Theology–The Jesus “Twist”–Inclusive and Exclusive



Have you heard of the “Jesus Twist?”  It isn’t a Jewish dance. It is a metaphor I use to describe Jesus’ only recorded teaching in his home  synagogue in Nazareth. From its beginning, the theology of Jesus proclaimed a new religious direction. And, it was so revolutionary that it nearly got him killed. But, first let me set the stage for these reflections.

I  visited Egypt, Jordan and Israel in late August and early September, 2012.  We were fortunate to exit Egypt a few days before the September 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi,Libya and concurrent riots in Cairo.  Then we spent eight incredible days in Israel.  One favorite stop was Nazareth, the city where Jesus spent most of his childhood and youth.  It was a small village of 400 in the time of Jesus.  Today, it is a huge city with a population of 200,000 that is 80% Muslim. But, in the days of Jesus, everyone would have been Jewish and religious practice was rigid and strictly enforced.

The YMCA has recreated a “Living History Experience” in Nazareth where pilgrims and tourists can step back in time and see life as it was in the time of Jesus.  We walked right by a shepherd family tending their flocks, observed a robust carpenter hacking out a few primitive tools, and entered a synagogue similar to the one in which Jesus delivered his famous reading from Isaiah 61.

Carpenter

To get a glimpse of the “new twist,” we must venture back to the 8th Century B. C. and the prophet Isaiah to find the old “twist.” Isaiah wrote, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—” (Isaiah 61:1-6}

The big change that Jesus introduced from the Old Testament understanding of this dance is wrapped around the idea of whom can dance at this “People of God” party. Jesus gently reminds listeners in his interpretation of Isaiah 61 that non-Jews are also recipients of the love of God.  And, this inclusiveness set the crowd into a frightening lynch party.  Let’s follow the events as recorded in Luke 4:16-30.

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

1“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town,and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

This is one of the major turning points in scripture. Jesus reminds the listeners that the love of God is also extended to the non-Jews. He recalls that according to the prophets, God’s love was extended to the non-Jews, namely Zarephath and Naaman, in the times of Elijah and Elisha. As a consequence of this reminder, the Jews of the Nazareth synogague got very angry and aggressive.

But, Jesus takes a small side step and walked away unharmed.  As far as we know, he never returned to Nazareth again.

This new view of the inclusiveness of God’s love explained in the synagogue of Nazareth become the “Twist” that later emerges into a full-blown dance of God’s grace at calvary that anyone can attend. We could call it the “Whosoever Will Twist.”  “Whosoever will may come!”

In our age of political correctness, we should remember that Jesus was both inclusive and exclusive.  In the above passage he clearly defines salvation as God’s inclusive gift to everyone willing to receive it.

On the other hand, Jesus is quite frank that there is only one way to salvation.  Many do not like this exclusive position, but his clarity on the point has to be taken seriously.

John 14:1-13 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

This passage, if taken literally as recorded from the teaching of Jesus, soundly blasts into pieces the syncretism or pluralism taught by many liberal theologians.  It makes the blending of conflicting religious principles into one unified theology impossible.  In this case, Jesus argues that he is the only way to true understanding of God.  The validity of the argument rests on his claim that he is both human and divine.  And, he substantiates his position by reminding his disciples that his person and actions are singular.  Since Jesus is the only divine son of God, his death the only sacrifice adequate for the forgiveness of all sin, and his resurrection the only example and proof of eternal life; other religions are secondary and incomplete.  It should be noted that a denial of syncretism or pluralism is not equal to intolerance.  It is possible to be fully tolerant of different religions without affirming them as truth.

While I respect the position of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and others; for me, the Jesus “Twist” is the best dance in town.

There is song from the 1960’s by Sydney Carter that reflects my image of the “Jesus Twist.”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced for the scribe & the pharisee
But they would not dance & they wouldn’t follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!

Dance then!

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I’d gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
(…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that’ll never, never die!
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in Me –
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

Copied from:  http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/sydney_carter/lord_of_the_dance.html

You can hear this song at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-LCIMWH0Nc

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