In the parable of the “Prodigal Son,” Jesus rejected conservatism in favor of grace…
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I originally called this post “Jesus was a liberal.” But after further review I narrowed the scope, something appeal-courts often do. That made the question far less broad and so easier to answer. Thus the limited question: “Did Jesus interpret Scripture ‘liberally?‘” Or as one legal site said, “What is called a liberal construction is ordinarily one which makes a statute apply to more things or in more situations than would be the case under strict construction.”
And that’s just what Jesus did. (And His disciples.) For starters, there’s Mark 2:27 where Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” That is, under the old law – the “conservative law” – of Exodus 23:12, any work on the Sabbath was forbidden:
For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your maidservant may be refreshed, as well as the foreign resident.
(See also Deuteronomy 5:12, and 5:14.) But to Jesus, circumstances had changed since Moses made that rule. (Right after he brought the Israelites out of captivity.) Which meant the “old law” needed updating. (Mostly because Conservatives had elevated form over substance, as they are wont to do.) So Jesus went back to the original words of the rule to fully implement its true intent.
So again, “What is called a liberal construction is ordinarily one which makes a statute apply to more things or in more situations than would be the case under strict construction.”
Which seems to be just what Jesus had in mind: Make the Gospel apply to more people.
Then too – as if that isn’t enough to give a Southern Baptist apoplexy – many if not most of His disciples also interpreted Scripture “liberally.” (Thus making the “Good News” apply to more things and in more situations – and to more people – than could be the case under strict construction.)
Which brings up the fact that last June 29 was the Feast Day for both Saints Peter and Paul. The Daily Office Readings for that day – Friday, June 29 – included Acts 11:1-18. That’s one place where the Apostle Peter “went all Liberal.” He did that in response to the Conservatives among early Christians who criticized him. See Acts 11:1: “Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.”
Which didn’t suit them at all. See Acts 11:2: “So when Peter” – at left – “went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers” – that is, the Conservatives – “criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ But as it turned out. those Conservatives had open minds. That is, after Peter explained his “vision,” they actually changed their minds. (Something today’s Conservatives rarely do.) See Acts 11:18: “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'”
That is, under the Old Law – the Conservative, “Jeff Sessions” law – the Path of Life was limited to Jews, and only to Jews. That’s pretty much what Jesus said – at first – in Matthew 15:27. That’s where Jesus set out the Conservative view that “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (With the children being the Jews – and only the Jews – while the “dogs” are uncircumcised Gentiles.) Yet Jesus – with His open mind – got “persuaded” to change His mind.
And – by the way – that turnabout came through a woman who was a bit smarmy:
With a woman’s ready wit, quickened by urgency and affection, she seizes the opportunity, and turns Christ’s own words against himself. Thou sayest truth, she means; the Jews are the children; we are the dogs; and as dogs we claim our portion.
(From the Pulpit Commentary for verse 27.) Then there was the case of Jesus healing the bleeding woman. But His having anything to do with such an impure woman was contrary to the conservative “old” law of Leviticus 15:25-27:
“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness.”
(See also Leviticus 15:19-23, regarding a woman’s regular monthly “Curse…”)
And finally there was the case of the Apostle Philip “liberally” dealing with an untouchable eunuch. See On Saint Philip, Saint James, and “privy members.” That is, as a eunuch the Ethiopian eunuch was untouchable under the Old Law, the Conservative Law.
That’s because of Deuteronomy 23:1, and the New Living Translation is pretty specific: “If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.” The King James Bible – the one that God uses – put the matter more delicately: “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.” Yet Philip too turned “all Liberal,” and in doing so followed in the footsteps of Jesus. That is, he interpreted the “Good News” so that it would apply to more things, more situations, and more people than was possible under “strict construction.”
(For more on whether Jesus was a “liberal,” see On Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?)
Of course some conservatives – Biblical or otherwise – may disagree, which is of course their right. But personally I’d like the Good News to apply to more people. For one big thing, there’s Matthew 7:2: “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” For myself, when my time comes I want whoever – Jesus, St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, whoever – to “turn all liberal” when He or they are reviewing my life.
Then too, the definition of conservatism includes a disposition “to preserve what is established,” and/or a “tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change.” So all I can say is, “Thank God Jesus wasn’t a conservative!” I’m glad He made some changes.
The bottom line? All I can do is give you “just the facts.” You decide for yourself…
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The upper image is courtesy of The Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt) – Wikipedia:
It is among the Dutch master’s final works, likely completed within two years of his death in 1669. Depicting the moment of the prodigal son‘s return to his father … it is a renowned work described by art historian Kenneth Clark as “a picture which those who have seen the original in St. Petersburg may be forgiven for claiming as the greatest picture ever painted.”
See also Parable of the Prodigal Son – Wikipedia, which indicated that the older son – who stayed behind with his father – represented more “conservative” values. That is, the older son “seems to think in terms of ‘law, merit, and reward,’ rather than ‘love and graciousness.’ He may represent the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus.” See also “There’s no such thing as a ‘conservative Christian.”
The initial first paragraph: “It seems that if you want to start an argument these days, you could say something outrageous like ‘Jesus Was A Liberal.’ So here goes! For starters, if you Google ‘jesus was a liberal’ you’ll get about 100,000 results. (Which actually isn’t that many…)” Also, the full title of the “Jesus-liberal” link is Jesus Was A Liberal: 20 Quotes GOP Christians Will Hate. For an opposing view, see Was Jesus a Liberal? The Myth Debunked! » Louder With Crowder. Or for a more balanced view, see Is Jesus a Liberal or a Conservative? | Meet The Need Blog.
Re: The Sabbath. See United Church of God – “The Sabbath Was Made for Man,” etc.
Re: Peter and Paul. See also On Peter, Paul – and other “relics.”
Re: Turning “Christ’s own words against himself.” See also On arguing with God.
The “bleeding woman” image is courtesy of Veronese. Christ Healing a Woman with an Issue of Blood.
BTW: The complete Daily Office Readings for St. Peter & St. Paul are: AM Psalm 66; Ezekiel 2:1-7; Acts 11:1-18; PM Psalm 97, 138; Isaiah 49:1-6; Galatians 2:1-9.
The lower image is courtesy of Just The Facts Ma’am – Image Results. But see also Joe Friday – Wikipedia, which noted that Detective Friday never actually used the phrase: “A common misattributed catchphrase to Friday is ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ In fact, Friday never actually said this in an episode, but it was featured in Stan Freberg‘s works parodying ‘Dragnet.’” See also FACT CHECK: Dragnet ‘Just the Facts’ – snopes.com.