Law Abiding Christians or God Loving Christians?

In Luke 5, Jesus establishes His relationship both to sin and sinners.  In 5:17-26, Luke establishes that Jesus has the power to forgive sins – He triumphs over them, and his ability to heal sickness is but a sign of His real power which is to overcome sin.  Then in 5:29-32 Jesus goes to banquet which many sinners are attending.  The Pharisees are aghast that Jesus would dine and party with sinners, to which Jesus replies, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick:  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31-32).

This is a stunning affirmation by Jesus.  It is because of such statements that the righteous and godly Jews will turn against Him.

It is obvious from the crowds that are attracted to Jesus that the righteous ones of Israel see Jesus as special – godly, a saint, a prophet, a Messiah candidate.  But the religious leadership is troubled by the company Jesus keeps.  Jesus does not first and foremost seek out the Pharisees – those who are strictly keeping God’s Torah.

Not only does Jesus not seek the company of the strict Torah observing Jews, but His comment in Luke 5:31-32 says He isn’t there to seek or call the righteous.  Jesus is saying, He is not very interested in the righteous at all.

These words would fly in the face of all that the righteous Pharisees believed – the very point in being righteous and different from everyone else by strictly keeping the Torah is that God favors such righteousness.  Jesus is saying, that He is not in fact seeking such righteous people; He came specifically to seek out sinners, to be physician to those who are sick. 

For the Pharisees the question then is, what is the purpose of keeping Torah?  They assumed the Torah was the dividing line between whom God favored and rejected, but they assumed God favored the Torah observant Jews.  Why did God impose Torah on us if He is going to use keeping the Torah as the very means to determine who He will ignore and reject?  Jesus is telling them that the Torah is a dividing line all right, but that He came exactly to seek those who were not being observant.  The Pharisees reveal that they don’t keep Torah because they love God, they keep it to gain their reward, to get the blessing and they reduce God to a servant who must reward them every time they do right.   Their Torah keeping is all about themselves, not about God and not about loving God.  If God isn’t going to reward their law keeping, then there is no point in being righteous!  (This is an interesting point because many modern atheists question the morality of believers exactly on the point that “believers” seem to think “being good” is only worth it if there is some divine or eternal reward.  If there is no God, why be good?   Atheists say morality isn’t just about such divine rewards but is about making life better on earth – the atheist comes to doubt whether the believer really values righteousness or goodness at all or just treats them as the means to an end).

Jesus offers sinners the free love of God and the chance to freely love God, not to seek reward from Him.   Jesus says He came exactly to seek and call the sinners and the sick to repentance and this is who He seeks to eat and party with.

In light of this, it continues to amaze how little we Christians value repentance. How many of us avoid confession like we avoid going to the dentist – we see it as something to be avoided, not the very place where we will encounter the Savior.  We want to be numbered with the righteous Pharisees even though we know that is not who Jesus Christ came to call.  Obvious example is the OCA financial scandal – those named in the SIC report as the culprits of the scandal, still act as if they are righteous (I’ve done nothing wrong, my conscience is clear, I sleep well at nights), rather than admitting to being sinners and receiving the blessed call or visit from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Such “righteousness” is a true rejection of Jesus and salvation.  It is a statement saying I neither need or want Christ in my life or in my church – I am doing perfectly well on my own – the new Pharisaical attitude of Orthodoxy.

Mark 11: The Entrance into Jerusalem and the Rejection of Jewish Nationalism

I appreciate “unusual” readings of scripture by various scholars as it opens my own mind to see the scriptures in a new and different way.  Even when I don’t agree with the interpretation offered, nevertheless I appreciate when I am pushed to rethink my ideas of a familiar passage as this often leads to new insight from the scripture.  In a very short article, “The One Who Comes Unbinding the Blessing of Judah: Mark 11:1-10 as Midrash on Genesis 49:11, Zechariah 9:9, and Psalm 118:25-26,” Diane Krause offers just such a rethinking of the story of the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (article is in EARLY CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES OF ISRAEL, pp 141-153).

Zechariah 9:9 has been seen by Christians as the quintessential prophecy of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem:  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”   It is a hopeful prophecy of the Messianic age in which the Jerusalem residents rejoice.

However, Krause notes that in the Mark 11 version of the entrance story, Mark mentions the untying of the colt three times – 11:2, 11:4, 11:5.  She argues that Mark does not just have Zechariah’s prophecy in mind, but is drawing the reader back to Genesis 49.

Genesis 49:11 is part of the dying Patriarch Jacob’s blessing on his son Judah, and it reads:  “Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes…”   Though the verse, as frequently true of prophecy, is a bit obscure, Krause offers one interpretation of it: “The agricultural production of Judah will be so great that young animals can be hitched to the choice vines, and clothing laundered in wine.  Jacob’s blessing announces that Judah’s provision from God will be so abundant that Judah can live without a care, all his needs will be fulfilled.”

Krause argues that Jesus command to untie the colt is actually not just fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, but actually a reversing of Genesis 49:11.  Mark in effect is metaphorically rejecting the idea that “Jesus comes to restore Jerusalem to its Davidic glory.”  It is the crowd who misunderstands Jesus as the Messiah who will bring glory to Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.  Mark’s message is that in fact Jerusalem has lost the blessing of Jacob and the favor of God.  The ultimate proof will be in Jerusalem’s crucifying the Messiah.  Jerusalem and the Jews have rejected God’s promise.

Krause argues that Mark’s real message is to the Gentile community that is embracing his Gospel that Jesus is the Messiah at the very moment in history when the Jews have completely rejected Jesus.  Mark in effect is rejecting Jewish nationalism as a misinterpretation of Messianism.  Mark’s telling of the Palm Sunday story connects the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (11:1-10) with the cursing of the barren fig tree (11:12-14), the driving out of the money changers from the temple (11:15-18), and the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants (12:1-12) where the vineyard is ultimately taken away from the undeserving and ungrateful tenants and given to others.  Mark according to Krause is offering to his Gentile readers/converts scriptural justification for why they have become the chosen people of God.   Jesus is not there to fulfill the Jewish understanding of Jewish messianic nationalism, but rather to prove that the Jews have in fact rejected God and their chosen destiny, and so God must turn to those who will believe.