The moment in our history finally came when God decided to step into humanity in a physical, human way. The fancy word for God doing this is incarnation. God, in their truth and love, took on flesh and name Jesus … and shortly after God did, God became a heretic.
A heretic (according to Encarta) is a holder or adherent of an opinion or belief that contradicts established religious teaching, or somebody whose opinions, beliefs, or theories are considered by others to be extremely unconventional or unorthodox.
Jesus was clearly a heretic, given this definition. In fact, from an earthly vantage point, this was the precise reason he was mocked, slaughtered and killed. His teachings and practices fell well outside of the established and orthodox religious teachings and practices of the Jewish culture of his time. Others, namely those in power of the religious establishment, considered his teachings and practices to be extremely unconventional and unorthodox. So much so that early into his public ministry they began to try to find ways in which they could convict and kill him. Mark barely gets into chapter 3 of his gospel before “…the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” Jesus was just getting started and they began talking about killing him!! KILLING him!! That’s bad. Clearly heretical.
Here is why Jesus was a heretic, at least according to his surrounding religious culture. (Note: I am not going to site chapter and verse. To do so would rob you the opportunity to read the gospels [Mark is a good starting place] for self-discovery).
- Jesus broke the Sabbath and other religious rules (in fact, he even declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath).
- Jesus declared he was the Messiah and then, to make matters worse, God himself (not a smart thing to say in the presence of devout Jews).
- Jesus publicly forgave sins (something only Yahweh could do, not a carpenter ).
- Jesus associated and ate with unclean people and sinners (he might have even eaten non-kosher food…maybe even meat sacrificed to idols!).
- Jesus was labeled a glutton and drunk (you have to eat and drink a lot to get labeled that).
- Jesus attacked the religious establishment, and those leading it, both verbally and physically (keep in mind he only physically attacked the temple).
- Jesus talked to Gentiles (who are the equivalent to non-Christians for us today) and accepted their worship (not good).
- Jesus said the Temple, the heart of the establishment, would be destroyed (do’h).
- Jesus healed and cast demons out of people indiscriminately (they even said his powers were from Satan).
Now every single one of these things that he did (and I am sure there are more than what I listed or were even recorded in the Bible) were horrendously appalling and heretical to those who claimed God’s name; to those who benefited from the religious system; to those who clearly knew what the Law said and were scholars of his word. This fact is why they killed him: he was clearly outside of God’s ways and was threatening everything sacred and true—so they believed.
Sadly, I don’t think religion has changed much over the past 2,000 years. We call Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell heretics (and others, depending on the tradition/denomination)? Yet they have nothing on Jesus! Jesus would be much too radical and unconventional for Christendom’s taste. (What would a homeless carpenter from Snelling with a rag-tag group of followers know anyway?…and under whose authority would he do these things?…and how could he dare say he forgives sins?… and then he has the gall to attack those who claim his name and bless those who don’t?….and…and…and…).
I honestly wonder: If Jesus were to step into our world of Christianity today in the same way he stepped into first-century Israel, would our religious establishment call him Lord or Heretic? Would they praise or kill him? Would they follow or fight him? Sadly—and I mean it…my heart groans—I think, for some (perhaps most if we were really honest), the later would be the case.
What would I do with the same incarnate Jesus? What would I call him? How would I treat him? What would you do?