Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sinners, 1. Good Religious People, 0. Jesus wins again

We're continuing our trek through the (chronological) Gospels, learning about the real Jesus – and how different He is from how He's most often portrayed by Good Religious People and others.

As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels chronologically to find the real Jesus, here.

And as always you'll find the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the translation version on this scripture page as suits you. I default to the NASB to get the more literal translation, but do use the one that works for you. Note also that I have no theological or other tie to the bible site I list above – it's just one that lists  NASB, KJV, and The Message, and most folks I've corresponded with seem to use one of those. However, another brother says his favorite site is here, because it also lists NRSV. If you have yet another that's your favorite, do send it to me. I will also list it here).

At this point in our journey, Luke and Matthew both tell us about someone (not only a pagan, but also a Roman army officer) who Good Religious Jews of the day would normally have had nothing to do with. Normally, they would have despised him with the same revulsion and hatred and superior feeling that many Good Religious People of today feel towards Gays. So why did the Good Religious Jews accept him? Luke tells us: because this Roman also loved who they were and gave money to build their meeting place. Many Gay-hating Good Religious People today are also happy to keep despising Gay people, even though they also continue being happy to take "tithes" and other offerings from the Gay pew-sitters who love them and continue handing over the bucks to pay for their "church". So, Good Religious People haven't changed a bit.

No matter – Jesus (who's already expressed Himself as someone not impressed by world-wealth or what it can build or do anyway) is going to show up to help this otherwise-hated man. What big thing happens then?

The otherwise-hated man demonstrates a faith in Jesus the likes of which Jesus hadn't seen in any of "God's People", ever. The otherwise-hated man says, "Sir, I understand authority, and I know that you have authority. I know that all you have to do is say the word and whatever you want to happen will happen, no matter where you are or where the problem is. So I'm not going to ask you to go out of your way to do this". Jesus, the bible tells us, is completely blown away. He makes happen what the otherwise-hated man wanted, and, just as the guy believed, even without having to physically be there to do it.

But Jesus did more. He also told the crowd of Good Religious Jews that many kinds of otherwise-hated people will come from every part of humanity, and will take their places at the same table as the founding fathers of the Jewish people in heaven – while Good Religious Jews rot in hell.
  • Are you one or another kind of "otherwise-hated" person to Good Religious People (Christian, Jewish, whatever)? What does it mean to you to know that Jesus – unlike Good Religious People – doesn't require that you love some "church" group or denomination, or that you fork over money in "love offerings" or "tithes" to be willing to help you out? 
  • How does your faith compare to the centurion in this story? Do you believe that rituals, or visits, or tithes, or anything else are required before Jesus can help you? 
  • Think about whether you are an "otherwise-hated" person, or someone who's been taught to hate "otherwise-hated" people – and then consider what Jesus said about "otherwise-hated" people making it to heaven, while despisers of "otherwise-hated" people are not making it to heaven. What should this mean to your life, today? 
  • What are the ways that "otherwise-hated" people are mistreated, born false witness about, and so on by Good Religious People today? How can you help these "otherwise-hated" people see past the false-Christ that Good Religious People wave around, and instead see the real Jesus, instead? 
  • Some people argue that the relationship between the centurion and his servant was a romantic and/or sexual one. The bible text really doesn't say either way, though historically slaves and their masters in that time and place often spent years as part of the same household and sometimes did develop an emotional and/or sexual bond beyond mere master/servant. Some would argue that Jesus wouldn't have helped if He'd known these two were romantically involved, but nothing in the Bible suggests that Jesus ever turned anyone away who actually asked Him for help. What should all this say to the lives of those who believe the centurion and his servant were romantically involved? What should all this say to the lives of those who believe they weren't so involved?

Next, John talks about another person that sometimes gets lumped in with the centurion above – but that inclusion doesn't fly if you actually take a look at what's going on in all three stories. In this one, we see another big wig – this time someone from the Jewish royal court – asking Jesus to heal his son. Just like for the centurion, Jesus heals the person without having to physically show up. What's the difference between the two stories, though?

