I think it is instructive that Jesus started his ministry by respectfully engaging with and responding to the questions of religious leaders. He did so with the wisdom and discernment necessary to expose the heart of the issue without chasing down rabbit holes or whataboutisms. Even though he knew their heart, he gave them ample opportunity to wake up to their self-inflicted prisons of tradition, legalism, and judgment.
I think it is also instructive that, even in the face of pure and unrelenting love, their hearts were hardened. Love has self-imposed limitations that honors the individuality and freedom of others. It reveals that our identity and conviction of our beliefs can supersede anything divinely inspired and beneficial, and our direct denial of eternal truths persists to hide in plain sight. It is then, and not sooner, that Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in a barrage that, if received as intended, could have softened their hearts. But instead, they doubled down on their stance, and the die was cast. The powers-that-be had too much power to lose by choosing to follow him instead.
Jesus repeatedly offered an on-ramp to his kingdom thinking, yet they refused. But he let them decide – he didn’t remove the on-ramp. He didn’t coerce or shame them or remove their power of choice. He didn’t throw around accusations of hypocrisy on Day 1, even though that would’ve been true. He gave them time to reveal and acknowledge their true nature, to repent of their idolatry, and to follow him instead. He knew when to switch from engagement to identifying their hypocrisy – I’m not sure if I’ve ever had that discernment.
For me, the daily regurgitation of outrage, accusations, and hypocrisy is mind numbing. Anyone who closely follows the day’s events can easily get swept up by the churn and leap into accusation-mode without giving any benefit of the doubt. I’m not saying it’s easy or proper to withhold opinions – I don’t want my privilege to offer a silent complicity. I’m saying that I’m finding it challenging to highlight what I believe is closer to the root of the issue in a truthful and loving way. I don’t want to remove anyone’s on-ramp. I don’t want to leap into action without discerning where I might be hypocritical also. I don’t want to ruin a message I believe can help the situation simply by the way I offer it.
I could get stuck in an approval loop trying to accommodate others. I could unintentionally walk a fine line that ends up dissolving any distinction between what is moral or amoral. But there are some absolute ideals I believe in, such as nonviolence and restoration instead of violence and retribution. And yet, how these ideals play out are nuanced and not binary. A pure and unrelenting love does not guarantee any particular outcome. But that is the path, the way, the truth, and the life that many of us claim to follow.
The lesson for me includes the discernment that the methods of Jesus are just as instructive as his words.