bible christianity theology

three paths

Being followers of Jesus means, of course, that we follow Him on His way, His path…

So what does the ‘way’ or ‘path’ of Jesus look like?

I want to describe three ‘paths’ that Jesus faced, which I also think life presents us with. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we will always have exactly 3 choices for every decision, but I think all of the choices we encounter in life can be boiled down into three ‘directions’, three ‘ways’, three ‘paths’…

The setting…
Jesus was a 1st century Jew. Most or all Jews for about a century on either side of Jesus all were hoping and waiting for God to break into history and bring in the ‘Age to Come’, which would see God’s true people vindicated, and God’s enemies punished. A very important matter, then, was to ensure that you really were a true Jew! As many of you will know, there were different ‘sects’ of Judaism – different versions, if you will, of what it looked like to be a true Jew. Two of these sects, the Essenes and the Zealots, will be discussed here.

The first path – Attack
The first path Jesus could have taken was the path of Revolt. The Romans, with their burdensome taxation and meddling in Temple observance (and much more!), weren’t simply disliked – they were despised; to the point of armed rebellion. Several revolts had happened before Jesus’ day (not least the famous Maccabean revolts), and two happened afterward (70 & 135 AD). There were plenty of people so full of zeal that they were ready to use military might to help God overthrow the Romans. Though the ‘Zealots’ weren’t an ‘officially recognised’ sect at Jesus’ time, this path was most certainly alive and well! Jesus would have had little trouble attracting and leading an army like all the others before and after Him, and of course, many people were expecting the coming Messiah to be just the military figure they needed and wanted to lead this army. But this was not the path Jesus walked…

The second path – Escape
The next path Jesus could have taken was the path of Escape. Revolt wasn’t the only reaction to the oppressive Roman occupation and rule – some wanted out. Particularly, the Essene sect (some think that the Essenes were the group responsible for the writings we know of as the Dead Sea Scrolls) took this path. They saw the sacred and pure system of worship, sacrifice and purification as having been corrupted by the Roman involvement, and therefore saw the entire thing as invalid and worthless. As far as they were concerned, being a true Jew meant maintaining purity above all costs. So, seeing Jerusalem as a corrupt, sinking ship, they jumped overboard, and headed out into the desert. Again – not the path Jesus walked…

The third path – Endure
The path Jesus took was the path that led Him to the cross. The cross stood as an ugly reminder of what anyone would get if they would dare try and revolt against Rome. Tom Wright has aptly pointed out that the Roman cross had been a symbol of the ‘love of power’, and Jesus turned it into a symbol of the ‘power of love’. The cross was the strongest answer the Empire had for any who opposed it, and Jesus demonstrated the supremacy of love’s power. This path – the path of endurance, the path of the cross – stands in stark contrast to the other two paths. To attack or revolt is to become like the oppressive enemy. It’s trying to overcome evil with evil. To escape is to leave evil un-met, not confronted, not called to account. Both paths end in defeat. Only the path of love – enduring, sacrificial love – is victorious.

I suggest that this pattern is applicable in all of life. One of the most obvious examples is that of a marriage. When conflict arises (and it will!), you can (a) try to ‘win’ by attacking; (b) decide not to deal with it by escaping; or (c) walk the hard, difficult, patient path of working it out. This applies for the tiniest and the hugest of problems.

Like other things, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so have a think about it, and see if this pattern isn’t relevant to your life. And of course, I never said that love was easy or convenient or ‘fun’, but the path of enduring love is the path that brings life, reconciliation and healing.

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