Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jesus' PR Department: Context Missing From Pharisee Accusations

The following is a recently discovered letter from the little-known figure of antiquity, Michal Ottiah, managing director of Public Affairs for The Way of the Kingdom of God of Jesus the Messiah, ca 33 CE, when the Master was unavailable for comment.

Comments at various synagogues over recent months about what Jesus and his disciples should or not think about believers' roles as chosen people of the LORD prompt me to provide some context from an insider's perspective that may be helpful.

Recently, a Pharisee said the following:

"This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day." Others have said, "How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?"

The point is a noteworthy one, namely that Jews who describe themselves as Pharisees don't necessarily seek to condemn Jesus, but rather to genuinely follow the entire Law of Moses as they understand it.

There are three specific criticisms that have been raised that will be addressed here:

Criticism 1: Jesus does that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day.

This is untrue. I can say with certainty that Jesus has never undertaken an action that would demean or marginalize the Sabbath day. Have his disciples? Yes, of course. In a religious system of 613 distinct commandments it would be extraordinary of they hadn't. Serving as an itinerant witness of an apocalyptic messiah is exhausting, and by and large the disciples do a remarkable job. But they are all human, and occasionally they may clumsily or unintentionally break the Sabbath. The Way of the Kingdom of God is a place where we make mistakes and then hopefully learn to do better. It is also a place where we allow others to make mistakes and improve.

What this argues for is better training of disciples and Jews, and more patience on the part of all of us. Disciples should be particularly aware of how easy it is to come across as Sabbath-breakers when a Pharisee wants more than anything for all the chosen people to observe all the commandments.

But this is quite a different conversation than the one about Jesus himself breaking the Sabbath. If there anything one or possibly three years of working with Jesus has taught me, it is that he cares deeply about observing and following the Law. He has followed the precedent of David, who ate the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat on the Sabbath, but was blameless. He has healed on the Sabbath because it lawful to do good.

Many Jews do not understand that in Jesus the Law is fulfilled. Jesus and the disciples are widely read on the Law and continue to travel and preach the repentance for the coming Day of the Lord. Such assignments invariably bring them into contact with the sick and the oppressed, and I have heard them speak many times of the miracles and wonders performed on such engagements. The same is true for Pharisees who meet Jesus one-on-one in his home and have countless conversations. Honest discussions show that the son of man is lord also of the Sabbath.

Criticism 2: Jesus does not cast out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils

This is a serious concern and I think it is the kind of discussion the disciples welcome as they seek to understand the concerns of the Pharisees. My advice is to remember that a house divided itself shall not stand.

First, if Satan casts out Satan, how can his kingdom stand?

Second, If Jesus casts out devils through Beelzebub, by whom do they cast them out? Most Pharisees to a remarkable job, but they should be willing to take council and not be their own judges.

Third, he that is not with Jesus is against him. While it can be forgiven to speak sin and blasphemy against the son of man, by speaking against the Holy Ghost there can be no forgiveness in this world or the world to come.

Criticism 3: Jesus will not provide signs for Pharisees

First, it's important to understand that the Public Affairs department of the Way does not freelance. For me to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of Jesus is simply unthinkable.

Occasionally, as we have seen in recent weeks in some synagogues, those who are spokespeople for the Way find themselves in the cross-hairs of critics. Sometimes those critics are highly cynical and make things personal. In recent weeks I have seen some of our staff ridiculed by some feminist commentators, called disingenuous or worse, accused of blasphemy.

Certainly public relations is best understood as a bridging activity to build relationship, not a set of activities designed to buffer a messiah from others. Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and disciples do not engage. such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for signs that the Rabboni cannot possibly provide. Not matter what the intent, such demands come across as corrupt and suggestive of a generation of vipers rather than of bringing forth good fruit. Ultimately those kinds of actions can only result in condemnation in the forthcoming day of judgement.

We might wonder what Jesus' reaction would have been had the many prominent Pharisees in his life had taken such a course. If Nicodemus had demanded entry to the Kingdom, how would Jesus have felt, who loved him every bit as much as he loved the disciples? Some of them have been visited and taught by Jesus. There is nothing "lesser" about Nicodemus in his eyes.

I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Jesus does not show signs and wonders to Pharisees. We only know that he has charged his disciples that they not make these things known, and that agitation from a few Jews is hindering the broader and more productive conversation about the imminence, inevitability, and totality of the coming day of the Lord.

Inevitably some will respond to a post like this with animosity or will attempt to parse words or misinterpret what I have said. Nevertheless I hope we will see less cynicism and criticism, and more respectful dialogue. As Gamiliel said, "If this plan is the work is of men, it will come to nothing, but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it--lest you even be found to fight against God."

Michal Ottiah
Managing Director
Public Affairs
Kingdom of God of The Way