Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?

A central proposal of this blog is that Jesus’ message and example are geared toward empathy, reconciliation, and acceptance rather than judgment and exclusion. For the past two-and-a-half years I have addressed selected harmful beliefs by comparing them to Jesus’ principles of loving and caring for others instead of rigid and legalistic approaches that include a tremendous amount of judgment on people.

Then recently we completed a series devoted to five aspects of the Good News of Jesus and their application to our lives as believers. In all these efforts I have used passages from the New Testament to support the views I propose. Yet a legitimate question remains: Does a systematic exploration of the Gospels really support these claims about Jesus’ words and actions?

I don’t know any question more important than this.

Luca Giordano Expulsion of the Money Changers; mid-1670s

Luca Giordano Expulsion of the Money Changers; mid-1670s

We Begin a New Series Examining Jesus’ Words and Actions in Mark, Matthew, and Luke

In this new series, we will examine Jesus’ words and actions, as written from the memories of his earliest followers, to determine whether Jesus really favored an approach of empathy, love, and inclusion and whether he opposed the religious rules of Old Testament Law and its accompanying judgmentalism and exclusion.

For this study, we will use the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke—the synoptic gospels. This term is used for these gospels because they see the story of Jesus in the same way. That is, their outlines of his life and teaching are very similar and contain many of the same episodes, so it’s easy to compare them.

There is a good reason for this similarity: these three gospels are interdependent. Or rather, they are related in that they rely on some of the same sources of tradition. Most biblical scholars think the dependence occurred this way:

The Gospel of Mark was written first and primarily concerned Jesus’ actions. It was Mark that organized the time-line of Jesus’ life which then served as the general outline for Matthew and Luke as well. Besides Mark, there seems to be another common source for Matthew and Luke—a collections of Jesus’ sayings which were remembered, passed down by the church community, and finally collected and written down. This is why we find such similarity in Jesus’ sayings in Matthew and Luke, though no separate collection of these sayings has ever been found.

In addition to the common sources of Mark and the sayings document, both Matthew and Luke draw on other tradition from their Christian communities or of other communities to which they have access.

The Gospel of John, however, is an independent document that does not appear related to these sources. John’s outline and approach are quite different so that it is more difficult to compare them to the other gospels; this is a good thing because it gives us independent attestation of Jesus’ life, words, and actions. Though we will not completely ignore the Gospel of John in this study, we will focus primarily on the three synoptic gospels.

Perhaps we will explore the Gospel of John at some future time.

What about Passages that Seem to Depict Jesus as Judgmental and Harsh?

We will not ignore those passages that seem to contradict the image of Jesus I propose on this blog; in fact, we will deal with them head on. Some believers use such passages to teach that Jesus is strict and demanding and even tell us that many are going to hell for breaking religious rules and for holding ‘false’ beliefs. But I think we will find that these passages actually fit Jesus’ character of love and acceptance rather than contradicting it. I look forward to exploring them. In fact, the issue arises in our very next post.

Let me say one other thing: this series on the Gospels will not be what you might expect in Sunday school. We will not deal with all the little details, which are often irrelevant to the big picture, but only those that tell us something of Jesus and his attitude toward people, religious rules, and God. And it will not be shallow, traditional, or sanitized because Jesus, in my opinion, is far richer and deeper than what we usually hear in Sunday school.

I hope you are as excited about this series as I am; I think we will learn a lot about Jesus.

Guess What? The Series Actually has Already Begun!

Yes, the series actually began last week with the publication of the first post of the series: The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus the Anointed One. It introduces Jesus and his initial identification with the kingdom of God. If you missed it you can click on the title link and read it now.

I hope it creates anticipation of Jesus’ dramatic announcement about the scope and importance of his mission, which we will talk about next time!

Articles in this series

Jesus Begins His Work:

The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?


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