May 14 - Reflecting Jesus' Attitude

Reflecting Jesus' Attitude

May 14, 2017

You know you're a mom when you're vacuuming, dusting, wiping, washing, drying, loading, unloading, shopping, cooking, driving, flushing, ironing, sweeping, picking up, changing sheets, changing diapers, bathing, helping with homework, paying bills, budgeting, clipping coupons, folding clothes, putting to bed, dragging out of bed, brushing, chasing, buckling, feeding (them, Not you), PLUS you’re swinging, playing baseball, bike riding, pushing trucks, cuddling dolls, coloring, crafts, jumping rope,  PLUS you’re gardening, painting, and walking the dog. You get up at 5:30 AM and you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you seem to have no time to eat, sleep, drink or go to the bathroom, and yet ... you still managed to gain 10 pounds

 

 

REFLECTING JESUS’ ATTITUDE

May 14th, 2017

 

 

If you read through the gospels about Jesus’ public ministry, you will find that he was quite popular. It wasn’t just that a few measly disciples who followed their Rabbi, but Jesus attracted crowds of people for three years running. 

 

A number of individuals who were part of the crowd seemed to be people who were spiritually and morally quite different from Jesus. Which begs the question why they would want to follow Jesus?

 

Well, one of the reasons why people who were little like Jesus liked to hang out with Jesus is because he didn’t use the same labels that were commonly applied them.    

 

Now, we all label people, even if we are not always aware of it.  So we may speak of the rich and the poor.  We may draw differences between the educated and uneducated.  Politically we may refer to people as liberals or conservatives, as right wing and left wing. We can categorize people as successful or failures, winners or losers.  Old and young.  Fit or out of shape.  You get the idea.  We all categorize people and that will likely never change. 

 

So what were some of the way that people were labeled in Jewish society in Jesus’ day?  

 

  • For one, there were the civilized and the uncivilized (referred to as barbarians);

  • The free and the slave;

  • The Jews, the heretical half or semi-Jews, the Samaritans, and the non-Jews (referred to as Gentiles);  

  • The educated religious teachers (called scribes or teachers of the law or rabbis) and the less religious (called the people of the land - a term that was meant to be deroggatory);

  • There were the powerful and rich priestly elite (consisting of the high priest and his extended family), and the poor commune of Jews living in the dessert (Qumran) who opposed the priestly elite and called themselves the “sons of the light”;

  • There were those who closely followed the Mosaic Law (known as the Pharisees), and those who didn’t (who were called the sinners);

  • Those who were employed by the Romans to collect taxes (tax collectors), as well as those who wanted to violently overthrow the Roman occupiers, the zealots.

 

Of course there were other positive and negative labels as well.  Galilean, for example.  Or Cretan.  So you can see, the Jews in Jesus’ day had just as many ways of labeling people than we do today.  

 

Here is just one verse out of the gospel of Luke where two groups in first century Judea are mentioned:

 

Tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to hear him.                                          Luke 15:1

 

So-called sinners referred to individuals who were did not live their lives in complete obedience to the Mosaic Law.  While they believed in God’s existence, they were more concerned with making a living than living for God

 

Among the sinners were singled out the tax collectors, collaborators with Rome who would overcharge their own people in order to get rich.  Again, tax collectors weren’t irreligious or atheists, they simply preferred to focus on money rather than God.

 

Most pious Jews wanted nothing to do with these people.  They wouldn’t hang out with them, wouldn’t eat with them, wouldn’t even enter their homes, and they would speak to them only as necessary.

 

In essence, sinners and tax collectors were written off by the pious because they really thought that God had rejected them as spiritually and morally unclean, and therefore as unimportant.[1] In fact, those so labelled likely thought of themselves along similar lines. They may still be Jews, they may still believe in God, but they had been written off by God.

 

The rejection of these people by the Pharisees and Scribes is revealed in the next verse:

 

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”                                                                               Luke 15:2[2]

 

The Pharisees were religious lay people, who by and large were regarded very highly by most Jews in Judea, honoured in Jewish society as particularly devout and pious. 

 

The teachers of the law, also referred to as scribes or Rabbis, were those among the Pharisees who were learned and literate - they were educated, could read and write, were constantly reading and memorizing the Tanakh, and were charged with expounding on and interpreting and applying the laws of the OT to every possible situation in life. 

 

In the overhead you can see them standing in the background.

