I was saying last week how different the New Testament might have sounded had Jesus been a ‘respectable’ religious leader.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep would have been more predictable and orderly, his choice of company would not have been as it was: publicans, prostitutes and sinners, and of course his interaction with the Pharisees would have been polite.
I mean, there’s no doubt he loved them, for his dying wish for them was summed up in one of his final prayers: ‘Forgive them..!’ while a religious person might have felt justified in calling down fire and brimstone on them.
It’s instructive to read Matthew 23, for example, ‘The Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. Obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example... they do not practise what they preach.’
Do you remember the woman he met as he sat beside the well known as ‘Sychar’s Well?’
For a start, no decent religious man of his day would have been seen dead in her company, partly because she as a woman, but mainly because she was what we might call, ‘The other sort!’ – Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. But worse, she was of highly questionable character, married five times and now ‘living in sin’!
What does this say to us? Firstly he was doing the unthinkable, a Jewish man interacting in public with a woman, you could say he was the first feminist, that is if you define a feminist as: ‘...advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.’
Secondly, he defied social and cultural taboos, Jews do not relate to Samaritans as equals. What was he doing? He was teaching us a lesson on equality; equality of ethnic identity, equality of religious identity, equality of gender and equality of class. And here we are, two millennia later, and we still discriminate on religious grounds, we use that intolerable term, ‘the other sort’, we discriminate on grounds of gender; women sit quietly at the back and wear hats, and most religious folk would be most uncomfortable in the company of those of a lower social standing!
We think being a follower of Christ can be reduced to going to church, reading our Bibles, saying prayers, maybe even praying for those outside the church, ‘...but please Lord, sanitise them so they don’t contaminate the sanctuary.’
Perhaps the greatest travesty was this woman was the first person to whom he revealed his identity as the Messiah. Remember? She said, ‘I know that Messiah is coming. He will explain everything to us.’ And he replied, ‘I am he.’ So how did she react? She became the first evangelist.
It is my belief that when we come to see the Christ as the Messiah, the Promised One, when we listen to, when we embrace his message rather than cherry-picking from the interpretation of others, will be changed from the inside out, and those around us; friends, family and colleagues at work will see him in us.
Then we will learn that true evangelism is not Bible-thumping, it’s not self-righteous, often hypocritical high-sounding words like the Pharisees of whom Jesus spoke so harshly.
No, true evangelism is summed up in the words of Francis of Assisi, ‘Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.’