Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A brief thought occasioned by reflecting on some of Stan Hauerwas' writings on the ethical significance of Jesus life as recorded in the gospels. There seem to be four basic positions held by the Israelites of Jesus day regarding their relationship to the kingdom of God. The first was that of the Sadducees who seemed to feel that the kingdom was not necessarily distinguished from present reality, and thus the best option is to participate as fully as possible in the workings of politics as they are.

The second option was, perhaps, the polar opposite. This is the position of the zealots. The zealots felt that the existing government, both by the Romans and by collaborators, was so unholy that it must be opposed by force. You wouldn't want God to accuse you of standing by idly while the wicked do as they please, would you?

The third option is that of the Essene/Qumran community. They believed like the zealots that the existing powers were evil, but the solution was to remove themselves from that community so as not to be polluted by it.

The fourth option was that of the pharisees. This was somewhat more moderate than the others, to my point of view. Thier position was that God, when He showed up to clean house, would recognize His own folks by their strict observance of the Torah.

All of these opinions I think could be given a pretty good defense based on a few OT proof texts, if you wanted to get defensive about them. But what I want to mention is that a great deal of Jesus teachings and actions could be interpreted as a response to these four positions. He condemns the Sadducees for not believing in resurrection, i.e., for not believing that God is ultimately just and will vindicate those who suffer injustice.

Jesus position on violence is spelled out for the zealots in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not that violence is unjustified, but that God has another way for His true followers to act, namely to suffer at the hands of the wicked without complaint.

Jesus response to the separatists is shown very visibly in how He deals with those who were unclean-- He does not stay away from them, but makes them clean by His presence.

And, more well known I think, Jesus responds to the pharisees both by rejecting observance of some of their practices as well as accusing them of hypocrisy. He tells His followers that their righteousness must be "greater than that of the scibes and pharisees." While God certainly wants His people to be obedient, he does not want this in the way of the pharisees.


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