March 3, 2010

the problem with universals

As much as we hate to admit it, Jesus lived in a particular place during a particular time under a particular culture. We hate it, and by we I mean Christians in general and preachers specifically, because we want Jesus to speak in universals.

Love your neighbor.

Turn the other cheek.

Drink your juice.

We want what Jesus says to be easily applicable to our lives of particularity. Sometimes, however, that really screws up what Jesus was talking about. In Luke 13, Jesus has already "set his face toward Jerusalem." He already knows where he's headed, and I'm guessing is pretty sure what'll happen when he gets there. The band of Gentile Pilgrims on the road with him are not an army and they won't be called on to fight, but dang if they don't want to.

As we read Luke 13.1-9 we forget that Israel is occupied by a brutal Roman regime. We forget that Pilate had for years been setting up ways for Gentiles and Jerusalemites to look like they were rebellion groups that needed to be quelled. We forget that the destruction of the Temple is only a few decades away. "Unless you repent, you will die in the same way." This might be a universal spiritual truth, but Tom Wright thinks that Jesus is being very particular here. If you run into Jerusalem looking like a pissed off group of rebels, you will be treated that way and stories of your blood being mingled with your sacrifices will be spread throughout Palestine. We presume that the tower of Siloam fell because of an engineering disaster, but if you take up your sword, the walls of Jerusalem will fall upon you because of the strength of Caesar's army.

For Tom Wright, the repentance Jesus is talking about is one of humility. Give to Caesar what is his, live within the rule of law, and produce fruit like a fig tree planted in the midst of a vineyard. We want Jesus to speak in universals, but the only way to get there is to understand the particulars of his time. Today, I'm thankful to Tom Wright for some insight into that world.


Ben Rockwell said...

Thanks, Steve. Where is this info from Wright? Is it in his "NT from Everyone" series, or is it somewhere else?

spankey said...

Yep, Ben, it is in his "Luke for Everyone" book