How to Not Follow Jesus and Still Be Biblical

canstockphoto0116192Yes, you can do the opposite of what Jesus says and claim to be perfectly biblical, quoting chapter and verse, and do so without violating the integrity of the passage you are quoting.

That’s because in the Old Testament, there is an argument going on.

In ancient Israelite religion, there are two paths that people could go by. One path seeks to re-establish the good old days. This path says that better days are behind us and our future needs to be in getting back to those better days.

The other path says that our better days are before us and we need to keep moving toward that Promised Land.

You can see both paths competing with each other throughout the Bible. In Israel, the backward-longing ones won out. They wanted to get back to the days when Israel was free and independent and David was king and everything was great.

If you go back and read the David saga, however, you see that everything was not great. Though David’s reign started well, it ended in disaster.

Then Solomon came along and, having every advantage, including the wisdom of God, unwisely squandered it all in his drive for great wealth and regional influence. He ended up essentially enslaving his people in order to build his buildings.

Just like Pharaoh.

Ezra embodied this longing to go back to the good old days. In the days after the return of the exiles from Babylon Ezra showed up with an old book of laws written by a revered figure from the distant past—the Law of Moses.

He used the Law to demand that Israel send away any non-Israelite wives and the children they had with them and separate themselves completely from all those unclean foreigners.

He led them to rebuild the Temple, a place that was a spectacular failure the first go around. Under Solomon it was the very center of idolatry in Israel, but to the exiles under Ezra it became a part of the idealized past.

Ironically, this Temple would be the only place where sacrifice would be allowed because any other place would be a seedbed for idolatry. Memory is a funny thing.

If you really like irony, consider this: all of this was done under the authority of a foreign king, Artaxerxes.

There were those who envisioned a different path, one which led not back to an idealized past that never existed but forward to a future full of potential.

In this future Israel did not send foreigners away but welcomed them as part of God’s family.

Rather than seeing them as enemies that they needed to protect themselves against, beating their plowshares into swords (Joel 3:10), this path regarded them as part of a larger humanity under one God. People would come from all nations to worship together (Isaiah 66:18) and they would no longer learn war but would beat their swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3).

In the days of Jesus it’s clear which viewpoint prevailed, yet it’s significant that, while Jesus quoted Isaiah extensively, he never referenced Ezra.

Jesus didn’t identify with the movement to return Israel to it’s “glory” days, but insisted that the days of glory were just beginning.

Jesus pushed back by pushing forward, not toward an old kingdom of David but toward a new kingdom of God, a kingdom of enemy-love and active peacemaking. This was not an innovation of his but was squarely within a major stream of ancient Israelite religion.

It goes back to the Law of Moses, where the stream emerges from the ground as a trickle from a spring. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:2) was an attempt to counteract the downward spiral of vengeance embodied in Lamech’s vow in Genesis 3:24 that if Cain was avenged sevenfold, Lamech would be avenged seventy-sevenfold.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a reversal of that downward spiral. If someone knocks your tooth out, you don’t pluck their eye out. If you escalate, so will they.

When you pluck their eye out in retaliation of your tooth, they may cut your arm off.

They cut your arm off, you kill them.

You kill them, their brother comes and kills you and your immediate family.

So then your extended family avenges you by waging war against their whole clan, and on and on it goes until nations are warring against nation for thousands of years.

And it all started with a tooth.

So the Law says, if he knocks your tooth out, if you feel you must do something, then you can only knock his tooth out, and it ends there for both of you.

But an eye for an eye was never meant to be a stopping point. It was progress along the way, but it pointed to a better way.

Of turning the other cheek, of going the extra mile, of loving your neighbor as yourself, even your neighbor who offends you.

It points to loving your enemies.

It points to the way of Jesus.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by. (Any Led Zeppelin fans out there?)

One path is wide because many take it. The other is narrow because few choose it.

Jesus chose the narrow way.

Which do you choose?

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / andykazie

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