Radical Jesus

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  January 7, 2017

            Jesus is a bit too extreme to be taken seriously. He knows the law. He knows what makes for good order and decency in society. He knows what must take place in order to ensure people do not get out of hand or start taking advantage of others. Yet, Jesus throws all that wisdom out the window.
            The law was very clear in calling for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If someone brings harm, the Biblical standard is definitive—swift, focused, and calculated retaliation that matches the harm with strong, punitive measures. When it comes to dealing with those who would inflict harm, nobody is more threatening than sworn enemies. With definitive malice in mind, and hardened hearts focused on death and destruction, it is vital that people of good faith maintain a strong defense, uphold a powerful guard, and not be afraid to use force in order to maintain peace when necessary.
            It comes down to responsibility and that requires a focus on fairness. This is why the wisdom of the Bible called for such measures. Farness maintains order, balance, accountability, and stability within society. Injury deserves injury. Hate deserves hate. Every person should responsible for earning their own keep, maintaining their own load, and must be accountable to their own responsibility. This is fair. This is natural. This is essential for society to function.
            Yet, when speaking in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes a mockery out of all the wisdom of the ages. Where the law calls for punitive retaliation and aggressive response to injustice, he calls for a complete surrender to the injustice. Where scripture calls for strong defense against the enemy, Jesus says that we are to love those who hate and persecute us. Where scripture calls for accountability, Jesus would have us carrying everyone else’s loads so we can no longer care for ourselves and giving to the beggars until there was nothing left to give. If we were to take Jesus literally in the 5th chapter of Matthew, every Christian would be broke, naked, worn out, and probably enslaved to some evil overload who is not afraid to use power. 
            There is, however, a great deal more to these words of Jesus Christ than meets the eye. The audience to whom Jesus was originally speaking lived under the heavy-handed authority of Roman rule. He recognized that holding to a literalistic—and legalistic—interpretation of the biblical laws the Old Testament would likely result in catastrophic measures by the militarism of the Roman authorities. Jesus recognized that fairness was not the product of authoritarian rule, the power of military might, or strict accountability. Rather, Jesus recognized that such structures produce an imbalance of power that promotes unbiblical inequality and injustice.
            Before making these radical statements, Jesus also reminded his audience that he was not going to abolish the law. This includes the very laws he seems to then contradict. Jesus then boldly proclaims that his role is to fulfill the law. This is why Christians must take Christ seriously even when his teachings appear impossible or impractical. The law cannot create equality and justice. It can only punish. Jesus call for a change of heart that transcends law.
            Jesus teaches that power, money, control, authority, and the ability to wield great force are idols that corrupt the believer’s trust in God and ultimately undermine God’s ministry in the world. The call Christians have in Christ is not to wield power, promote retaliatory retribution, control others, or deal in the realms of hatred, but actively work to end the cycles of violence, poverty, and inequality through Christ’s actions of love, acceptance, and understanding. Yes, Jesus was radical; but only because he expects Christians to be equally so.