Jesus the teacher
This is not a complete overview of Jesus' teaching!
I am going to look at three examples of his teaching in comparison to other contemporary Jewish teachers of the same period:
1) The whole concept of giving summaries of the law (Shema).
2) Parables (Samaritan) - follows the Shema in Luke (importance of oral tradition - must help whether living or dead).
Who did Jesus go and hear at the Temple as a child?
Jesus' teachers were the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and were very devoted to the Bible, with a developing oral interpretation that had been handed on to them for generations.
They did not preach a sermon or give a lecture but, sitting down, they would invite a question to begin a dialogue with their students. This question and answer method of teaching (Pilpul) continued in Judaism and is also a feature of many of the New Testament debates. (eg Luke 10: 25:37. )
Christians often see the Pharisees very negatively as people obsessed with the details of the law. Although Jesus challenged the excesses of the more severe and had a distinct agenda from them, he was probably nearer to this group in his views than to any other. Some of his teaching shows many parallels with a famous rabbi, Hillel.
There had been a long tradition of pairs of teachers and Hillel was more lenient than his counterpart, Shammai. Hillel came from a wealthy family in Babylon, but gave up everything to study as a poor student in Jerusalem. Even as a famous rabbi, he remained modest and down to earth, usually taking a generous view of the law. Shammai, an engineer, was known for forthright integrity and exactness. He judged himself and others by the strictest possible standards. Hillel's view eventually prevailed in Judaism. And to be fair to Shammai - the history of the two Rabbis was written up by Hillel's followers. So it may not be totally unbiased.
Summaries of the Law
Comparing Jesus and Hillel
The Greatest Commandment
Looking at the rule of love
The NT Passage we read is a very familiar one.
Hear of Israel the Lord our God is one Lord. Love the Lord our God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Many Christians hear it as part of our communion liturgy. It is often known as the Greatest Commandment or the Rule of Love. What might come as a bit of a surprise is that it would also be very familiar to Jewish people. Not only would it be familiar but it is actually considered to be the central creed in Judaism - many ordinary Synagogue members would actually be a bit surprised to know that it has any place in Christianity. Every Sabbath in Synagogue, it is chanted or sung in Hebrew. So where does it's Jewish roots go back to and why is it so important? To answer that we need to go back to Deuteronomy which is part of the Jewish Torah or first five books of the Bible.
Here we see the first part of the commandment that Jesus spoke.
Hear, O Israel: the Lord your God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.
This passage is still taken very literally by Jewish people:
On their Hearts
In Hebrew thinking your heart is the centre of your thinking. Nephesh (soul), literally means your neck, but implies your whole being. Hebraic thought does not have a body, mind and spirit division - it is much more holistic.
The Shema is the central teaching in Judaism and underlies all it's fundamental beliefs. The command to love God is greatest of all.
To Impress them on your children
Jewish mothers say the Shema to their children each morning and evening in Orthodox homes. It is often the first word that a child hears and the first words they speak. Though we cannot say for certain - Mary may have followed this tradition and Jesus may have heard his rule of Love from her as a small child.
To talk about them at home and in travel
That is talk about the Bible all the time - not just in a religious context.
When you go to bed and when you get up
Is literally taken by many Jewish people - people also like to have it as their final words at death. Many Jewish people in the holocaust went to their deaths with these familiar words on their lips.
To tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads
This is something an orthodox man would do every day from his Bar Mitzvah at 13, by wearing this scripture in symbolic boxes on his forehead and left arm. These are known as Tefillin. It is a very strong visual image of holding true to the Bible
There is a lot of debate as to whether Jesus wore these "Teffilin" or Phylacteries. Something similar has been found in the caves used by the Qumran community a hundred or so years before Jesus and caves used by Bar Kochba who led the final Jewish resistance in the second century. So it is not impossible that Jesus did literally fulfill this commandment.
To write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
Jewish people place a box containing this scripture on the right door posts of their homes. It is known as a Mezuzah.
So what was happening in the NT. What was Jesus doing?
Jesus was in the Temple Courts teaching by the classic question and answer method. He had just had a group of Sadduccees debate with him and had won the debate. So next a scribe, who would have been a Pharisee, spoke up and paid him the complement of asking him for his summary of the law.
This was a common thing in Jesus' day. There is a legend that Rabbi Hillel was asked to recite the whole torah while standing on one leg - I'll come back to the summary that he came up with.
Jesus, in his summary, came up with what was probably the most popular summary in his day. In one sense he was being very orthodox. I believe he was saying that his teaching had continuity with the scriptures, which had gone before. His law was a progression of the Bible. God had already given the greatest commandment - the challenge was to fulfil it.
The second part of his summary, which was from Lev 19:8, is a commandment derived from the first, In that one cannot love God without having a love and respect for other people. This links to the Golden Rule that Jesus also taught:
Do unto others what you would have them do to you.
And this was Hillel's summary of the law while standing on one leg - except that he put it the other way around: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do to you. (One is not better than the other - both ways round is important!) This was an ancient rule - Confucius, Greeks etc. May have been used by Jews to teach the Rule of Love to Gentiles. There is actually a stronger attribution to Jesus than Hillel. But it is a continuance of this rule of Love. That Jesus is teaching about.
