They didn’t get it.
They thought they knew the scripture. After all, they were experts in the scripture; why wouldn’t they understand what it said about the Messiah? Yet for all their expertise, all their knowledge of the Jewish Bible, they missed it. The words were right there in front of them. In fact, they probably knew them by heart, and yet they did not understand.
He was born in a way they did not expect. He lived in a way they could not understand. He even died at their own hands, the hands of those who should have seen and heralded His coming. Their dogma let them down. Their certainty became their blinders.
The great weakness of the Pharisees was their arrogance. They were convinced they knew exactly what the scripture promised. They doggedly held on to their preconceptions, doctrines and dogmas even in the face of the miracles Jesus performed. They saw what He did and heard what He said, but could not make the connection between the prophecies and their fulfillment.
They thought they had God all figured out. They thought they had the Master of the Universe in a box. They thought they had an intellectual and spiritual handle on the God who Himself claimed “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts, and My ways are higher than your ways.”
Perhaps we are not as smart as we think we are.
We all seem so certain of our doctrine. We have divided off into groups, sure of our own take on the truth. We have argued and fought with those who disagree with us. We justify the mistreatment of those we don’t understand, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day oversaw the elimination of the One who wouldn’t play by their rules. Our rules and doctrines have, just like 2,000 years ago, become more important than people.
But what if our understanding of the scripture is clouded by our own preconceptions? What if, like the Pharisees, we are so settled in our arrogant self-assurance that we cannot see the simple truth in front of our faces?
It’s not that complicated.
Jesus didn’t spend much of His time on doctrine. I believe this was intentional. Those around Him, the religious leaders of the day, seemed to have a corner on that market. Jesus doctrine was pretty simple. In fact, I believe it can be focused down to one word: love. “A new commandment I give to you,” He told His disciples, “that you love one another, as I have loved you.” Simple. No complicated system of theology. Just love others in the way He loved us.
So how did He love us?
He loved us before we loved Him. His love extended to those who didn’t agree with Him, didn’t believe in Him, even those who nailed Him to the cross. He loved those who fought against Him and tried to eliminate Him. He loves regardless of whether His love is returned.
He loved us unconditionally. There were no requirements to be met before we could experience His grace. He offers it freely to anyone, regardless of what they do, where they are, or where they have been. There are no prerequisites, no demands, no qualifications on His love.
He loved us lavishly. “How great a love has the Father bestowed on us, that we should be called His sons?” He did more than forgive. He did more than forget. He restored us, cleaned us up, and adopted us as His very children.
I could go on. The list could fill this whole blog of ways that Christ has loved us. How do we measure up? Do we love sinners mercifully, unconditionally and freely? He did not say the world would know we are His disciples by our correct position on the nature of the sacraments or our eschatology. He said they would know we are his followers by how we love. Perhaps that’s why the world doesn’t really feel they need Christianity any longer.
There is truth.
This is not some postmodern rant against absolute truth. This is not an attack on doctrine. The truth of scripture can be known as it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. But that truth should be held delicately. Our understanding of the truth must be tempered by humility and an understanding of our own frailty. Otherwise, truth turns into a weapon. Christians in the middle ages thought they were justified in burning witches at the stake. Christians in the 50’s thought the Bible condoned burning crosses on the lawns of black men.
What don’t we understand?