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Missional Jesus 11

posted by xscot mcknight

Missional Jesus series takes another step: in Mark 2:13-17, cited below, reveals new features of Missional Jesus. There is a dual feature here that reveals something significant:
1. Missional Jesus not only summons others to follow him, but …
2. Missional Jesus guides those who follow him into a setting where they learn the cutting edge of his missional vision: the religious establishment, committed as it was to behavioral purity, opposes the missional activity of Jesus toward those who had been “othered.”
3. Missional Jesus is committed to rescuing sinners.
I have been tossing around in my head for months, if not more than a year, whether or not the word “Pharisee” can be defined as “those who are non-missional to the other.” What do you think?
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”



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Doug Chaplin

posted July 2, 2007 at 5:48 am


Scot, I think I’d be extremely concerned about defining Pharisee in this way. Apart from the fact that I don’t think it does justice to the historical context by imposing questions they were not asking and answers they were not giving on them, it seems to me too like what Christians of the past have doen with disastrous consequences: making “Pharisee” and later “Jew” a code-word and symbol for an attitude among other Christians with whom one disagrees, as Luther did with the Catholics of his day. I don’t think this is what you would intend, but I implore you not to go there. It is asking for a “Jesus good, Pharisee bad” stereotyping of both history and contemporary church arguments.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 2, 2007 at 6:15 am


Doug,
I’m totally sympathetic with your argument of watching what we say about Pharisees so that we don’t stereotype them into evil. Having said that, they fall under heavy criticism in the Gospels by Jesus — Matt 23 is the chp that brings most of it together.
How would you describe what it was that Jesus had against them and what they were doing?



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John Frye

posted July 2, 2007 at 7:07 am


I think the Pharisees were popular because they were non-missional. They were masters at the us-them dicotomy and kept the idea alive that Jews were a breed apart and far above everyone else.



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T

posted July 2, 2007 at 7:52 am


I think what made the Pharisees “the Pharisees” is how they drew the “us-them” lines using God’s words, which is very different than how Jesus drew them, and for different reasons. The Pharisees tended to draw “faithful to Yahweh” lines which conveniently put them on the faithful side of the line. It’s just that they had to twist both God’s words and themselves to do it. Jesus sees all of humanity on the wrong side of the line (thereby calling the Pharisee’s line a fraud) and takes the further role of “rescuer” of people (and take down the line).
As for the non-missional angle on the Pharisees, I have an orthodox Jewish friend (who is very serious about her faith) who has spoken of Jews as a whole as basically non-missional. She said (to contrast Judaism with Christianity) that Jews don’t care about getting converts. In fact, she described that it’s customary for Jews to turn a would-be convert (however often they come along) down a few times before helping them become Jewish. Maybe this non-missinal feature of the Pharisees isn’t unique to them. Maybe Jesus’ missional nature is the exception to the Jewish norm.



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Scott Watson

posted July 2, 2007 at 8:48 am


Both the Jesus and the Pharisees represented renewal movements in 1st century Jewish Palestine.They had very different MOs. In some ways,the Pharisee’s program was like that of the Moral Majority or the Christian Coalition in out time.



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Daryl

posted July 2, 2007 at 8:55 am


How about defining Pharisees as those who are self-interested rather than God-interested (and, since God is interested in His mission, thereby missional)?
It seems to me that much of the problem humanity has with sin is trying to bend everything to turn around ourselves. The Pharisees had taken God’s law and turned it into something where they could promote themselves. They had become more interested in comparing themselves with others (I keep the Law better than he does, but I need to step it up so that she doesn’t always keep it better than me) than in keeping the Law because it honored God.
I think there are certainly those who use the moniker “Christian” in the same way that the Pharisees used the law, and the comparison between them is entirely appropriate. I would be hesitant to use the term to divide Christians into one camp or another the way you seem to propose. It would only put those of us who do that well down the path to becoming Pharisees ourselves.



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Peggy

posted July 2, 2007 at 3:36 pm


hmmm…I don’t see Saul of Tarsus fitting any of these stereotypes. He was zealous for God’s honor and was out to keep his name pure. And that meant ruthlessly “cutting off” that which was evil. Jesus set him straight on the Damascus road and, what a great sense of humor he had, turned him into the Apostle to the Gentiles ;)
It seems to me more of a legalism issue…and that is not something the Pharisees have the corner on….and Paul had to take Peter to task about that, come to think of it.
I think “covenant-breaker” is a better term to use. Too often the people of God forget that privilege is given for purpose. The Jews were the people of God so that the nations would be blessed…they just didn’t want to share. So they broke covenant because they did not “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.”
I think Paul, the Pharisee’s Pharisee, was a faitheful covenant-keeper…and that’s why Jesus recruited him!



