Jesus was popular with masses of people not only because he healed some of them, but also because they sensed that he spoke with authority. From our (Christians’) perspective, we know why he had that authority: he is one of the Godhead, the Son himself. Because he is divine, and we believe the radical claim that he became human and lived among us, what he said and did ought to have the most weight in considering what God wants for us and expects of us.
Jesus vexed the respected religious leaders of his day by violating Sabbath laws publicly. He disregarded the laws about purity by touching lepers, conversing with women, and eating meals with people known as “sinners”—tax collectors and prostitutes among them. By his actions, he indicated that people and their well being mattered more to him than legalities, even the Sabbath laws that were fundamental to the life of God’s chosen people.
Several stories are provided for us to show how Jesus cared more for people than for upholding and enforcing rules. One is his conversation with a woman of Samaria (John 4), in which he listens to her views about religion. A Jewish man was not supposed to speak with a woman nor a Gentile, let alone give her credit for having a brain.
Another story is an almost comical situation where Jesus heals a man born blind, but then the temple leaders simmer and then boil over with fury because they cannot make the blame stick on this man or his parents, and their accusations at Jesus resound with bluster and hypocrisy (John 9). An unschooled man ends up pointing out the holes in their logic, so they dismiss him in frustration. Jesus goes on to tell these self-appointed gate-keepers that he is not just a gate-keeper, he is the gate and does not need their help, thank you very much (John 10:7-9).
In case stories like these are not enough to show us Jesus’ values and authority on legal matters, there is the point-blank question posed to him, asking which commandment is most important. Jesus replies that loving God with all of one’s being and loving the neighbor as oneself is the best guideline we can follow. (Matthew 22:34-40) He never said anything about loving the wrong person.
See, Jesus didn’t simply throw out the old laws. In fact, his Sermon on the Mount made it clear that his standards are even higher. He cares about the condition of our hearts that lead us to behave the way we do. (Matthew 5:17-48) Motives matter. It’s no wonder he cited love as the bottom line. Love is hard!
Nobody knew this better than Jesus. He went all the way to the cross to embody his love for us, to let himself be tortured and crucified for the sake of laws he himself never violated. But his silhouette hung starkly against the sky to show us what our legalism ultimately leads to: killing the God who loves us. He would not let any sin—nor our judgments of one another—keep us from his love. And that love could not be snuffed out; He lived on to forgive and to heal, and to enable us to do the same for each other.
Jesus talked about bearing fruit, and that was about love too. (John 15:1-17) I’ve seen a lot of good fruit from all kinds of people, both gay and straight. He said we can detect good people by their good fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20)
Still, we think we can put ourselves in the position of judging what sin is, and like the Pharisees, think we are justified in declaring whom God approves of and those God doesn’t. Which part of “do not judge” don’t we understand? (Matthew 7:1-5) I am not pointing fingers, tempting as it is. I am as guilty of it as anyone, compulsively judging people who do not agree with me on matters of faith. Jesus calls that the plank in my eye while I’m searching for the speck in someone else’s.
I hate that. I want to feel right, and righteous. Don’t we all?
Jesus comes to us and says, “Don’t get worked up about that. Just love each other. Okay?”