Monday, October 10, 2011

More Than A Moral Teacher

Every once and a while I read a verse that makes it very clear that Jesus is more than just a moral teacher.  In Matthew chapter eighteen, he tells a parable about forgiveness.  In the parable, a ruler is going to punish one of his servants for owing him 10,000 talents.  According to my Bible's footnote, a talent is fifteen years worth of wages.  So, we're talking Wall Street proportions here.  Knowing that you just don't pay back 150,000 years worth of wages, the servant begs for forgiveness.  In response, the ruler had pity on him, let him go, and erased the man's debt.
However, on the way from his meeting with the ruler, the servant runs into another servant who owed him 100 days' wages.  He demanded what he was due.  His co-worker pleaded for more time.  He promised that he would eventually be able to pay him back, but the protagonist of our story would hear nothing of it.  He had his co-worker thrown in jail.  The other servants of the ruler were so appalled that they went and told the ruler, who summoned his servant once again.  Understandably, the ruler was pretty ticked.  How could the servant not forgive his co-worker 100 days worth of wage when he had been forgiven 150,000?  To pay for what he had done, the ruler had his servant arrested and tortured until he paid back every penny.

The moral of the story: forgive as you have been forgiven.

Now if we just stop there, that's a nice little fairy tail, a story you tell children to teach them a lesson, and there is nothing wrong with that.  When people read stories like this in the Bible and they say, "Jesus was a moral teacher," well...they're right.  He was a great moral teacher.  The problem with such a statement is that, in spite of the truth behind it, it is only part of a much bigger whole.  Jesus's parable doesn't end with a moral take away.  His story ends with this.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. 
The take away of Jesus's parable is not the moral standard of forgiving as you have been forgiven.  The take away of Jesus's parable is a command.  You will forgive, and if you do not, you will not be forgiven.  The moral standard provides us with a loophole.  If someone doesn't forgive us, well, we don't have to forgive them.  The reality of Jesus's parable provides us with no such loophole.  If you're going to be a man or woman of God, you will forgive.  Again, that's a demand, and mere moral teachers don't make demands.  Rulers do.

I have no problem with talking about the morality of Jesus's teaching, but to think of Jesus as nothing but a moral exemplar is to miss the forest for the trees.  Jesus is the risen Lord who inaugurated the Kingdom of God here on earth.  He is still its living ruler, and as such, he sets the rules.  I'm afraid that thinking of Jesus as a moral teacher to make him more palatable is simply an exercise in rationalization.  Jesus says too many things and makes too many claims to have thought of himself as a moral teacher, and that leaves us with a decision.  Either Jesus was what he said he was, or he was nuts.  Either his claims were true or they weren't.  And lets be honest, if his claims were false, which means he was insane, insane people don't make good moral teachers.

It also means I'm insane, but I'm pretty sure I'm not.

Stopping point: Matthew 21

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