In the New Testament, does Jesus seem harsh and judgmental to you? Many think so. On this blog, I maintain that Jesus’ attitude toward us is loving, accepting, and inclusive. Then why do passages in the Gospels seem to portray him as harsh and judgmental?
The fact is, there are very few such passages and they are reserved for a specific group of people—religious leaders. Jesus had an ongoing confrontation with the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
The most dramatic confrontation is reported in Luke, chapter 11, and the issues become clear. Starting with verse 37, Jesus confronts the religious leaders for observing meticulous religious rules without regard for justice. He also addresses their sense of superiority and self-importance.
But the burdening of the people was especially onerous to Jesus. Jesus directly accuses the religious leaders, ‘Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.’
Jesus had a strong affinity for the common people, whom the religious leaders referred to as sinners. And they were sinners. They did not live up to standards of goodness even they recognized. They were flawed and their behavior was compromised. In their imperfection, they did things they should not. They lied a little and they cheated a little. Maybe they did these things a lot. They hurt others and were alienated from God and society.
The lives of these common people were taken with daily survival to the point that the niceties of moral standards were far out of reach, so they just lived the best they could. Though they perhaps aspired for more, they were sinners. They knew it; the religious leaders knew it; Jesus knew it. They were sinners very much like we are.
But the religious leaders and Jesus had very different attitudes toward these sinners–the religious leaders looked down on them. Perhaps if some had tried to escape their environment and learn from the leaders how to be properly religious, they would have been accepted with pleasure. Otherwise, they were just common people—sinners.
On the other hand, these sinners were the very people Jesus embraced. In fact, he developed a reputation for hanging out with sinners. He even ate with them, which offended the religious leaders to no end. Jesus loved the sinners; they were the objects of his love and compassion.
It is no wonder that Jesus was infuriated by the religious leaders’ treatment of the common people. In their feelings of superiority, they even felt free to multiply the burdens and requirements on these people. Jesus told them, ‘you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.’
Jesus took a different approach; in his invitation to all, he said,
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
The religious leaders increased the burdens on the common people; Jesus removed burdens. Jesus gives us rest, but it seems that today the good news of Jesus has become loaded with baggage—and burdens.
Next time we will discuss what Jesus thinks of sinners today. Is it good news to you that Jesus wants to relieve burdens instead of multiplying them?