Jesus saves each one from Hell.
According to the Parable of the lost sheep – Luke.15.3 – mercy is not shown to the group but to the lost member, the excluded. Mercy is changed from our ways – covering up violence, to something that exposes it. In God there are no outsiders, and any mechanism that would create outsiders is shown to be purely human, having nothing of God in it.
This is the new perception. When Jesus debated with the Sadducees – who deny the resurrection – Mark.12.18; Matthew22.23; Luke.20.27 – we discover how Jesus sees God. They hold that if there was resurrection God would have told Moses and it would have been written into the Pentateuch. It isn’t there, so it didn’t happen. Deuteronomy speaks of the obligation of a brother to marry his dead brother’s widow – if he died childless – and have children to ensure posterity, the only way of getting round death.
Jesus turns to their ignorance of the power of God. At first glance his answer seems to have no reference to the Resurrection: I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Lk.20.37 quoting Exodus.3.6. He is saying who God is – God is totally alive, has nothing to do with death and seems to be saying to Moses he is the God of three dead men. Jesus isn’t speaking of a special power to do something miraculous, like raising from the dead. Living is who God is – completely and eternally alive without any reference to death. What seems obvious to us – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are a long time dead – cannot be so for God in whom there is no death. For us, being alive means not being dead – for God death is not, and nothing can be contrasted with it, as it can for us.
For Jesus God is alive always – I am does not mean I exist, but I am fully alive and ever present. His adversaries did not share this awareness. When he said you are very much mistaken, he wasn’t saying you have made a mistake – but your whole perception is wrong because it is influenced by death, and this is part of the human condition.
Paul was heavily involved in persecuting Christians and would have sided readily with the Sadducees. He came to know that being mistaken is not the lot of the few, but of all of us. Being mistaken in this way led him – and us too – into finger-pointing, blaming and even killing through ill-formed rivalries, simply to keep the system clean: It is good that one should die for the sake of the nation – Caiaphas John.18.14. In Chapter One of Romans – we have become futile in our thinking with darkened hearts; and in Chapter Two he says whoever dares judge others judge themselves. Excluding, eliminating is the action of futile minds and senseless hearts.
We are all greatly mistaken – Jesus came to tell us, and help us believe that God is entirely different from what we imagine. The Good News is not just about Jesus; not even about the Resurrection, nor how we should behave – it is about the nearness of God who is I am here for you. No matter whether I am there for God or not, God is always there for me: God loves me; will never stop loving me; and loves me exactly as I am! No conditions apply – never I will love you if you turn away from sin, or if you keep and commandments, or if you go to Church… no preconditions. Once I am able to be still and know this – all the rest will happen – or not; that depends on me.
We can’t see who God is, not because we are stupid, but because our minds and imagining are darkened – never is it change your behaviour and see God – rather, see God and all else follows. Jesus was able to say all this to the Sadducees because his mind and imagining was free and crystal clear, he did not share that condition we all share which Paul referred to: how is it I cannot do what I would like to do, and always do what I would prefer not to do – Romans.7.15. Paul also tells us how to get there – who will rescue me from this wretched condition, thanks be to God Christ Jesus – Romans.7.24. When this happens we will know what he meant by: I live now not I, but Christ lives in me – Gal.2.20. Jesus said what he said not because he is divine, but because he is fully human – made to receive the presence of God as God is.
Jesus possessed this imagination before he suffered and died – and the disciples had difficulty in following his teaching, as he said they would: this you cannot understand now, but later you will – John.13.7; 1Corinthians 2.16. It was through his imagination being fixed on God that he could move towards death without being moved by death: For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God – Hebrews 12.2.
Not so the disciples who, like us see death as the stumbling block. If life is to be eternal, something has to happen to death. If Jesus was killed, he must have done something against the Law. We are very much Job’s comforters.
But if God has nothing to do with death, then death is merely a cultural reality with no reflection on what I’ve done or who I am. Goodness cannot be defined by death. See what has happened when someone executed by the death system, apparently punished by God, appears alive beyond death. This is what the disciples were facing. God’s plan for the undoing of death in Jesus happened because his imagination is untarnished by death and so could extend through it and beyond it.
This is the new perception of God they were receiving – one which Jesus always had, even before his death. Human attempts to define God are wrong as also any attempt to shape moral life by those hemmed-in by death. Jesus began teaching this to them, but at the time it was beyond their understanding and would be until confronted by the Resurrection.
He spoke about the sun shining on the good and the bad, as also the rainfall. God is beyond the sphere of human morality – no judging or condemning. Look at the instinctive reaction to the Parable of the workers, when the latecomers receive the same wage as those who have borne the day’s heat – who has not felt sympathy with them? We are not to separate wheat and weeds – Matthew13.24 because we do not know how to judge. God can never give less than all, and give to all, irrespective.
Paul had persecuted someone he saw to be leading people astray from the God revealed to Moses. Now he sees God has raised this man up, and that he was persecuting him in the name of God. Jesus had been right in what he did and said about God.
As Paul saw it God is known and served through observing the Law, and killing transgressors was doing God’s will; since God is kind to the insiders and vengeful in punishment of the others. The Law had become simply a way of separating people – an instrument of death. Paul’s conversion happened through his being enabled to see Jesus, not as a vengeful God but as the Good Shepherd.
The fully alive presence of the executed victim shows that there is no violence in God, as well as uncovering the violence in all of us. Genesis shows us being expelled from the garden for eating when we were told not to. S John answers this: it is not God who expelled us, we expelled God – He came to his own, and his own gave him no welcome – John.1.11.