Toorak Uniting Church
Tales of Passion - Politicised Religion
Rev. Dr Ron Savage
4 April 2006
It has been well said that God has no grandchildren. Each generation must come to faith for themselves and each generation makes changes to its ways of expressing faith and expressing appreciation for salvation. Change is not always easy and stagnation and generativity are ever in contest. Jesus was and is a challenge to regenerate faith and life style and a rebuke to complacency. But there is always the temptation to think we are good enough if not better than most.
St Luke 6: 1 11 St Luke 15: 1 7
Letter of Complaint from Scribes and Pharisees
From the elders and leaders in the synagogues of Aramathea, Lydda, Emmaus, Orpha, Horoth and Socoh in the ancient presbytery of Bethel.
To the venerable assembly of the Sanhedrin.
Your humble servants respectfully show that there has appeared in our district an itinerant preacher Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.
- that this Jesus has been accorded considerable authority by the populace being sometimes referred to as a prophet.
- that he has similar and greater status to the formerly revered John the Baptiser in the minds of the common people.
- that he has attracted attention of the politically active who may have designs to make him a loyalist leader in their agitation against co-operation with Roman rule.
- that he demonstrates a liberal attitude to the law and the prophets viz he is critical of strict observance to the Sabbath,
to quote: "the Sabbath is made for man not man for the Sabbath."
- he scorns the wearing of phylacteries and reverence for the holy texts which he reinterprets freely abandoning fundamental teaching and principles of the fathers.
- he preaches love of the enemies of our ancient religion thereby suggesting that the Lord countenances Gentiles, Samaritans and blasphemers;
- he scorns strict laws of purification but has established a baptismal policy of his own.
- he eats freely with publicans and sinners at the same table.
- he converses openly with, gives theological instruction to and enters into sacred debate with women thereby encouraging them to rise above their status.
- that he claims to have the power to heal and has disquieted many in our congregations who flock to his meetings seeking cures and hang on his every word
thereby undermining the authority of your appointed servants and representatives in these places. Foolish women have been known to try to touch even the tassels of his sleeves superstitiously for help and blessing.
- that he claims further (may the Lord have mercy) to have the power and right not only to heal but to forgive sins, to quote "is it easier to say rise up and walk or your sins are forgiven?"
- that his preaching is on the whole coarse, including such unseemly topics as adultery, divorce, child abuse, death. Above all he entertains some kind of vulgar mysticism that he is to become the spiritual nourishment of his followers who will drink his blood and eat his flesh. Thus he refers impiously to himself as heavenly manna and purports to be a greater man than Moses who gave us the sacred Law and sustained our forefathers through the wilderness years with manna and quail. He is alleged to have claimed to be even greater than our father Abraham.
- that he has condemned fasting and has a reputation for feasting and for levity.
- thereby encouraging the less devout elements in our congregations and unsettling the youth. He even preaches that the Kingdom of God is a banquet.
- that his heresies and practices have now a considerable following and his outdoor rallies can attract upwards of 5,000 men not counting women and children.
- that he has compared our places of worship to sepulchres whitewashed without and corrupt within.
- that he has claimed that worship does not belong to Jerusalem and the holy temple any more than to the apostate temple of Gerazim of the Samaritans and has predicted its demolition. It is reported that he then intends to build another himself.
- that he intends shortly to take his misguided campaign to the capital probably at the Passover Festival when he could have mass appeal. He may intend a demonstration at, and perhaps desecration of, the Holy Temple.
Your servants therefore pray your reverend court
- to investigate the educational background and authorization of the said Jesus to preach etc.
- to withdraw his preaching licence while such investigations are under way.
- to examine his doctrinal soundness.
- to advise us on the official position on so called miracles in this day and age.
- to take such steps as your worthy court may deem necessary to restore authority of the official synagogues and their recognised rabbis in this district.
- to issue regular statements for the guidance of the people on issues such as
The dangers of alcohol
Political obligations of the godly
Reverence for sacred places
Dangerous sects and cults
The role of women in the Kingdom of God
Haman Melech, Chairman.
Samson of the Gate, Secretary.
Letter of Complaint The Reply
From the General Board of the Sanhedrin
To the esteemed synagogues of Aramathea, Lydda, Emmaus, Orpha, Horoth and Socoh in the ancient presbytery district of Bethel.