 

While Pharisees as a positive labels in Jesus' society, 2000 years later we use the term, Pharisee, idiomatically to refer to a hypocritical, self-righteous person.  We do so because it was Jesus who pointed out the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees of his day.[3]

 

Now, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were faced with a dilemma when it came to Jesus.  If Jesus was from God, and sinners and tax collectors were considered unimportant and unclean by God, then of all people, Jesus should refuse to hang out with them.  That is what their complaint was about. 

 

However, Jesus seemed to have made it a practice of doing just that. Jesus once chastised the Pharisees because they couldn’t seem to make up their minds.  On the one hand they complained that John the Baptist lived a life that was too ascetic (didn’t eat bread or drink wine), on the other hand they complained about Jesus not being ascetic enough.  Jesus quoted them as saying:

 

Look at him!  He is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.                       Luke 7:34 

 

Notice the word I emphasized by bolding and highlighting it.  Jesus did in fact consider himself to be a friend of those individuals who were rejected by the pious as unclean.

 

You may not be aware of just how common it was for Jesus to befriend and hang out with questionable people.  I want to draw your attention to two other occasions where the pious were upset with Jesus over this.  The first one concerned a tax collector named Levi.

 

Jesus went for a walk on the shores of the lake and a crowd came to him and he taught them.  And as he continued to walk, he saw a tax collector by the name of Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at a tax booth.  Jesus said to him, “Follow me!”  And he got up, left everything, and followed him.  And Levi hosted a big banquet for Jesus at his house with a large number of tax collectors and sinners reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law complained to his disciples, “Why does your Rabbi eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”        

Mark 2:13-16; Lk 5:27-30; Matt 9:9-11

 

Here is one more occasion where Jesus spent time with a very rich tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus.

 

When Jesus came to the place (where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree to be able to see Jesus), he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry down because I will be staying at your place today.”  So Zacchaeus hurried down and joyfully received Jesus into his home.  But those who saw it grumbled, “He has entered to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”                                                                                     Luke 19:5-7

 

You can see just how often Jesus seem to spend his time with tax collectors.  And you have to keep in mind, that these were hardened men, who had closed their hearts, who showed no mercy, who only seemed to care for themselves.

 

That is, why for many Pharisees and Scribes there was only one logical conclusion:  Jesus cannot be from God

 

What these pious Pharisees didn’t realize, is that Jesus was challenging their whole perception of how God thinks about people.  Jesus rejected the notion that the so-called sinners and tax collectors were unclean to God or that God had written them off as worthless and unimportant.  In fact, Jesus taught, that these people are very important to God despite the poor choices they may have made

 

So Jesus, in response to the complaints of the religious and devout in Luke 15, tells three stories, three parables. 

 

There were the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  While those who Jesus is hanging out with may be “lost”,[4] they retain their incredible value to God, who rejoices greatly when they are found again.  

 

Then Jesus goes on to tell them the parable of the prodigal or lost son.  Even those who have severely compromised themselves morally and ethically, still retain their value in God’s eyes despite their outrageous behaviour.  Should they return in humility and repentance, they will be accepted by God with great joy. 

 

In other words, Jesus challenged the perception of his day by teaching that the people who were negatively categorized as sinners and tax-collectors, do not stop being beloved children of God, highly valued by their heavenly Father.[5]

 

This is why Jesus spends time with them, because they are important, and because he wanted to encourage them to be found again, to come back to God in humility and sorrow over their behaviour. 

 

Jesus didn’t whitewash or condone their actions.  Jesus still called them to a life that recognizes and obeys the will of God.  He still called them to return to God and reform their lives.   

 

However, he didn’t condemn them either.  He didn’t write them off as unclean.  He didn’t label them as horrible failures.  He didn’t berate them as hopeless and worthless.  He accepted them even though he might not have agreed with everything that they were doing.  And this is the reason why they like hanging out with Jesus. 

 

Put another way, Jesus was safe to be around.  He didn’t write them off.  He genuinely seemed to like them.  He gave them a sense of their own value.  He gave them hope about their future. 

 

Being around Jesus meant feeling valued, and encouraged, and accepted as a human being.  In contrast, it wasn’t safe for them to hang around the Pharisees and Scribes because all they got was rejecting and judgement and condemnation.

 

Now, what is true of Jesus should, at least to some degree, be true of those who call themselves his followers ... back then as well as today.  The NT makes this abundantly clear.

