There is a theme in the Gospels that I think about often. It seems to happen over and over again that the people who Jesus spends time with walk away with an experience that falls into one of two categories. Either they leave Jesus happy, healed, and whole, or they leave him wanting to kill him.
That’s about as far to opposing extremes as I can imagine.
Either people leave Jesus in shalom (Hebrew for peace, wholeness, completeness, perfection) or they leave with the Pax Romana (Latin for the peace of Rome, which was often gained through force and violence).
So, why do responses to Jesus have such contradictory results? Why do the religious leaders seem to hate Jesus while the crowds follow him?
Well, there are any number of reasons: The religous leaders could be angry because Jesus’ claims to divinity and statements made about Jesus are outright blasphemy to this group. There could be jealousy from the religious leaders over power that they do not have and popularity that they do not have. Plus, the crowds find healing with Jesus. Their lives are made better and are restored to something that allows them to reenter into life.
But, the reason that I would like to explore today is this: Jesus altered the way of the world through his life, death, and resurrection. And yes, we typically believe this about his death and resurrection. Those events are clear to followers of Jesus as a turning point in history. But we must not forget that Jesus’ life and teachings did the same.
When people encountered Jesus, they typically left with one of two responses: shalom or the Pax Romana. Jesus’ life did something to the people who he met. They were offered a new way of being in the world. No longer were their options limited to either being powerful or being weak. No longer were their options only determined by their place in society or where and to whom they were born. Now, there was a third way. An alternative. And Jesus offered it to the people who took it freely.
This third way we can describe as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. We can describe it as the way of loving God and loving your neighbor. We can describe it as the fulfillment of the story of Israel and her people. We can describe it as the restoration of the world. There are any number of ways that we can describe it. But for it to be the way of Jesus, it must be defined by Love.
This is what the early church wrote about and taught the people how they ought to live. Because of who Jesus is, because of his life, his death, and his resurrection, this way of Love is not just an alternative to the way of the world (the Pax Romana). It is the way. It is the way that God ordained in creation. It is the way that all of history is bending toward. It is the way that Jesus’ kingdom has inaugurated and set up that will outlast the kingdoms of this world. It overcomes the violence, the degradation, the greed of the sinful nature, and it recreates the world with peace, justice, and compassion.
It is the way that led Paul to teach the churches he planted not just about morality and ethics, but how and why followers of Jesus behave a certain way.
It is the way that led the apostles to share generously with all who had needs.
It is the way that led many of Jesus’ followers to willingly submit themselves to the powers of this world because they knew that ultimately those powers did not have the same eternal power that the way of Jesus does, even if and when it cost them their lives.
It is the way that led Jesus to the cross. The cross where Sin was defeated. Where Death no longer had the final word.
And it is the way that opens the tomb so that life can reenter the world. And not just one man’s life, but life for all. Life for the disenfranchised. Life for the hopeless. Life for the weary. Even life for the enemies who put Jesus on that cross. Life for people with all skin colors; life for people with all bank account balances (and for those without bank accounts too!); life for the conservative and the liberal; life for men and women; life for children and adults; life for you and me.
When people encountered Jesus, they typically left him in one of two ways: in Shalom or with the Pax Romana. But now, looking back 2,000 years, I think we can say too that Jesus left a legacy of Love. Love for everyone who encountered him. His life, death, and resurrection all have changed the world. May they change us daily, so that we may become more and more like the image of God that we were created with.