Monday, September 01, 2008

Jesus of Nazareth Part 4 - Prophet and Social Critic

The third and final version of Jesus outlined by Adele Reinhartz is what I'll call the "Social Critic Jesus." Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright are the main proponents of this view. I'm unfamiliar with Borg but I have a deep respect for Wright. Similarly to my knowledge of these two scholars, the Social Critic Jesus is equal parts peculiar and familiar.

Let's get the peculiar out of the way first. The weirdest trait of this week's characterization of Jesus was that he saw apocalyptic events as mere metaphor. The power in these apocalyptic visions was not expressed by a literal interpretation, hoping for a future age of justice like Jewish Jesus. Instead, they were powerful for what the ways in which they critiqued Jesus' own times. Like the Old Testament prophets, the future was not as important as the present for this version of Jesus. Thus Social Critic Jesus thought of the "Kingdom of God" as a present possibility, not a future reality.

Although it may be weird to think that Jesus may have been thinking metaphorically when he preached his views on apocalypticism, what may be more familiar is the idea of Jesus as a social critic. When we talk of Jesus "challenging the status quo" or something similar, we're talking about social criticism, at least on some level. Social criticism is exactly that: challenging what people take for granted, in the hopes of helping people to develop better or more healthy social practices. Like the Jewish Jesus, this Jesus was a prophet who looked around him and offered critique at the world he saw. Whereas the Pharisees were obsessed with purity, Jesus intentionally combated their philosophy by inviting all kinds of people to eat with him. Scholars refer to Jesus' eating practices as "inclusive table fellowship," and this view of Jesus holds that this practice was one of the primary ways Jesus communicated his message. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Jesus taught a message of compassion, and he backed that up in a tangible way by communing with outcasts.

Further, this view holds that Jesus criticized the Judaism he saw in his time. The obsession with the Temple and the purity laws all came under his attack. He felt that God's plan stretched beyond the limitations of the Jewish Torah (law). In this criticism of Jewish practices, Jesus stood in a long history of biblical prophets who criticized the faithlessness of the religion of their days.

What do you think of Social Critic Jesus? Does he resemble your conceptualizations of Jesus? Do you think Jesus' practice of inviting social losers to dinner was a big part of his ministry? Do you think he saw himself as a critic of first-century Judaism? Please leave comments below, and stay tuned to the final wrap-up in part 5!

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