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David Johnson

posted July 2, 2007 at 7:27 pm


It honestly concerns me when we try to define the Pharisees by identifying where their “spiritual descendants” would fit within 21st century Christianity–usually as proponents of what we find “legalistic” or “selfish” or “prideful.” We must remember that Pharisaism was primarily a movement undergirded by a particular eschatology. They felt that if Jews became Jewish enough–keeping to traditions of cleanliness and handwashing, ceremonial purity, circumcision, etc.–then God would send a Messiah to kick out the Roman (read: pagan) occupiers/oppressors, then to lead the nation of Israel back from her long exile, then to rebuild the Temple, and then to inaugurate the kingdom of God. They were an eschatological movement, in which it was believed that certain conditions had to be satisfied before God would send his annointed and act powerfully on behalf of his people. Therefore, if there is any group in Christianity which they are similar to, it may be to the groups that insist that there must be a restored Jewish temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem before Christ comes back or before the “Tribulation” begins or before there can be a “Rapture” or whatever it is that the “End Times” are thought to entail. And that, to me, is a fairly bad comparison to make. Pharisees were a Jewish party in Israel in at least the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
And incidentally, we should not make the mistake of assigning the term “covenant-breaker” to the Pharisees alone, as though they alone were guilty of not “do[ing] justice, lov[ing] mercy, and walk[ing] humbly with [their] God.” That was something for which God was bringing judgment upon all of Israel: Pharisee, Sadducee, proto-Zealot, and even the Temple itself–which was controlled, of course, by the Sadducees, and which was seen as oppressive by the common people.
But with regard to the definition of “Pharisee” as one who is non-missional to the other, I think you’re forgetting one of the woes Jesus pronounced upon them: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” To me it seems that the “mission” which they were inspired to by their eschatology was simply the wrong mission.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 2, 2007 at 7:33 pm


Well, I’ll put some backbone in my suggestion:
No matter how much we defend the Pharisee, Matt 23:15 aside, the fact is that Jesus castigated them for his missional actions and they castigated Jesus for his work. Thus, Matt 9:32-34.
So, if we define missional properly I think we can say they opposed Jesus’ missional work.



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Peggy

posted July 2, 2007 at 7:45 pm


David,
I was not suggesting that the Pharisees are the only covenant-breakers! Far from it. We are all, to some extent, covenant-breakers. But that is what they were condemned for. They were not looking out for the best interest of their covenant partners…especially when the Messiah was in their midst and they missed him!
Which, Scot, leads me to your “fortified” suggestion. If we define Jesus’ “missional work” as being the Messiah, then they were clearly opposed…
But this makes me wonder: is this a sweeping judgment on all Pharisees or just those who did not accept Jesus as Messiah and were plotting his demise? Hmmm….



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David Johnson

posted July 2, 2007 at 10:24 pm


First, I want to make it clear that I’m not defending the Pharisees. They were the targets of our Lord’s harshest criticisms. I just think it’s appropriate to try to see them clearly for what they actually were, for it is only in the light of what they were that we can begin to understand all of Jesus’ criticisms of them. They had conflated their traditional symbols of Jewish identity–these “boundary markers” which separated Israel from the pagan cultures around them, making Israel “stand out”–with Israel’s vocation to be a “light to the Gentiles,” and were thus standing out a lot but not being much of a light.
I have a question: is your definition of “non-missional” more about being opposed to the work of Jesus or not carrying out Israel’s calling? Because, once again, all Israel (I’m meaning the nation as a whole, not indicting every individual) was guilty of failing to be a light, whereas the Pharisees were probably most particularly opposed to Jesus because of his prophetic ministry and Messianic claims combined with his refusal to adhere to the “boundary markers.” Both Israel’s calling and Jesus’ work are (obviously) legitimately part of God’s “mission,” and they are, of course, inextricably linked–but only the failure to recognize that Jesus’ work was legitimate (and hence, opposition to that work), in my opinion, would justify singling out the Pharisees from all of ancient Israel as “non-missional toward the other.”



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David Johnson

posted July 2, 2007 at 10:27 pm


Two quick things:
1) I guess I’m just hesitant about singling out one smaller group within a larger one for their failures if that failure is shared by the larger group.
2) Maybe there’s something about your understanding of “missional” that I’m missing.



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Peggy

posted July 3, 2007 at 12:40 am


It seems to me, David, that you are trying to separate two sides of the same coin. To be opposed to Jesus’ work is to fail in Israel’s calling.
It is interesting to me that you are concerned that we are “othering” the Pharisees when Jesus called them on “othering” the downtrodden and outcast–tax collectors and sinners, in Scot’s text. Are we “othering” them or identifying their MO?
But I will agree: I do think that it does not serve any good purpose to take a word that means something very specific (Pharisee) and use it perjoratively when there are plenty of other words we can use for describing those who are acting the same way.
So, Scot, I ask you: why do you feel drawn to using this word in this way? Is there no other term that brings forth the meaning you are looking to communicate? Do you mean to use it for religious leaders only?
I think it’s too narrow and too incomplete a definition of a word that has another cultural and contextual definition.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2007 at 6:02 am


Peggy,
I have no intention of narrowing the word “Pharisee” to the word “non-missional,” but I do think the Pharisees were non-missional, and even anti-missional (as understood by and practiced by Jesus). The Pharisees had no desire to enter into the world of the marginalized, to break down boundaries between others, and to draw them into the presence of God. Their approach: “Be clean and you can eat with us.” Jesus: “Eat with me and I’ll invite you to become clean through me.” That’s a significant difference.



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Peggy

posted July 3, 2007 at 9:10 am


Scot,
What about this, then: when you are speaking of the Pharisees, in their context, in the ways that Jesus did, it is appropriate to define those actions as both non-missional (and anti-missional) to the other.
I think I got confused in thinking that you wanted to use this term actively for people we encounter today…and I just didn’t think that would wash.
Was I misunderstanding your intended usage?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2007 at 9:29 am


Peggy,
I was speaking of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. I rarely call anyone a “Pharisee” today.



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Peggy

posted July 3, 2007 at 10:33 am


Scot,
Thanks…that clarifies it for me, and perhaps for some others.



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David Johnson

posted July 4, 2007 at 1:13 am


Indeed.



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