I Am (or A Call to Humility)

As some of you may know, during Jesus’ ministry there was not a single monolithic “Judaism.” Rather, different groups were interpreting and expressing their faith in unique ways. Broadly speaking…

… in an attempt to achieve and maintain purity and distinctiveness from the surrounding corrupt culture, the Essenes had chosen to retreat away from society. They lived in desert communities, and were preparing for a final military battle, where they would be recognized as the “true followers” of YHWH.

… the Sadduccees were largely afluent, and had aligned themselves with the economic and political structure that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. Because they were well off, they weren’t interested in any sort of change. They’d “got theirs”, and weren’t interested in any dialogue that might involve a loss on their end. Relatedly, they didn’t believe in the resurrection (because who needs resurrection when you have the good life on this side of death?).

… the Pharisees were the “peoples’ champions,” being popular with the masses. They were concerned with the purity of God’s people: not for purity’s sake, but so God might return to Israel and overthrow the Roman/pagan empire that controlled them. Because, in their view, God’s return depended on Israel’s purity (and quite a few people agreed with them), they sought to “help” the people fulfill the Law in as complete a way as possible.

… The Zealots were absolutely convinced that they were God’s people, and that God needed to rule them. The problem was that, at the time, Rome was ruling Israel. The Zealots desperately wanted to change that, in any way they could. They demanded change now. Which meant military resistance. Which meant weapons. Which even meant political murder. Anything to bring about the “Rule of God” in their nation.

… The Romans, lastly, had little interest in matters of faith. They had their Gods and, for the most part, were tolerant of their subjects’ beliefs. What the Jews believed about YHWH mattered little to them, as long as the peace was kept and commerce was undisturbed. Though the Romans had their pantheon of gods, the Roman “state”, for all intensive purposes, was god and supreme authority. They were supremely pragmatic, and ultimately “might made right”. The Romans got their way because they had the swords and the legions.

For years, it’s been popular for the church to ridicule and lionize Jesus’ rivals. Constant insinuations of, “Wow how could you be so off? How could you miss Jesus?…

“I mean, it’s Jesus for crying out loud!”

Message after message insinuates that somehow we would’ve gotten it right. We would’ve bet on the right horse.  I guess it’s easy to believe that somehow we’re above falling victim to all of these “silly” beliefs…

Actually it’s arrogance. We’re not above any of them.

Whether it’s just my natural tendency towards (sometimes false) humility or not, I wonder if we shouldn’t give a tad more grace to all of these groups. In fact, I’d say it this way…

I’m an Essene whenever I come to believe that God has given up on this world and it’s going over the cliff; whenever I decide to retreat inside the walls of Christian “safety” and wait for Jesus to come back and “fix everything”…

I’m a Sadduccee whenever I deny that Jesus has broken the power of death, and begin acting like this life is all there is; when I forget that this life is not the end of the story; I’m also a Sadduccee when I prefer my security, power and money over what God may be leading me towards…

I’m a Pharisee (a lot, actually) whenever I decide that someone else’s “righteousness” needs to look like mine; when I decide that somehow I know the path for others, and that they are somehow inferior to me…

I’m a Zealot whenever I decide that political power = spiritual righteousness, and whenever I think that a political party (a) has exclusive rights to God or (b) will be the savior of our nation…

Lastly, I’m a Roman whenever I choose to ignore the presence of Jesus and His call to come and die at His cross, whenever I prefer to worship the gods of pragmatism and strength, rather than weakness and service…

I’m all of these things. I don’t know if I would’ve been numbered among Jesus’ followers, or the crowd, or even the Romans who beat him and nailed him to the cross.

Good thing He died for all of those folks.

And me too. But I think it would be great if we can learn that none of us are above mis-reading Jesus, and when we talk about how “silly” these folks were, we are already walking down the road towards an unsettling arrogance and close-mindedness.


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