"My Subversive Jesus"
by Keith Giles
This Sunday morning I was very challenged to read about how Jesus very directly and intentionally confronted the empty traditions of the Pharisees by what He said and did.
HEALING WITH MUD AND SPITTLE
In John chapter 9, Jesus sees a man born blind. His disciples ask if this blindness is due to sin from his parents or his own sin. Jesus responds by saying that it is not because of anyone's sin but so that God's power may be displayed in his life.
What Jesus does next is very subversive. He spits on the ground, makes a cake of mud and smears it on the man's eyes and tells him to wash his face in the pool of Siloam. When he does the man is healed.
If you're like me you've probably always wondered why Jesus healed this man in such an unusual way. We know he could have simply spoken to him and restored his blindness, yet for some strange reason he performs this miracle in a very weird and, frankly, disgusting way.
Want to know why? The answer reveals some of the intentionally subversive methods of Jesus. In the Mishnah, the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism, it says "To heal a blind man on the Sabbath it is prohibited to make mud with spittle and smear it on his eyes." (Shabbat 108:20)
When Jesus decided to heal this man, on the Sabbath, using this exact same method prohibited by the Mishnah, he was publicly opposing this section of the Rabbinic Law and making a statement about the foolishness of a rule which prohibits healing someone from blindness.
His actions are a deliberate attack on the established religious system of the day.
If you read the entire passage in John 9 you'll see that this healing prompted an investigative tribunal by the Pharisees to determine how this person was healed, by whom and why.
"They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." - John 9:13-16
Clearly the Pharisees were upset over this and did all they could to undermine the miracle and to condemn Jesus for his actions.
NEGLECTING TO WASH HANDS
In Luke chapter 11 we read of another direct encounter with the Pharisees where Jesus publicly opposed their teachings by his acts of subversion.
"When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you." - Luke 11:37-41
Again, the Mishnah clearly says, "One should be willing to walk four miles to water in order to wash your hands rather than to eat with unwashed hands" (Sotah, 4b) and "He who neglects hand washing is as he who is a murderer" (Challan, J, 58:3).
Jesus knew he was breaking this rabbinical law when he and his disciples ate without washing their hands. He didn't forget to wash his hands, he intentionally walked past the line of people who were engaged in the religious hand washing ceremony and went over to the table and started to eat.
Jesus pointed out how foolish it is to go through an outward ceremony of cleanliness when inside our hearts we are filthy. Jesus urged the Pharisees to give what they had to the poor rather than engage in outward displays of holiness.
WHY SO SUBVERSIVE?
Jesus could easily have healed on another day of the week, and he could have easily healed without the spittle and mud cakes, and he probably should have washed his hands before he ate, but these were opportunities to demonstrate how foolish these laws were and how much more God cares for people than he does for rules and laws.
MY TURN NOW
It made me wonder, what are the modern traditions that I need to oppose by my actions? How can I follow Jesus by standing against the ways of man and, at the same time, declare my allegiance to the things of the Kingdom?
Quite honestly I haven't yet worked this all out, but I do feel that there may be a short list of things that I could do and say in my every day life that could condemn the empty religious rules of men in favor of the values of the Kingdom of God.
Can you think of anything?
NOTE: Many thanks to Frank Viola for enlightening me on the Mishnah teachings in his excellent book, "Pagan Christianity".
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