Sunday, January 06, 2013

"The Pharisees stressed Yahweh's holiness while Jesus stressed Yahweh's compassion. The difference appears at first to be small, but in actuality it proved to be too big for a single religion to accommodate.

The Pharisaic platform was essentially this: being majestically holy himself, Yahweh wanted to hallow the world as well; and to accomplish this aim he had selected the Jews to plant for him a beachhead of holiness in history. It was laxity in the observance of the holiness code, delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, that had reduced the Jews to their degraded state, and only the wholehearted return to it would reverse their fate.

Jesus subscribed to much of this, but he could not accept the lines that the holiness program drew between people. Beginning by categorizing acts and things as clean or unclean (foods and their preparation, for example) it went on to categorize people according to whether they respected those distinctions. The result was a social structure that divided people who were clean and unclean, pure and defiled, sacred and profane, Jew and Gentile, righteous and sinner. Jesus saw social barriers as an affront to Yahweh's compassion, and he disregarded them. This made him a social prophet, challenging the boundaries of the existing order and advocating an alternative vision of the human community."

- Huston Smith, The Illustrated World's Religions


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