We carry baggage today because we have not seen the Gospels through the lens of the earlier Hebrew writings, the traditions and understandings of which they came out, but rather through the lens of a community or communities struggling to define themselves as separate from the world. These communities may have shared a past with the traditions that formed Jesus but they did not share a future with them. They firmly believed the times were going to end. Their focus was not on bringing radical change to a world but rather to keep themselves for the end of the world. This is contrary to what Jesus preached.
It may well have been that Jesus did believe the end would come shortly after his death and resurrection. But it did not stop Jesus from reaching into the world and meeting people where they were rather than requiring people to jump through hoops to come to him. Once again Diarmaid MacCulloch writes:
Still, Jesus was a Jew immersed in the traditions that constituted the identity of his fellow Jews. He is recorded as taking a cavalier attitude to the Jewish Law or obeying its demands in ways that seem capricious, which caused anxious debate for generations about how far Christians
should imitate him, and which are still puzzling after much very sophisticated modern analysis of the mixture. Maybe the answer is that Jesus did not care a great deal about being consistent on the issue, given his concentration on the imminent coming of the kingdom, in which all laws would be made anew.
Or maybe it was the spirit of the law that Jesus followed rather than the letter – especially as it had been minutely defined by the various sects. Hence he healed on the Sabbath because his understanding that the spirit of the law was compassion and especially compassion for the vulnerable and those in need. Certainly the daughter of Abraham whom he healed was at no immediate risk but he saw her suffering and healed her so that she would not experience for even an instance longer – an example from which our medical system might benefit.
Maybe we as a church need to live in an end times mentality. There is no guaranteed tomorrow to complete our work, only today. If our work, based on the Gospels seen as a continuation of the prophetic tradition rather than solely through the lens of the Epistles, is to be working for the bringing in of the kingdom, as Jesus’ work was, then we need to act now to reach out and relieve the suffering around us. Not by waiting for those people to jump through the hoops and become one of us but by meeting them where they are and celebrating them for who they are – beloved children of God.
Instead of looking at a God that insists hoops be jumped through we could take the example of the father of the prodigal son – who seeing his wayward son approaching in the distance ran to embrace him rather than waiting for him to go through requirements and grovelling. We tend to be more like the other son – wanting some sort of requirements or accountability before the wayward son is accepted back into the fold.
Maybe we should look at the example of Jesus who, although he met people in the synagogue, went out into the highways and byways like the man with the wedding banquet and gathered people in to share in the meal – people who had not jumped through hoops or met requirements. The only qualification was that they existed and were invited – and all that were met were invited.
So at the beginning I said I might reach some conclusion. Typically, for me, I have not. So be it. The thoughts are there for further pondering. But for now, I have a vestry agenda to plan and a funeral service to put together. I may find time to reflect later on. Who knows.