It was Jesus who stood out in his Jewish context, not the Essenes or the Pharisees. They were conventional and followed their logic of holiness well; Jesus went in a different direction. The prophetic calling of Jesus demanded the unconventional. The temptation for the church is to be conventional, when the prophetic calling often demands the unconventional.
How prophetic is your church when it comes to the conventional? Has the unconventional become in fact unconventional for the church?
As Luke Timothy Johnson says it in his book, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church, conventionality at the time of Jesus meant to:
privilege the male over the female,
the free over the slave,
the rich over the poor,
the powerful over the weak,
the healthy over the sick.
Everything about Jesus was against that sort of conventional. Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of embrace. The conventional, Johnson says, is fully in step with the “logic of holiness.” Jesus’ ministry is noted, then, by these features: healings that restored people to society (exorcisms, healing the sick) and restoring the marginal (good news to the poor).
Johnson sketches Jesus and women and notes the many women who are embraced by Jesus’ ministry: Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Peter’s mother-in-law, the bent woman at the synagogue, Mary Magdalene… and he observes how often Jesus embraced children, which was even more unconventional. Then we think of Gentiles and his embrace of sinners. Each unconventional.
The Book of Acts develops the same themes: healing and restoring and embracing women and the marginalized. And the Gentile embrace is huge in the Book of Acts — that is the Story of Acts.
The unconventional mission of Jesus was resisted; so too was the mission of the church resisted. Resistance is part of the unconventional mission of God in this world.
The church today?
Exorcism: the church must name the evil, must resist demonic systems in the name of Christ, and the church must provide an alternative to the systemic injustice systems of this world.
Healing: the church must think more in terms of caring than curing but it does this by seeing, touching and placing the afflicted in the midst.