Well, for one thing, Jesus points out something He points out several times to the Jews back then: unless God was doing supernatural things that blew their socks off, they refused to see Him in anything. The otherwise-hated centurion man didn't need to be wow'ed. He already had trust in Jesus before he even asked for the "signs and wonders". But the Good Religious People? Nope. Their words and attitudes always said to Jesus, "Give us the signs and wonders, and THEN we'll have faith". And that shows in this story, when, we're told, after the son was healed THEN the Jewish official and his household believed God was at work among them.
  • If you're already a Christian, consider: do you just rest in your trust and faith in God, or do you require God to demonstrate reasons for your trust and faith? Why? 
  • Jesus did go around Israel doing signs and wonders to prove who He was, so that people could believe He was God and know to take Him seriously. If you're not a Christian, have you explored the reality of Jesus' life and what He (truly) did and stood for? His first disciples actually gave up their safety and lives – not for some theology or church or for something someone told them to believe – but for the truth of all the signs and wonders they'd seen Jesus do. Please continue taking a look at the real Jesus, and at the people who knew Him firsthand. He and those He Himself chose to represent Him (not all the later "priests" and "pastors" and "ministers" and "popes", in other words) meant for YOU to know God, to know His overwhelmingly huge love for you, and to know His plan for the world and your place in it. Take a look!

Finally for today, we see Jesus once again totally not caring about the Good Religious Laws the Good Religious People lived for. He and the people with Him happened to cross paths with a funeral procession. The bible tells us that the woman mourning was a widow, and that the guy who died was her only son, so that we understand that his death meant she now had no material support in her life. Remember, the cultures back then were intensely male-dominated, so that women required a husband, father, son, or other related male supporting them and giving them a home – or they were probably going to end up in prostitution or begging, just to feed themselves (or just dying, from street-abuse, hunger, the elements, etc). The bible tells us that when Jesus saw her His heart went out to her, and He moved to act in her life.

There was a problem, though. In the Mosaic law the Jews followed, touching a dead person or their funeral stuff made you "ritually unclean". It meant you couldn't touch or do lots of things for a prescribed number of days and until after you'd done certain rituals. So normally people only touched their dead loved ones (there being no morticians in those days) – and no one else. Why have to go through all that for someone you didn't love?

But Jesus actually went up and touched the guy's coffin. The people carrying the coffin just stopped. I bet their mouths were hanging open while they stared at this weird guy who'd just come up and touched their dead relative out of the blue. And we have to consider what Jesus is doing here, too, because we just watched Him heal two people from far away. Certainly He could have healed the dead guy from a short distance away and then still kept the religious rules God gave the Jews through Moses centuries before.

But Jesus chose to touch him. Jesus chose to do exactly what all the Good Religious People of that day would NEVER have done. Once again, Jesus proved Himself completely outside of anything Good Religious People could even imagine.
  • In this miracle, we see Jesus' heart is all about the woman who's now going to be made defenseless in her human culture. He stepped into her life specifically to care for her – and that's the real miracle. Yet what happened to her that day, and what it would have meant to her life if she hadn't met Jesus that day, is usually just the backstory in Good Religious People story-telling, who want us to focus on the fact that Jesus raised someone from the dead here. Why do you think today's Good Religious People are more like the Jews back then, all-eyes on the "signs and wonders", instead of like Jesus, all-eyes on the person most at risk of oppression, suffering, humiliation, and even death? What should our own Christian focus be on, not only as we read the bible but also as we meet others who are culturally or otherwise vulnerable? 
  • Many Good Religious People today just LOVE LOVE LOVE "The Rules", going on and on about how they follow "God's rules". Yet Jesus never followed "God's rules" as Good Religious People portray or proclaim them. What does that say about Who we should be looking to for mentoring, lived-example, and teaching, and who we should not?

Next week we'll meet once again one of Jesus' most powerful followers: a man who did his own thing, had almost nothing, and who constantly torqued off the powerful people around him – but who God called one of the greatest human beings to ever live.

Until next week!

This article written by Lynne at You can contact Lynne at