Should not leave this Mark passage until we look at the end
From then on no one dared to ask him any questions
The really radical part of Jesus' teaching in this passage comes in the very last bit: The scribe when he heard Jesus was deeply impressed and said that indeed to love God and to love your neighbour was more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices then it says:
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely has said to him you are not far from the kingdom of God
In Hebrew thinking only God had the right to decide who was and who was not in the Kingdom of God. No one ordinary person, even a great teacher, had the right to say what Jesus said.
Only the Messiah and only a Divine Messiah could have made such a statement - no wonder no one dared ask any more questions.
We shall continue to look at this second part of the summary (Love your neighbour as your self, Lev 19:8) and to look at this more closely we will go to Luke's version of this summary and take a closer look at Parables.
2) The Parable of the Good Samaritan - follows on in Luke
My source for this second section: is a chapter in a book by Brad Young - The Parables. Here we are going to see the importance of oral tradition, - If you obey the oral teaching you must help both the living and the dead. This begins with apparently the same passage as our last one. Again it is an incredibly Jewish passage with a question and answer approach. This expert in the Law was not trying to "catch Jesus out" but was going about things in a typically Jewish way. He respected Jesus as a teacher and therefore set a test . Jesus responds to his question with a question (very Jewish). Things continue in question and answer method all the way through this passage, but at one point, to answer the student's question, Jesus goes into this well known parable.
To understand this parable better we need to know some of the differences in attitude to ritual purity and the relative priorities of saving life and burying the dead. The Priests and Levites were Sadducees. They took a very literal approach to scripture and would have been aware of the passage in Leviticus (21:1) A priest should not defile himself with a dead body. Or course the man may not have been dead but if they went over to find out then they would ritually defile themselves anyway. That was why they hurried on.
Jesus' questioner and his audience were Pharisees - they would understand the parable thus far. What more could you expect from a Sadducee - these are the people who put the letter of the law before showing mercy.
There is an incident in the temple recorded in the Talmud that was very probably a real event of the first half of the first century. We cannot be certain if it happened before or after the time of Jesus' teaching, but it would have been so shocking that everyone would have known about it. It concerns a murder of a priest: Two priest were running towards the ramp to go up to the altar. They were competing with each other. One seemed to be getting there first and the other thrust his knife into his heart.
R. Zadok (who was probably a Levite and alive but an old man at the time the Temple was destroyed), was totally horrified and asked the onlookers whether the heifer who was there to be sacrificed, should be sacrificed on behalf of the people (that was going to happen) or on behalf of the Temple (ie the Temple priests are so corrupt that they need cleansing more). The father of the dying priest rushed up to him and held the dying boy in his arms. He then astonished everybody by saying that his son was not yet dead and the knife was not unclean (and so could continue to be used for sacrifice).
This terrible story is quoted by the Rabbis to show how (at least some of) the Saduccees put the cleanliness of their vessels above the concern of the shedding of blood.
Whenever this event happened it sets the contemporary context of Jesus' teaching. Our listeners to Jesus' parable would so far not be surprised. These were literal, hardhearted Saducees. They were all waiting for the appearance of the hero of the tale - of course it would be a Pharasee!
Pharisees would take the Bible terribly seriously but would also look at the Oral Law and the way things had been applied over the generations. In the Oral Law it teaches that saving a life is a priority over all other commandments. Moreover a dying person is to be considered the same as a living person in every respect. But more than that, if you come across a dead body who has no one to bury it, according to the Rabbis, you should stop and bury it. So obviously Jesus is about to send in a good Pharisee who will truly be a neighbour to this dying man. But what happens? Instead of a Pharisee we have a Samaritan!
Samaritans were also very strict on the Bible and did not accept the oral interpretation. He would have become ritually unclean in just the same way as the Priest and the Levite and would have had just the same excuse to pass by. So he would have been not better a neighbour than the others from that context.
In addition, he was away from home in Judea and had he been found by a group of Jews helping this man who had obviously been attacked, it is quite likely that as a Samaritan he would have been accused of the attack and may have lost his own life.
The Samaritan therefore was willing to sacrifice everything to give help to this badly injured man.
So who was the neighbour? "The one who showed mercy". The student did not define this man by his race, but by what he did.
The message was clear - it sums up the rule of love and it also sums up the Beatitudes and Jesus' teaching on "Love your enemies".
This then was Jesus' summary of the whole Bible - follow the rule of love.
1) Apply Rule of Love to our own situation.
How could this concept help us share our faith today?
The Good Samaritan
2) One of our biggest challenges as Bible based Christians is to be true to the Bible but at the same time "be real". How does this passage help us to discern when there is a conflict between the strict letter of the law and the spirit of the law?
(1) Bivin, D., Jesus Jewish Childhood, Part I, Shalom Magazine, Herald House Publishers, Issue 1, (1993).
(2) Morris, L., (1988), Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Luke, Revised Edition, Leicester: IVP (p.134)
(3) Young, B.H. (1998) The Parables, Jewish tradition and Christian Interpretation. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.: Peabody Massachusetts.