Representatives were commissioned to observe and consult with the Nazarene and those who seem to be under his influence. Although some representatives were intrigued by this man's prophetic style and authority our majority report is as follows:
That his teachings be carefully examined in light of ancient traditions and holy scriptures by the Doctrine Committee of the Sanhedrin, especially in regard to:
Baptism and rebirth
religion and politics
wealth and use of resources
the position of women
reverence for the sacred
and the hereafter.
The findings of the Committee to be published in all our places of worship and teaching.
We strongly recommend that until this report is issued, before he gets a foothold, all congregations dissuade him from operating in any part of their parishes or Presbytery district as did the people of Gaderine where he did great economic harm to the agricultural industry which lost its licence to produce pork for the Gentile market.
We are concerned that so many of your number are in sympathy with this man and critical of your appointed spiritual advisers and teachers. We exhort those among you of that mind to repent and return from the error of their ways to the traditions of their forefathers as interpreted by the rabbis of old and of which we are appointed guardians.
We recommend that wherever the Nazarene appears your office bearers should appoint learned men of the holy law to question him publicly and expose his ignorance and eccentricities before all the people.
We regret the man's confusion of religion and politics and warn against any form of civil disobedience at this sensitive time. Any encouragement to sedition or tax evasion should be reported at once to the state authorities.
We advise, further, that any who persist in claiming to have experienced physical or spiritual healing at this man's hands be banned from our places of worship as deceivers, mischief makers, self seekers or dabblers in sorcery.
We deem it to be an utter abomination that it might be suggested that spiritual or physical nourishment could come from human flesh or blood and we utterly abhor and condemn any suggestion of human sacrifice of any kind.
Other measures have been put in hand, in consultation with the civil authorities and security forces, should it become necessary to protect the interests of our people and the security of the Holy Temple: for as one of the prophets said, it may be better for one man to perish than the whole nation.
Pua son of Dodo.
Jephthah the Zealous.
A MINORITY REPORT
From Certain Members of the Investigating Committee of the General Board of the Sanhedrin
While sharing the reservations expressed about the Nazarene by the majority of the General Board and many local presbyteries we report after face to face investigation of the man and intensive deliberation.
- that never have we heard anyone who spoke like this man full of spiritual authority and with humility and clear sense of holy purpose.
- that his compassion for the poor, the sick and the troubled is unquestionable and greatly appreciated, all the more so because he lives a quiet and humble life and obviously gives his services without seeking any significant personal gain.
- that his innovative way of reinterpreting ancient truths breathes new enthusiasm for them into his hearers and brings constructive new challenges to our tired old traditions.
- that his personal humility is evidenced in his readiness to identify some time ago with John's baptism of repentance and his followers' assertion that his one desire seems to be to discern and fulfil the will of God. It is our judgment that he does not encourage the crowds or take delight in numbers. Indeed he will go out of his way to assist a single individual at the expense of a crowd.
- that his love for God is strong and has given him such a sense of identification and intimacy with the Almighty that he frequently calls him Father and teaches the people of that relationship too.
- that miracles do take place in his presence and we have unshakeable evidence of them from formerly blind, deaf and otherwise infirm people. Yet again he discourages miracle seekers and instructs those cured to avoid publicity.
We find that his teaching has constant themes with which we can only agree. For example :
- blessings come to those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail.
- mercy is a gift from heaven and the merciful will be blessed with mercy shown to them.
- true children of God are peacemakers.
- adultery and casual divorce offend against God.
- anger and the vengeful spirit are as bad as murder.
- the greatest power for change is love.
- charity is not for display but a private matter.
- prayer should be sincere and genuine not a repetitious babble.
Such wisdom we wish were better heeded and lived out.
- that he is held in esteem by the common people - who are not easily duped - and by many of the Roman militia: a strange and notable combination of approval.
- that his miracles, wisdom, selfless concern for others, influence for good, quiet life style and respectful intimacy with God mark him as a modern day prophet and Son of the Most High.
- that he should not be feared or treated as a rival but rather respected and heeded for the spiritual renewal he might bring to our people and our practice of religion - and indeed to the Gentile world as well where many are already influenced by him for good and for our God. As Scripture says "he who is not against us is for us" and Isaiah warns that the Messiah may be like a root out of dry ground, despised and rejected and one from whom we turn our eyes. Yet he it is who will shepherd back to God's fold those who have strayed and be vindicated at the last as the servant of God.
Brethren beware lest you be found in contest with God himself. AMEN SHALOM.
signed on behalf of a minority,
Joseph of Aramathea.
© Rev. Dr Ron Savage, 2006