The Gospel record is clear: Jesus refused to engage with the internal disputes of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which could easily have consumed the rest of his life, even if he had become high priest. He transcended the traps set for him by clever questions about what was correct, or, as GAFCON has put it, “false faith”. He refused to interpret the Kingdom of God in ways that were exclusive, and he broke down or transcended the narrow religious and social boundaries that excluded rather than included the diversity of his times. The block that this gospel most challenged, in verse after verse, seems to be the pharisaic policing of boundaries, which was based on a self-righteousness that could quote the scriptures and the law to prove others less perfect than oneself. In Jesus’s eyes, this was a block to the Kingdom of God. He saw through its piety and pretensions, and proclaimed a new vision of religion giving people a sense of purpose and strategic vision, which later became a catalyst for global transformation and redemption. There is nothing new about the call for biblical orthodoxy. There is nothing new in one group claiming God’s will for its own positions. There is nothing new about excluding others because they fall short of one’s narrowly defined religious orthodoxy, or about the accumulating layers of laws and commandments set up to defend it. Nor is there anything new about spiralling into internal division for the sake of religious purity. The point is not that there is anything new in this, but that Jesus of Nazareth looked on with horror, and devoted much of his energy to calling people to move away from this, in the direction of the real needs of the people of his time.
The Revd Robin Morrison is the Bishops’ Adviser for Church and Society in the Church in Wales. This is a personal view, and does not reflect any formal policy position of the Church in Wales.