Jesus ate with tax collectors and other outcasts. When the Pharisees asked why he did this, he said that kindness is more important than animal sacrifices.
John 8 - A woman was caught in adultery. Jesus overruled the Law which demanded that she be stoned, and said that God required mercy and humility in a case like this.
Mk. 14:62 - At his trial before the Council, Jesus was asked if he was the Messiah. He said he was, a statement which resulted in his conviction for blasphemy.
Mark 3:5 - Jesus, on the Sabbath, healed the man with the paralyzed hand. Because of that, the Pharisees made plans to kill him.
Matt. 26:3-5 - The chief priests saw Jesus as a dangerous radical who was disturbing the peace. They thought that only his arrest and execution would prevent a riot.

These are only a few of the instances when Jesus said or did something which was a violation of the Jewish Law, behavior which constantly put him in conflict with the religious authorities. He was trying to free people from their dependence on the Law, from the fiction that somehow the Law would make them acceptable to God. He wanted to change the coldness of legalistic religion into compassion for people, to move beyond law to love. He kept pushing the limits of the tradition until the guardians of that tradition finally succeeded in killing him.

I have always wondered why the church is, all too often, more like the Pharisees than like Jesus. The church has become the guardian of the new Law rather than the successor to the change agent from Nazareth. The mission of "conservatives" is to "conserve" the old tradition rather than being open to the new light which God is constantly shedding on our path.

The tragedy is that the conservative elements in the church, those who proclaim most loudly their devotion to Jesus and their impatience to see him return, would likely be the first ones in line to kill him again if he did return. Why? Because as history's greatest change agent, Jesus will always be a threat to the status quo, an adversary of the Pharisees in every age.

Jesus will not have fulfilled his mission until the world becomes the Kingdom of God on earth. And to get there from here is going to require a lot of changing on our part.

Posted 7-15-04

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2004