Sunday Morning Greek Blog

June 24, 2012

Scandalous Living

This past weekend, I finished leading our men’s group in a nine-week study through John Eldredge‘s Beautiful Outlaw. The subtitle of the book is “Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus,” which should clue you in as to the subject of the book. The basic premise of the book is this: because Jesus is the incarnation of God, every aspect of his personality has the divine imprint. If God the Father could be human, Jesus is the ultimate and unique example of how God the Father would live on this earth. Every aspect of Jesus’s personality is perfect in human form: his sense of humor, generosity, conversation, passions, playfulness, love, relationships, and so forth all emanate from his Father, God the Father (John 5:19).

Breaking Barriers

Jesus went places where good Jews of his day avoided. Jesus spoke to men and women of ethnic backgrounds the Jews despised. Jesus broke the barriers of cultural taboos by reaching out to and even touching the “untouchables.” Jesus challenged the religiosity of the status quo to shed a fresh new light on what it meant to be a God-follower. Unfortunately, too many Christians, both individually and collectively in various expressions of the church, have exalted Jesus to so heavenly a status that they have forgotten he had his human side. Lest I be misunderstood, Jesus’s human side was kept in check by his divine nature, something you and I don’t have. He had no sin. We can get away with saying, “I’m only human.” But Jesus can’t. Jesus was humanity at its best because he was divinely empowered to live the human life. So the church needs to take a closer look at not just the words he said, but the things he did and the way he lived here on terra firma.

The Samaritan Taboo

The story of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example. In vs. 4, John says of Jesus, “It was necessary for him to travel through Samaria” (my translation). Similar constructions elsewhere in the New Testament are often translated “He must.” If Jews wanted to go north and south from Galilee to Jerusalem, the direct route was through Samaria. But since Jews hated Samaritans with such a passion, they would often cross over to the east side of the Jordan River and travel the longer route rather than set foot in Samaritan territory. Why was it necessary for him to go through Samaria? Because that’s what his Father wanted him to do!

Now when Jesus and the disciples arrive, Jesus breaks two taboos (at least). First, he talks to a Samaritan, the most despised class of people to the Jews. That’s bad enough in the eyes of the religious elite of the day. But this Samaritan is also a woman, and it was certainly not the norm for a Jewish male to talk to any woman alone in public (the disciples had gone off to buy food). I think it is important to note that in talking with this woman who in on her sixth “husband,” who has come out to the well at an unusual time of day, that Jesus never actually condemns the woman in any way or outright says that she’s living a sinful life, although the latter could be implied from his statement that her current “man” is not her husband. Historical and modern scholars have mostly inferred that the woman has a questionable character from the circumstantial evidence in the text. But just as he would later refuse to condemn the woman caught in adultery (variant reading in John 8), he does not speak words of condemnation here, only words of life.

A third taboo may be implied as well, although I find some mixed evidence in the Mishnah (the written interpretation of Jewish oral law generally accepted or debated at the time of Jesus). Drinking or eating from a Samaritan vessel may have been frowned upon as well. In some passages in the Mishnah, Samaritan offerings are acceptable, whereas some gentile offerings are specifically forbidden or given a lower status. However, Shebiith 8:10 says that Rabbi Eliezer considered eating Samaritan bread equivalent to eating the flesh of swine. If the disciples went off to a Samaritan town to get food, it’s most likely that R. Eliezer’s opinion was in the minority and not widely accepted.

The Sinful Anointer

This wasn’t Jesus’s only “scandalous” contact with a woman. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, we have parallel accounts of a woman anointing Jesus’s head with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, which Jesus says is part of his preparation for burial. In Luke 7, we have a similar story, except in Luke’s account, the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’s feet after washing them with her tears and her hair. Not only that, this woman kisses Jesus’s feet as well. Luke mentions that Simon considers the woman a sinner. In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the disciples and other dinner guests are indignant with the woman and treat her rudely. But Jesus hardly bats an eye at the event. He considers it a beautiful thing and even says that the woman’s actions would be immortalized in the Gospels.

Standing with the Leper

Jesus’s “scandals” were not limited to women, though. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus healing lepers. That’s something we would expect a compassionate healer like Jesus to do. But not only does he heal some of them merely by his words, he also reaches out and touches a leper. In the normal course of Jewish life, lepers had to walk around with their faces covered and shout “Unclean!” so that Jews would not be ceremonially defiled by them. But Jesus chooses to skirt the custom rather than the leper. When he touches the leper, the leper is healed. So is Jesus unclean or not? Or does Jesus even care if he’s unclean? Jesus chooses compassion over custom so that the world can know the deep, deep love that he and his Father have for creation.

Jesus, Lord of Life

I’ve blogged before about Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Three of them are relevant here: “I am the Bread of Life,”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus came to bring life to a world that was looking for it in the wrong places. The religious leaders of the Jews thought it was found in absolute strict adherence to the law, so much so that they built a “hedge” around the law so that people might know when they were close to crossing the boundary (the word “Mishnah” means “hedge,” and the book is just as thick as a Bible with tinier print!). But Jesus blows that all to smithereens by simplifying it all for us: “Love God and love your neighbor.” If you do those two things, you don’t have to worry about the hedge.

Scandalous Living in the 21st Century Church

For many years, I pastored in small, rural congregations in Illinois. As you might expect in a small town, everyone knows your business whether you want them to or not. In some ways that’s good, but in other ways, that can be a great hindrance to ministry. Why? Because you can’t go to the places where those not religiously inclined hang out to share what’s important. I decided early in my Christian walk that it would be okay for me to hang out in bar with friends and acquaintances. I really don’t have a problem with Christians (or people of any other faith or nonfaith for that matter) drinking alcohol in moderation. Jesus, the true vine, did change water into premium alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana. In my journey to be like Jesus, I want to be where the people are.

My half-siblings play in a trivia league in Omaha. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars. I love trivia, and I’m a pretty smart cookie, so I think I’d do pretty well in that setting. So last week, I joined the trivia league that meets at Maloney’s Irish Pub. It’s fun, and it’s great interaction with family and new friends and acquaintances. And it certainly beats staying home alone playing Words with Friends and Hidden Chronicles. I enjoy the company and the challenge. If Jesus can supply a couple hundred gallons of premium wine for a celebration, certainly I can enjoy a Sprite with friends!

Conclusion

Although I enjoyed my time as a pastor, I’m not sure I was really cut out for the rural scene. I am glad I’m not a pastor now, because I feel freer than ever to share the life of Jesus in places where my previous congregations would have surely fired me for going. I feel like I can truly have a ministry of the mundane (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it) among friends, family, and coworkers while I live the scandalous life of Jesus.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

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