The people in the gospels had a mixed reception of Jesus, depending on their faith. Some adored him, like the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair; others wanted to kill or imprison everyone around him: infants or apostles. He was a charismatic outlaw healer.

Our faith is comprised of that very combination, depending on how we receive each other, and how we perceive each other: We all have within us the charisma to charm people out of their money, or make them feel comfortable enough to let us help them; we all live by the laws of others, but can choose when we feel it’s necessary to change or break the law for the greater good or our own benefit; and we all have the power to heal each other, or tear down those around us.

Would we kill Jesus because of his blasphemous claim to be the Son of God? Or would we throw palm fronds before him, singing hosanna as the blind see, and the deaf hear? Will we obey the letter of the law, or the spirit?

Though we struggle with our faith, eventually we have to stand and say, This is who I am! These important moments can come at any time.

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”—II Peter 3:10.

Judgment Day: We don’t have to approach it literally to understand it literally. We just have to think about those crazy times, in the heat of the moment, when we have to choose what side of the fence we’re on, and what we stand for.

When looking for examples of faith in the gospels, there are good ones and bad ones. Since I believe there is no greater teacher than failure, we’ll start with the bad.

Rejection at Nazareth

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. / …. / He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”—John 1:5, 11.

At the beginning of his ministry, the people of his hometown not only rejected Jesus, but tried to kill him.

“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, / And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”—Luke 4:28-29.

They knew him, and his parents, brothers, and sisters. He wasn’t a stranger, foaming at the mouth, threatening them. He had been their neighbor for 30 years. But all their mercy vanished when they thought he had blasphemed. Those Godly people knew their scriptures well.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, / Bring forth him that hath cursed [blasphemed] without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.”—Leviticus 24:13-14.

That came from God! How could the simple people of Nazareth even think of disobeying God? It’s important to note that they not only had a reason for accusing Jesus, but he had provoked them. If he had just read from the book of Isaiah, and then sat without saying another word, his neighbors would not have rejected him. Instead, he told them, “…This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”—Luke 4:21.

Since the passage he’d read from (Isaiah 61:1-3) was accepted by all to prophesize the coming of the Messiah, then Jesus was saying that he was the Messiah. And since none of their priests had interpreted scripture to indicate that their savior would come as their neighbor, the carpenter’s son, they assumed Jesus was blaspheming.

What’s odd about the gospels is this binary nature of faith: You got it or you don’t. Wasn’t anyone in these stories capable of waiting to see, having enough patience to not judge right away? Apparently not, and what does that say about us? I see this as a warning, a lesson.

Our faith is not as robust or flexible as we assume. Everything takes practice. Without a daily regiment, faith weakens as quickly as muscles do. Our faith must always be ready to leap, not to throw others off the cliff, but to jump willingly, for the sake of others.

“And he could there [in Nazareth] do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. / And he marveled because of their unbelief….”—Mark 6:5-6.

Those who were unable to believe were not healed by Jesus. All of his miracles were accomplished because of the faith of those receiving his help. Faith enables healing. To heal a friendship, then, we would have to forgive each other by believing in each other.

“And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.”—Luke 18:42.

What are we supposed to have faith in, according to the Bible? What are we claiming to believe? The people of Jesus’ hometown believed in God’s laws. They would kill or heal according to the law. They had to; it was their covenant with God…as they understood it.

I think what Jesus was trying to tell them (and us), and what they couldn’t hear because of their rigid beliefs, is that we should have faith in each other.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:34.

Doesn’t love assume faith? We’d need to have faith in someone before we could love them. Just as the gospels are lessons on how to love one another, they are also examples of how difficult it is to have faith in each other. To understand my faith in God, I need only observe my faith in others.

The people of Nazareth had no patience or faith in their neighbor. And what faith they did have was rigid and cold as stone.

My favorite part of this whole episode was how Jesus escaped the mob.

“But he passing through the midst of them went his way.”—Luke 4:30.

He slipped right by them. Now that’s faith. When you’re surrounded by people who want to throw you off a cliff, what do you do?

“…Be not afraid, only believe.”—Mark 5:36.

Jesus had faith that they wouldn’t stone him, or throw him off the cliff. He had faith in the good will of those who only had expressed ill will for him.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”—Matthew 5:44.

Talk about a faith that can move mountains: It’s a reminder to not let our belief in others be lessened when they are unreceptive; the weaker their faith in you, the stronger your faith in them must be.

That was just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and his perceived blasphemy. He didn’t catch the attention of the Pharisees until the crowds started following him; but that happened right away. For people who did believe, they were healed of every possible illness.

“And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. / And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from Jordan.”—Matthew 4:24-25.

For people who didn’t believe in the goodness of others, however, Jesus was a threat. And since all those thousands of people were out following Jesus, they weren’t in the synagogues. The priests were losing their audience. They were failing God. It was a catch-22 for them: In order to follow God’s law, they would have to murder this man; or they would have to accept Jesus’ new teachings, thereby abandoning their old ways.

