Behind the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, a movement of strict reform in the Judaism of the day, there lay an issue more important than whether to pick grain on the Sabbath or wash hands before eating. Some have seen the issue as the Pharisee’s belief that obeying rules was the central religious obligation while Jesus placed love first. But every knowledgable Jew understood that love was the most important principle of the Law. Something more crucial was at stake.
Because peace and justice didn’t break out during Jesus’ lifetime and
the world didn’t end, we forget that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.
Jesus knew that God’s love for humankind was total and unconquerable.
He was certain that divine love was about to conquer the world of hate,
greed and indifference. Jesus preached his hope wherever he went. It
was the soil in which his followers were to root their very lives.
Jesus’ unshakable belief that God was about to transform the world gave
rise to his radical morality. Matthew’s gospel summarizes Jesus’ moral
compass in the “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .”
passages. (Matthew 5)
When the authorities executed Jesus and even after his disciples
experienced his resurrection, they were left with the obvious fact that
God hadn’t yet transformed the world. The Monday after Easter looked
the same as the Friday before Easter. The challenge for the early
Church was to live the sweeping hope Jesus preached and the unflinching
life Jesus lived without knowing when the new world he promised would
How could they give love as though their hearts couldn’t break? How
could they share as though their purses had no bottom? How could they
risk their lives for peace and justice as though they were immortal?
The issue was never whether to love, share and risk (every Jew agreed
about that); the issue was how totally to embrace these behaviors.
That’s decision is still the most important one that we have to make.
It’s the meaning of the question: Do you believe in Jesus?