Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jesus and Sin

I am reading Spencer Burke's book A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, in which he promotes (his view of) spirituality over (his take on) religion in the postmodern age. Burke is one of the founding members of the emerging church movement. While I do not agree with everything he says (so far) in this book, I find some of his ideas beautifully resonant. For example, in a section of Chapter Three ("Grace and the God Factor") called Grace, sin, and spirituality, he says the following about Jesus and sin:

Sin would perhaps be better understood in our culture if it were presented as pursuing self-interest at the expense of the well-being of the larger (or smaller) horizons of our existence, whether through self-abuse or through lack of concern for the world in which we live.

Instead, sin has often been presented as a violation of the rules and regulations of religion. In Christianity, Jesus is held up as the model of sinless living, the ultimate example to which all humanity should aspire. "Jesus," it is said, "was tempted in all points as we are yet was without sin." This concept of Jesus as a sinless individual permeates Christian theology. But was Jesus really sinless? He certainly seems to have violated a number of the rules and interpretations of the Law that his contemporaries regarded as huge sins. He violated the Sabbath and excused his disciples for their violations. He interpreted the meaning of the Sabbath by telling the story of King David's questionable use of the Law in order to feed his men. He repeatedly talked to the unclean, the unlovely, and the unrepentant.

As I see it, Jesus may not have sinned against God, but he certainly committed sins against the religion of his day. Jesus lived his sinless life in grace - and that grace often transgressed the moral codes of religion. The challenge for followers of Jesus is to reframe the story and offer society a new understanding of exactly what grace is and what it means for us all.

What Burke is saying here reminds me of Hans Kung's remarks about how Jesus might relate to the Church authorities of today and of Marcus Borg's take on the subversive compassion of the pre-Easter Jesus. Again, it seems to me that we have a significant disconnect between what religious historians and theologians have determined Jesus really was about and what institutional Christianity requires us to believe. As for myself, the more I read about, the more I observe, the more I think about the Catholic Church, the more inclined I am to "find a congenial, compassionate way to live inside of it and yet outside of it," as Father Richard Rohr tells us.

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