I sometimes think we’re too hard on the Pharisees. They are the most human of all the Bible’s characters, and excellent examples of what can happen when our faith in each other isn’t strong.

First encounter

“And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”—Matthew 9:11.

In Matthew’s gospel, the Pharisees had three encounters with Jesus before they conspired to kill him. This was the first. He had just blasphemed in front of the scribes, by forgiving a man of his sins—only God could do that, according to their laws. So he caught the Pharisees’ attention.

Surrounded by huge crowds, all of them treating Jesus the way the Pharisees wished they were treated, Jesus stood up to those who were, in a sense, the Bible’s policemen.

“But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”—Matthew 9:12.

If he had left well enough alone, that statement might’ve perplexed them and not made them angry. He could’ve changed the subject, and everything would’ve been fine. Instead:

“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”—Matthew 9:13.

Am I the only one who sees Jesus had an attitude sometimes? It was as if he said, I’ll let you off the hook, this time, because you need to go away and think about it. And he said that to the cops! He liked to rub his fingers in open wounds, perhaps to remind us that we’re wounded, and not infallible.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. / For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”—Matthew 10:34-35.

Second encounter

“At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. / But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.”—Matthew 12:1-2.

They referred to the fifth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”—Exodus 20:8. Since God rested on the seventh day, then we should too. It was the law.

“Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.”—Leviticus 23:3.

Jesus’ disciples were breaking the law. As clever as the priests thought they were, Jesus smooth talked them, showing how their own scriptures and greatest heroes supported what he was doing.

“…Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; / How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”—Matthew 12:3-4.

He left the Pharisees speechless, unable to present a counter-argument. And then, of course, he had to rub it in.

“But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. / For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.”—Matthew 12:7-8.

It was as if he said, I could chastise you Pharisees even more, but I won’t, because you’re unable to understand what I’m talking about. And they didn’t have a clue. They took everything literally, and were without imagination.

Once, they thought Jesus threatened to destroy the great temple in Jerusalem, while boasting to also raise it in three days. They had not only misunderstood him, but misquoted him.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”—John 2:19.

They had wanted a sign, so Jesus told them that if they destroyed the temple, then, in three days, he would raise it up.

“Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? / But he spake of the temple of his body.”—John 2:20-21.

And then some lied about what he’d said, after he was brought before Caiaphas.

“…this fellow said I am able to destroy the temple of God, and build it in three days.”—Matthew 26:61.

The Pharisees couldn’t understand Jesus as he spoke, and later lied about what he said. They were so caught up in obeying the letter of the law that they forgot about its spirit.

In a two-page rant against them, Jesus said to the Pharisees, in part:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”—Matthew 23:23.

And that brings us to his third strike.

Third encounter

“And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked [Jesus], saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? That they might accuse him.”—Matthew 12:10.

By that point, the Pharisees were already trying to trap him in his words, prove him to be a fool, and therefore a fraud. His first infraction was barely more than a faux pas: hanging out with the wrong sort of people. The second time, his disciples actually broke the law, by picking corn to eat on the Sabbath.

As usual, Jesus had a smooth, common-sense approach to help them understand what he was doing.

“And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? / How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”—Matthew 12:11-12.

But the Pharisees weren’t trying to understand. Whatever Jesus said was lost on them, except they perceived him as threat.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”—John 1:5.

If I don’t even try to understand my neighbor, how can I have faith in them? How many times have I been guilty of not listening? The practical way to experience faith in God is to have faith in each other. Even though they clung desperately to their faith, the Pharisees betrayed “the weightier measures of the law” by not showing mercy.

It’s one thing to not understand, or even want to understand; it’s another to seek to murder what you perceive as a threat.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Not only was Jesus rejected by his own people in Nazareth, but by the Jewish priests as well.

“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”—John 7:1.

Jesus was a wanted man.

The Pharisees would’ve killed him right there, if thousands of people weren’t cheering his name. I imagine steam blowing out of their ears. Then Jesus rubbed it in even more:

“Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.”—Matthew 12:13.

If you see a miracle, and still don’t believe, then you are of “little faith.” The Pharisees had to choose, right then, what side of the fence they were on. Their Messiah had come and performed a miracle right in front of them. Would they fall down and worship him, abandoning their power and influence, their worldly wealth?

It is startling to think that they did, in fact, know Jesus was the Messiah. If you remember, I see the Pharisees as being us. I also have the tendency to reject what will help me. I can make it on my own: That’s my battle cry. But it’s obvious that I can’t. None of us can: We need each other. I need to treat my neighbors well, so that they’ll treat me well, so that we all can, by prospering, cause each other to prosper.

Before I can reap the rewards of such a potential relationship, I need to love my neighbors, which means I need to have faith in them.

Next time, we’ll look at the good examples of faith in the gospels.

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