I distinctly remember my dad delivering this line to me. I don't remember where he got it from, or whether he came up with it himself, but I do remember one thing very strongly:
I really liked it.
It made perfect sense to me. Jesus did not conform to the labels and factions of his day. The Pharisees and Sadducees, two Jewish sects, fought over various theological issues, but Jesus never identified with either. In fact, not only did he criticize both sects during his ministry, but Jesus arguably reserved his harshest language for them both. Jesus was interested in the truth, regardless of who it offended.
So dad's statement made sense to me. I could more or less analogize the Pharisees and Sadducees to our modern political parties. The Pharisees believed in the coming resurrection of the dead, angels, and spirits. They were more small town, more religiously conservative, arguably more populist. The Sadducees were more urban, more involved in the temple power structure. They denied the resurrection, angels, and spirits. So, very roughly, I could see the metaphor. Jesus would probably be yelling at both Republicans and Democrats in the same way he yelled at both sects of his time.
And honestly, I think at some level, I liked it because it made me feel like I was "above" the petty tribal disputes of the political parties. I imagined that Jesus simply had bigger fish to fry than whatever the sects were arguing about. I liked the feeling that my fried fish were bigger, too.
So did that mean Jesus was some kind of... I don't know... moderate? Did he have some "third way?" Would he have registered as an independent? Or would he have perhaps stayed home on election day?
Well, I've been rethinking this idea a little bit lately, especially after having read a certain strange passage in the book of Acts that I had long forgotten about. Here, Paul is on trial before the Sanhedrin for preaching Christ:
6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees' party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. (Acts 23:6-10)I actually found this a bit amusing. It feels like Paul is cynically manipulating his accusers by playing them against each other - by taking sides in the battle of the sects, so to speak. He's being very tactical here. But there's an interesting little fact about what Paul says that I hadn't really considered until recently:
It's all true.
Paul may be cynically manipulating the court, but nothing he said was a lie. He was a Pharisee. He did believe in the resurrection of the dead, and, in fact, this concept is extremely important to Christianity, which he was on trial for. So I had this rather surprising realization (for me, at least):
While Jesus would never have identified with either Jewish sect, on the particular issues that divided them, Jesus agreed with the Pharisees down the line.
In that respect, you could even argue that Christianity was an offshoot of Pharisaic Judaism. This is a bit awkward, as Jesus and the Pharisees yelled at each other a lot. We also can't ignore the fact that the Pharisees spent a tremendous amount of energy trying to murder Jesus (and ultimately succeeding). Jesus consistently spoke of the Pharisees as a "them." He was not even slightly part of their tribe. But on the question of the resurrection, he agreed with the Pharisees completely.
23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
I suppose that's not too shocking, given that Jesus was just saying what he knew to be true, but still, it has implications for the here and now.
I think a lot of Christians, including me, have an easy time criticizing "our" political party (whichever one we identify with most). We're happy to say that we may agree with the party on certain issues, but we're definitely NOT one of those "my party right or wrong" people. Our faith comes first.
Fair enough. But there's a harder implication. To stand for the truth, you have to be willing to do more than disagree with "your" side. You have to be willing to agree with the "other" side, even vehemently argue for it, if they happen to be right. Even if they hate you. Even if they wish you were dead. Even if their leaders are as corrupt and evil as the Pharisees were. Could you do that? Or have you responded in anger to the point where you can't possibly bring yourself to agree with them on any issue?
Could you do what Jesus did and argue for a position taken by people who enrage you? Can you be on God's side not only when it disagrees with "us," but when it agrees with "them?"
Maybe that's easy for you. I don't know. I find it challenging, and something to be praying about.
And I wonder how many of us are willing to take that step...