Warning: I’m battling the fourth day of a severe headache that won’t stop. Coherency is in no way implied or promised.
I was reading a news story earlier today about churches that are canceling worship services on Christmas since it falls on Sunday (huh?!). One of the justifications given was that Jesus often bucked tradition. That sparked a question: Was Jesus really a rebel? I’ve heard more times than I have freckles (that’s a bunch) that Jesus was a rebel. But was he?
The more I’ve gone over this in my mind today, the more my answer is “No.” I’ll tell you why. Jesus’ mission was to bring people into the Kingdom of God…that is, to bring them under the reign of God. That’s not rebellion–if anything, it is the opposite of rebellion. He did buck some tradition, though certainly not all. When he did, it was because people had allowed traditions to lead them into conflict with the core principles of the Kingdom of God.
Take Matthew 12, for example. This event is oft quoted as being an example of Jesus in rebellion. The disciples had been traveling and were hungry. Being hungry and the middle of a grain field, they picked and ate. The problem? It was the Sabbath, and harvesting on the Sabbath was forbidden. When some Pharisees saw, they jumped on Jesus for allowing his disciples to “break the law.” At first glance, Jesus and his disciples might be considered the rebels. However, look at Jesus’ response. He says, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” The principles of mercy (in this case toward the hungry disciples) were nothing new, they’d been set forth by God from the very beginning. Legalism, however, is a newer invention. So who, according to Jesus’ response, would the real rebel be? The merciful or the finger-pointer? The hungry or the full-stomached and self-righteous?
Here’s another example: Matthew 15. The Pharisees and scribes asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” Note Jesus’ response: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites!” Jesus turns the tables and calls them out. And who was the real rebel? Was it not the one who refused obedience to the 5th Commandment and not the disciple with unwashed hands?
You see, in both cases it was not Jesus who rebelled. No, he was living in obedience to the will and principles of God the Father. The rebels were those who tried to usurp the reign of God and take the reins themselves…the definition of a rebel.
Why do I write this? Because it seems to me that often people want to dress their own rebellion up in Christ-like robes, giving them some sort of justification to do as they please. Often Jesus actually kept tradition. Those times he didn’t, it was because keeping the tradition would have meant rebelling against higher principles.
Obviously, I’m not saying it is wrong to buck tradition, but what I’d urge is that we examine our motives for doing so. Is it personal preference, pride, or a rebellious spirit? Or, is it that a change needs to happen to bring rebels back into reign of God. Only one of these motivations is really in line with the attitude of Christ.