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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Christian Ethics: Did Jesus Exagerrate?


Question:
Practices of Jesus
In the 1920s, German theologian Gerhard Kittel wrote, “The demands of Jesus, exaggerated to the point of paradox and nonsense…intend only to tear open and lay bare the great moral need of empirical humanity” [Gerhard Kittel, “Die Bergpredict und die Ethik des Judentums,” Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie< The Sermon on the Mount: The Modern Quest for Its Meaning (Mercer University Press, 1985), 187]. What is your response to this statement? Did Jesus exaggerate his demands “to the point of paradox and nonsense,” or did he present actual practices that we are expected to carry out? Are these practices applicable to our personal lives today? Are they to be carried out in churches? Do they apply to national and international questions of war and economics?

Response:
In regards to how humanity lives within philosophical morals and opinions, Jesus' teachings could be seen as radical and revolutionary. However, we must keep in mind the context of first century Judaism and their culture. The Pharisees and Saducees were just two groups who studied how the Law should be carried out in one's life. In this context, Jesus spoke in response to their interpretations. So, I disagree with Kittel's statement that Jesus "demands". I would rather use the word "instructs". One aspect that separates Christians from moralists, is that we may be willing to turn our cheek to our enemies and even be martyred for our faith. To a moralist who is after self-preservation in the name of peace, these acts would be a paradox and nonsense. Jesus instructs us that our yoke will be light when viewed in the context of living in this world of which we are not a part of (another paradoxical statement) and attaining eternal life. If we think that we will follow every teaching of Jesus through our own will, we will be rudely awakened by our failure. However, these are not impossible to obtain in some form of experience. Everyday, we may encounter an event that can be directly found in some form in the Gospels, and there we will find an instruction from Christ. It is not that we will experience all of these at once, but in parts as guided by the Holy Spirit. So, we are to fully follow and listen to these practices both in our personal lives and within our community of faith. We s Christians will never be a primary factor in the decisions of national and international governments about war and economics, but we have been instructed to speak up with the words of Jesus just as he did in first century Palestine.

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