How can it be that for so long we followers of Jesus have completely missed the point. So many of us read the Bible and see hell everywhere. Just look at Christians who post on blogs and sites (not this one, of course), who are like Mr Angry on a radio phone-in. Judgement, judgement. Hell, hell. If we actually read the gospels we see that suprisingly, Jesus didn’t bang on about going to heaven after we die and leave it at that. Most (all?) of his strongest words were for those already ‘in’, the already religious, the already ‘saved’.
At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren gave excellent examples of us historically missing the point, which I will write about soon; for now, I found one of my own. Writing a talk on Luke 13.1-9, I was confused. What is this all about? Read it and see yourself. Galileans blood, falling towers, repentance, perishing and another vineyard tale. What?
Pilate was a violent and cruel ruler. He had a history of violently suppressing rebellion. He had a history of trampling on the sensibilities of the Jews. Once, when a group of Galilean pilgrims had gone to the temple to sacrifice, Pilate had slaughtered them, perhaps fearing a riot. The blood of the Galileans mixing with the blood of the sacrifices. Horrendous, offensive – like occupying forces storming a church on Christmas Day and smearing their blood on the communion table. According to Tom Wright, this is the environment Jesus, and his band of Galilean pilgrims, are working in. Should they still go?
Jesus knows the danger. He knows he will be killed in Jerusalem. But that is not the point he makes here. He says, If you do not repent, you too will perish, be destroyed in the same way. Not hell after death, as this is often understood to mean. Not eternal perishing and pain. Not here. Many of the groups that Pilate suppressed and killed were leading rebellion against Rome. They were violent. One of Jesus disciples or apprentices is Simon the Zealot, one of these very people. Jesus means that unless you turn away from and repent from violent, armed rebellion against Rome, you will die as the Galileans did. If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. And if not by the sword, then when Jerusalem is crushed by Rome, you will die as the walls collapse. As they did in 70AD.
Jesus’ message – you must repent! Which here means not the 5 -point prayer and carrying a leather-bound bible to work to bash people with until they escape the fiery flames of hell, but you – WE – must turn from violence and rebellion, and instead follow my teaching – of peace, of loving enemies, of carrying an occupying soldiers cloak an extra mile. The vineyard story reflects this – there is time to repent, there is time to choose the way of peace.
Then it gets interesting and uncomfortable. The old adage of one finger pointing = 3 fingers pointing back at you comes to mind. Read the next passage in Luke 13.10-21. It is a story about Jesus healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath. Why is it here? I think Luke puts it here deliberately. He makes no claim to be chronological. The Jews hate the Romans and want them out. Jesus says, you want change, you want revolution – start here. Start with yourselves. Their culture was such that that a crippled woman was low in status, probably not married, therefore in that culture probably very poor. Unnoticed. Invisible.
Jesus made her visible. Jesus healed her.
Jesus liberated her – saved her – from the oppression of her position. And what do the religious leaders say? You can’t heal on the Sabbath. They still don’t even notice her. They don’t want to notice her. Her presence offends them. Jesus is angry, and he says they treat their donkeys better. Their tight religious observance and rules oppresses and enslaves their own people, even before we start on what the Romans are doing.
Make this women visible! Repent from your violent rebellion – and repent from the way you do violence to each other by chaining people up or bending them over double according to their illness or ability or ‘holiness’ as defined by you. You the dominant ones.
Liberation is everywhere. This is the heart of Jesus’ message. See it!! Be it!! Or, as he says, we will all perish.
I finish with a quote from Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons, who despite their mandolin have hit upon something profound:
Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was meant to be