 

For one, the apostle Paul wrote a number of times that believers are collectively the body of Jesus, and individually, like body parts of Jesus. 

 

You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.                                         1 Corinthians 12:27

 

We, who are many, are one body in Christ and individual members of it.                                     Romans 12:5

 

He is the head of the body, the church. ... His body is the church.                                    Colossians 1:18,24

 

Christ is the head of the church and the Saviour of the body.     ... We are members of his body.                                                                              Ephesians 5:23,30

 

Paul and the writer of 1 John also mention that Christians should be like Jesus when it comes to the way they conduct themselves. 

 

Those who God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he (i.e. Jesus) may be the firstborn of many brothers (i.e. siblings).                                              Romans 8:29

 

The one who professes to live in Jesus ought to conduct himself in the same way that he did.  1 John 2:6

 

The implication of these verses is, that what is true of Jesus personally, to a degree has to be true of Christians as well - both individually and collectively. 

 

However, we need to be careful here not to go too far.  In some respects we can never be like Jesus.  For example, we can never be divine, sinless, or as authoritative, as he was.  He may have seen into the hearts and minds of people but we cannot. 

 

Jesus may have gone into the temple to overturn the tables of the money changers and drive out the animals being sold there for slaughter.  Who knows what he would have done if he was born in our generation?

 

So the question, “What would Jesus do?” may not be the right question to ask in each and every circumstance.

 

We also need to be careful not to directly equate the people of Jesus’ day with people today.  As I’ve mentioned already, the sinners and tax collectors of Jesus day thought of themselves as Jewish.  They would not have questioned the existence of God.  They would not have questions the authority of the Mosaic Law.  They would not have been atheists or agnostics.  They would have had no inkling of New Age belief and thought.  They would never have cobbled together their own form of spirituality.

 

However, that is not true of most people today. So Jesus could count on the fact that he and his friends shared many of the same presuppositions.  We can’t.  In fact, Christians today may share very few presuppositions between them and their friends.  It will be a LOT more difficult to common ground today than it was back then.

 

But, keeping these two points in mind, I think that followers of Jesus should reflect Jesus’ attitude and character and teaching in a number of ways.  For example, it’s not rocket science that Christians of every generation should apply Jesus’ core teaching to their lives.  For example, there should be mutual affection and care among Jesus’ followers.  The author of the book of James made that point in his letter.

 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  As I have loved you, you also are to love one another. ... This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.             John 13:34; 15:12

 

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

James 2:15-16

 

Similarly, the author of 1 John made the very same point that James did.

 

If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?       ... Love one another, just as he has commanded us.                                  1 John 3:17,23

 

Or what about the focus on doing good and kind things for others?  The apostle Paul and the author of the book of Hebrews point out that Jesus’ teaching on good deeds should simply be reflected in the lives of his followers.

 

Let your life shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your heavenly Father.

                                                          Matthew 5:16

 

Whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to all people ....                                      Galatians 6:10

 

We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good deeds ....                                     Ephesians 2:10

 

Do not neglect to do good ....             Hebrews 13:16

 

These are fairly straight forward.  But to get back to Jesus’ attitude toward the sinners and tax collectors ... what does that mean for us today?

 

So here is a dream or vision or hope that I have.  I dream that FCC (or: Victoria Christian Faith Fellowship) now is and will continue to be a place where even those without a church background will love to come to

 

  • It shouldn’t matter if their life’s a mess or if it’s a marvel, whether they’re struggling or cruising through life. 

  • It shouldn’t matter if they believe in God or have doubts about his existence. 

  • It shouldn’t matter if they have a Christian or secular background. 

 

They should love to be a part of the church in part because it is a safe place to be.

 

  • It should be a place where they are valued

  • It should be a place where they are encouraged and built up

  • It should be a place where they can voice their doubts and ask hard questions.

  • It should be a place where they can connect with others

  • It should be a place where they can experience emotional and spiritual healing

  • It should be a place where they can get practical advice and help on how to navigate the difficulties of life.

  • It should be a place where they can use their gifts and talents and skills to help others

  • It should be a place where they are challenged to become more mature and better people.

 

And all of that doesn’t mean that they won’t be challenged to reconsider some of their thinking, and to reform some of their actions, and to seek to connect to God.  It doesn’t mean that they will hear that, through Jesus’ sacrifice, God went to great lengths and to great cost to make that connection possible, and, that God is not really interested in a milk toast kind of response to that sacrifice.

