Scripture: Ez 34: 1-31; Luke 5: 17-32; Luke 18: 15-19:9
Powerful chapter on how Jesus continued to focus his attention on those who were known to be at the bottom of human society, the masses, the multitudes, the underprivileged, the economically disadvantaged. Whereas most people were focused (and still are focused) on getting to the top of this social ladder, of being part of the elite, the privileged, the renowned folk, Jesus put the spotlight on these whom most people forgot. His heroes and heroines were the ones rejected, outcast, ignored, marginalized.
Once when Jesus’ disciples had gone into town to buy food outside a Samaritan city, Jesus remained behind and when the disciples returned they found him deep in spiritual and theological with a Samaritan woman and one with a “sketchy reputation at that. The sight of Jesus and this woman talking respectfully was a triple shock to the disciples: men didn’t normally speak with women as peers. Jews didn’t normally associate with Samaritans, and “clean” people didn’t normally interact with those they considered morally stained” (p 107).
To Jesus these people whom others maligned and ignored, mattered enough to stop, to heal, to hear, to care, to defend. Jesus “proposed that basic human kindness and compassion are more absolute than religious rules and laws,” McLaren observes. And he’s correct.
Jesus was the toughest on the Pharisees, a religious reform movement from His day, who were then seen as the moral backbone of society, but to Jesus they were among the elite, at the top of society, and missing the boat on what mattered. His famous arguments with them are found throughout his teaching, and when choosing his disciples, he bypassed all of them, choosing an unlikely crew even including a hated member of society, a tax collector.
In the second century and beyond, the negative portrait of the Pharisees was applied to all Jews and became the root of antisemitism. The judgmental and mean-spirited characteristics of the Pharisees are ugly anytime they are enacted by anyone else, in any other time. During WWII the heroes of that era were those Christians who stood up against the evil profiling of Jews as inhuman and as the enemy. These believers sought to hide and save others, putting themselves at risk. In this they aligned with Jesus.
McLaren ends this chapter stating: “To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to stand with the multitudes, even if doing so means being marginalized, criticized, and misunderstood right along with them” (p. 109). Amen.
He asks to share a story about a time when you felt like one of the multitude, or when you behaved like one of the Pharisees.
My response: I feel like part of the elite always. When I speak with someone without house or housing, when I give to someone begging along the street, I know, I am part of the privileged in society. It is a top down relationship. The challenge is I was “born into this,” as others were born into poverty. Sometimes people escape the cycle of poverty, but oftentimes they do not. My problem with being at the upper echelon of society is it feels “normal” and so I can live without being aware that that is where I am. I still have problems that feel large to me, but those are not about like issues related to housing or paying bills or the dissolution of relationships. Following Jesus for me as a member of the elite means I need to make concerted effort to connect with those who are marginalized. For me the church has helped me in this, for the church is an embrace of all people no matter where they might land in society.
McLaren also asks, “How do you respond to the stories of Jesus engaging with ‘the multitudes’ and the Pharisees in this chapter?”
You are invited to respond to either question either in comments or by emailing the office at firstname.lastname@example.org.