Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Jesus, the Reformer

Saint Luke would agree with Dr. Jim West that the real Historical Jesus should be viewed as a reformer.

However, there are a few problems with this picture, which although accurate, clashes with the demands of the modern academic and religious establishments.

Luke wrote to most excellent Theophilus, the High Priest. The parables, stories and sayings Luke recorded were critical of the temple establishment. The Parables of the Good Samaritan, Lazarus and the Rich Man and the Wicked Tenants are best understood when Theophilus is viewed as the head of the temple establishment. It is, however, the material that Matthew and Mark add to their rewriting of Luke that truly reveals the Lucan Jesus as a reformer and not a condemner.

For instance, last March 20th, Chris Weimer discussed “The Sins of Jesus” based upon four passages in Matthew and concluded that the Jesus depicted in Matthew "Instead of merely reforming Judaism, he actually revolutionizes it - it becomes a new religion instead." Using the four parallel passages in Luke and/or based upon their absences from Luke, I would agree with Jim West that Jesus was a reformer.

Throughout the centuries, the cursing of the fig tree has been interpreted by scholars as evidence that Jesus condemned the sacrificial system because the story encircles the cleansing of the temple. The fig tree that the Marcan Jesus cursed in the morning is discovered withered the day after Jesus had cleaned out the temple. From the placement of the stories and the well known symbolic meaning of fig trees, the commentators conclude that the fig tree represents the animal sacrificial system. In a number of fig tree passages examined by W.R. Telford, "the reason given for God's wrathful visitation particularly concerns cultic aberration on the part of Israel, her running after false gods, or her condemnation for a corrupt temple cultus and sacrificial system (e.g. Jer. 5:17:19; 8:12-23; Hos. 2:11-13; 9:10-17 and Am. 4:4-13)."

In Mark, according to Waetjen, Jesus is closing down the temple as "he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple." The Marcan Jesus "makes the seemingly senseless act of cursing the fig tree intelligible." Waetjen further states: "The cursing of the fig tree symbolizes the condemnation of the temple institution which, as the central systemic structure of Judaism, has been regulating the religious, political, economic and social life of the Jewish people." Mark has changed the Lucan narrative so that the theological emphasis of the cleansing of the temple is no longer a mere act of reformation but one of judgment.

No group in Judaism challenged the validity of the animal sacrificial system. Although there is isolated criticism of the sacrificial system in the writings of the prophets, a proper analysis of the passages suggests that Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah had questioned the sincerity of the worship of the people rather than condemned the practice. This is likewise the view of the Lucan Jesus.

Thus it is significant that the withered fig tree account is conspicuous by its absence from Luke. Finally, and most importantly, consistent with no withered fig tree, Luke has no theology of the cross. A Jewish reformer did not announce a new theology to replace the animal sacrificial system.

Let the reformation begin.

Copyrighted 2006


Blogger Jim said...

Well I'm glad to know that Luke would provisionally agree with me!

12:38 PM

Blogger Chris Weimer said...

Hey Richard,

Just wanted to make sure we differentiate between what I think Matthew says about Jesus and who I think Jesus really was. They are different. I don't disagree that Jesus was a reformer, and not a revolutionist.


9:42 PM


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