 

But the point that I want to stress is, that fundamentally, the church should be a safe place, and followers of Jesus should be safe people, because Jesus, in a sense, was a safe person for those labelled in all kinds of negative ways in his day.

 

So even if others do not exactly believe what Christians believe, and even if they may not live like Christians live, it should be safe for them to come to church, and safe for them to be around, and hang out with, and befriend Christians.

 

Put negatively, there are a lot of things that could potentially repel the unchurched from Christianity or from church. For example, when church is boring, when the message is irrelevant to daily life or it is intellectually questionable, when the people are judgmental or harsh, or uncaring.  Who in the world would want to be around that?  Much preferable to stay away. I mean, why wouldn’t you? 

 

Therefore, Christians and churches should be in the habit of embodying the character qualities and attitudes of Jesus that made him so popular with the crowds, with the people of the land, with the sinners, with the tax collectors. 

 

For one, Jesus was a friend!  You don’t just cancel your friendships because someone doesn’t happen to agree with you on everything.

 

I believe that Jesus didn’t just view people as projects, to be abandoned at the drop of a hat.

 

I believe that they were important to Jesus regardless of how they would eventually chose to respond to his teaching.

 

I believe that he didn’t write them off because they didn’t agree to reform their lives. 

 

All those things the Pharisees did, which made them unsafe. Their message was: “Unless you change, I will reject you - I won’t value you - I won’t have anything to do with you.

 

Jesus had absolutely no way of knowing how the sinners and tax collectors would respond.  Some tax collectors, like Zacchaeus, responded to Jesus by completely reformed their business practices. Zacchaeus said this to Jesus:

 

Look, Lord! Here are half of my possessions that I will give to the poor.  And if I have cheated anybody, I will pay back four times the amount.               Luke 19:8

 

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t ask him to change his profession. 

 

Some, like Levi, became one of the 12 apostles. Others who were present at those meals, may have not responded to anything.

 

After giving this some thought, I asked myself, “what kind of person would I have to be in order to be more like Jesus?”

 

The first thing I came across were two lists that defined an unsafe and a safe person.  I’ve just given you a small sample.

 

Unsafe Person

Safe Person

Nervous, tense, anxious

Relaxed

Self-righteous

Self-aware

Inflexible, mind made up

Adaptable

Easily offended

Self-assured

Sense of entitlement

Thankful

Unable to take criticism

Rolls with the punches

Possessive

Generous

Bitter, Resentful

Forgiving

Uncaring

Caring, giving, listening

Stuck, rigid

Growing, learning

Disrespectful, tactless

Respectful, polite

Lacking humour, grumpy

Cheerful

Discontented

Contented

Critical of others

Sharing complements

Proud

Vulnerable; genuine

 

This is just part of the list, but you get the idea. The problem of course is not that we lack the knowledge of what it looks like when a person is safe, the real problem is figuring out how to move ourselves from potentially being unsafe to being safe.

 

How do we move past our insecurities and hang-ups and get to be emotional, spiritual, and mental mature. It would be great if we had a pill that we can swallow, but most of us know it really has to do with changing the way we think about ourselves, the way we think about others, the way we think about God, and about life.  In other words, our perspective about a whole lot of things will need to change.  Our thinking will need to be reformed.

 

Part of that happens for some people as they get older.  They gain perspective.  They care less about what others think.  They become less judgmental.  They can discern what things are worth taking a stand on, and what things aren’t ... you get the idea. 

 

But there is no guarantee when it comes to aging.  Unfortunately, sometimes old age doesn’t make wiser.  Some people just continue to eat more from the tree of stupid as they age.  While some drink from the fountain of wisdom, they just gargle.  If they spoke their mind they’d be speechless.  If ignorance is bliss, they’re the happiest people on earth.  The twinkle in their eyes is actually the sun shining between their ears.  Yes, there’s lots of these.

 

So old age is no guarantee for emotional maturity.  And change toward maturity and wholeness won’t happen simply by listening to one sermon or one lecture, or reading one book. In most cases, it takes conscious effort to challenge immature thoughts and attitudes and to foster mature thoughts and attitudes.  It may take the help of others, as Paul writes.

