In Luke 4, Jesus is at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth when he gives what many people see as his "inaugural address." When he stands up to read from the Scriptures, he reads a passage from Isaiah 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then Jesus says to the crowd, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
When you look at Jesus' ministry throughout Luke's gospel, you can see how it fulfills this description that Jesus gives right at the beginning. His ministry is one of freedom, liberation, and jubilee. He cleanses lepers, gives sight to blind, raises the dead, hangs out with the scum of society, and proclaims forgiveness for sins. His ministry tears away the chains by which people had been held down. Jesus transcends the barriers that society had erected and shows love to the last and the least.
In Luke 5-6, there are a series of stories in which Jesus demonstrates this sort of liberating ministry. What is interesting to me, though, is how everything that Jesus does in these stories would have totally hacked off the religious establishment--the Pharisees and experts in the Mosaic law. While Jesus is bringing love and freedom to people who have rarely experienced it, the Pharisees become indignant that Jesus would dare to do the things he does.
If you look at these two chapters, you can see what I mean. In Luke 5:12-16, Jesus heals a man with leprosy by reaching out his hand and touching the diseased man. This man's leprosy would have made him ceremonially unclean (Lev. 13), so by touching him, Jesus would seem to show little concern about the Mosaic laws concerning clean/unclean. And that would certainly annoy the Pharisees. Next, in Luke 5:17-26, a lame man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus declares that the man's sins are forgiven. The Pharisees speak up at this point, objecting that it is blasphemous for a man to forgive sins. After this, in Luke 5:27-32, Jesus calls the tax collector Levi to follow him, and then he eats at Levi's house with a hodgepodge of tax collectors and sinners. This causes the Pharisees to complain that Jesus associates with such filth. Then, in Luke 5:33-39, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus' disciples don't fast the way that they do. And then finally, in Luke 6:1-11, Jesus ignores the Pharisees' rules about Sabbath-keeping by allowing his disciples to pick grain and by healing a man with a shriveled hand. This really ticks off the Pharisees, so that they begin plotting about what might be done with Jesus.
In this section, then, there seem to be two different systems at work. On one side is the ministry of Jesus--touching lepers, having lunch with prostitutes, and thinking about others' welfare instead of the intricacies of rabbinic law. On the other side are the Pharisees--standing aloof from the problems of the world in an effort to protect their own religious purity. Jesus' ministry is one that brings grace and freedom; the Pharisees' brings control and apathy toward the hurting.
A question we need to ask ourselves is whether our churches today look more like Jesus' ministry or the Pharisees. Are we living out the freeing ministry that Jesus modeled for us? Are our churches places where the hurting and broken come for healing? Or do they stay away, afraid that we will only sneer at them in judgment? It's a sad truth that the latter might be true.
I recently read Philip Yancey's book What's So Amazing About Grace?, and I would certainly recommend it. In it, Yancey describes how God shows us such incredible grace and how we too should be fountains of grace in a world that doesn't experience much of it. At the beginning of the book, Yancey shares a friend's experience to illustrate why a book about grace is so necessary:
A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter--two years old!--to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable--I'm required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. "Church!" she cried. "Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They'd just make me feel worse."That's a problem.
It's a problem when the unbelieving world looks at the church, and instead of seeing the face of Jesus, they see the demeaning glares of the Pharisees. It seems as though the very people who were most attracted to Jesus are the ones who are the most repulsed by the church today. I can't think of a way to explain that other than to say that, far too often, the church looks less like Jesus and and more like the Pharisees.
We need to recapture the freeing nature of Jesus' ministry. We need to begin to once again be known for our love and grace, not for our judgment. And it start with you and me, I suppose. I'm always fascinated with places in the gospels where Jesus goes toe-to-toe with the Pharisees. It may because I'm a lot like a Pharisee myself. We all need to take frequent looks at the way Jesus lived and how he interacted with others, and let's start living out that grace ourselves.
And now, as I often like to do, here's an unrelated sidenote. I often like to use my blog to muse about how relationships work and to present some new idea to get girls to notice me. (All of this is actually just a subtle attempt to get readers to leave a comment saying, "Look, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Here's how it really works...). Anyway, yesterday I watched a couple old Star Trek episodes, and in one of them, the Enterprise picks up a 17-year-old kid who grew up with no human contact. When this kid meets a girl on the ship he likes, he impresses her by doing card tricks. Granted, he kind of ruins it all when he turns out to be a psycho who makes people vanish with his mind. But while he was doing those card tricks, he was king! So I guess if I want to get a date, I just need to learn some card tricks. Everyone likes card tricks. They're a natural conversation-starter. So if you know any good ones, come teach me! We're all in this together.