Friday, March 27, 2009

01/25 - Breaking Old Ways of Thinking

Matthew 9:14-26

John’s students had been carefully watching Jesus, and they had a question about fasting they thought was important.

The most devout, conservative members of the religious establishment fasted, and John, the great religious reformer, taught his students spiritual disciplines like fasting. Jesus kept Jewish religious practices, quoted much from Jewish scripture, and was sympathetic with John’s reform efforts. These associations were clear to the questioners.

In today’s lingo, Jesus’ answer to their question was, “It’s party time.” A wedding in that time brought together extended family and friends and was a festive, long event, perhaps lasting several days. Certainly, it was not a time for fasting.

Jesus’ coming was also a great celebration, at least for those willing to join the party. People were healed from life-long, chronic illnesses. Some were even brought back from death. His teaching gave new hope for dull and petty lives. There was a holiday spirit in the crowds following him.

Jesus realized, however, that the question about fasting was the wrong one. For example, they could have asked about the purpose of his spiritual kingdom, about being intimate enough with God to call him “Father” (Matthew 6:6) or about asking God for things like a child asking daddy for a piece of bread (Matthew 7:9-10). Their question revealed something troubling to Jesus—these people were trying to fit Jesus—who he was and his spiritual kingdom—into their religious categories.

Jesus simply did not fit into those categories. Who else had contemplated the great ideas he had thought about in the same breadth and depth? After all, he had the mind of God. Who else had a completely pure heart (a condition beyond our imagination)? Who else was God-made-flesh?

Likewise, Jesus’ spiritual kingdom did not fit into religious categories. He did not come to start a new religion. God had previously done that through Moses, and Jesus respected the Law and the Prophets so much that he would fulfill, not destroy, them (Matthew 5: 17). He did not come to reform the existing religion. John was already doing that successfully, and Jesus approved of his work.

Jesus’ spiritual kingdom compared to religious systems like the sun to a candle. His kingdom would affect not just the religious aspects of human experience and history but everything about humanity and its history. His goals would be evidence of the greatest megalomania if anyone else had them.

With images of ripping cloth and breaking wineskins, Jesus tried to shake the questioners out of their limited ways of thinking. They were in danger of missing who he was and what he would do because their minds and hearts were closed.

Today, what images would Jesus use to shake us out of our limited thinking? Our categories, especially the religious ones, inhibit our ability to think about him. If we are to get full benefit from Jesus and his kingdom, our old thinking categories have to tear and break.