 

God’s people are to … build up the body of Christ … until we all become united in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son, mature and completely like Christ.  Then we will no longer be immature … but speaking the truth in love we will grow up to become in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body.                                                     Ephesians 4:12-15

 

I think that Paul had a dream as well – a vision of what the church, the body of Christ, should be like.  Mature, grown up, completely like Jesus.

 

While others may help me to become more mature, it really comes down to me whether or not I will.  Whether I in fact become more like Jesus in his attitude … or not.

 

Things that I need to learn to do to become a safe person, a mature person, a person like Jesus who doesn’t write off people just because they have faults and failures.  There are actually many, many things.  I simply chose 7. 

 

I need to learn ...

 

1. to let go and let God. 

 

That’s not to say that we should be fatalistic and not attempt to deal with issues as they arise.  But certain things we just can’t do anything about and we have to learn to let them go and entrust them to God.  There is absolutely nothing gained by getting mad and upset. 

 

That is where prayer is so powerful, not simply asking God for things, but telling him that we want His will to be done in our lives.

 

Ultimately I trust that God’s Spirit indwells me and guides me and strengthens me to deal with life.  If you think about the fruit of the Spirit, these are actually all indications that a person has matured in so many ways.

 

2. to affirm my inherent value and the inherent value of others

 

If I’m a beloved child of God, then I am intrinsically valuable to God ... I am worth no less that celebrities, politicians, engineers, or anyone else on earth. 

 

At the same time, others are intrinsically valuable as well.  No longer pigeon hole, write off, judge, … others, but realize that no matter how “lost” they may appear,  God loves them.

 

A proper and healthy understanding of self is fundamentally necessary for emotional and spiritual wholeness, it cannot be overemphasized.   

 

3. to choose gratitude over complaining

 

Expressing thankfulness at all times is a sure way to get over many of our emotional

 

4. to try to put myself in another’s shoes

 

And realize that I can never fully appreciate what it is like to be another person.  I don’t know all the things, good and bad, affirming and traumatizing, that happened to another.  But I still need to attempt to empathize with others, even those I do not like. 

 

Jesus taught his followers to treat others as they would want to be treated themselves.    

 

5. to think more and react less

 

So life is full of disappointments and frustrations and fears.  In fact, every person in our life has the very real potential of disappointing us.  If we just react emotionally to these disappointments and frustrations, we’ll not only be unsafe to be around, but we’ll end up really disliking ourselves.

 

So we need to learn to pause, to pray, to think, before we react in some knee-jerk way, before we fly off the handle, before we say something regretful, before we lash out. 

 

Being mature is being able to handle disappointments and frustrations.  In order to do so, we need to learn to reign in our emotions and engage our brains, otherwise we’ll never deal with a frustrating or disappointing situation in a mature way. 

 

6. to be personally responsible to challenge my negative thinking

 

Ultimately the responsibility for me to change, to grow up, to mature, to become safe is not God’s, it’s not my parents, my spouse’s, my children’s.  The responsibility is mine.

 

No one will do this for us.  No one will force us to mature.  No one will change me other than myself. 

 

7. to seek out resources to help me mature

 

Pride often gets in the way of this, especially with men.  For one, we don’t want the humiliation of admitting to anyone that we might need help.  Much better to muddle along while pretending that everything’s OK, than being in danger of having someone thinking less of me or, worse yet, have someone hold me accountable for doing better? 

 

I dream of a church filled with those who truly reflect Jesus’ attitude. 

 

CHURCH THAT THE UNCHURCHED LIKE TO ATTEND?

AM I A FOLLOWERS OF JESUS WHO THE UNCHURCHED LIKE TO BE AROUND - OR WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE FOR THAT TO BE TRUE?

 

[1] Note that this did not mean that they condemned these individuals to hell - see Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10. In that section “all Israelites have a share in the world to come” with a few exceptions, including those who deny the resurrection, those who say that the Mosaic Law is not from heaven, and those who pronounce the name of God properly.

[2] Matthew 18:17 completely flies in the face of this verse.  There Jesus is telling his followers to physically separate themselves from a brother who refuses church discipline with these words: “let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector.”  This implies that Jewish Christians should have nothing to do with non-Jews or sinful Jews.

[3] See in particular Matt 5:20; 23:1-36.

[4] In Mark 2:17 (Matt 9:12, Luke 5:31) Jesus refers to the sinners as “sick” (ill) and in need of healing.

[5] The Rabbis also referred to God as “our Father in heaven” (see Mishnah, Sotah 915.  This was not unique to Jesus.