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Jesus speaks community into existence and warns against all things that separate us from community.

When Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love, as defined by Tillich, is the power that overcomes separation; so the task of our lives is to overcome the separation that is between us and God and neighbor. Jesus sets rules and tells stories that put us in a different place than the world of human affairs.

I believe it was Jurgen Moltmann who said, “Jesus was right to call himself the Son of the Father, for he was no one else’s son or party member.” Jesus did not endorse Jewish nationalism; he told stories of Good Samaritans and said that God could create children of Abraham out of the rocks. Jesus did not join the call for the forceful overthrow of Rome; he said what we need to hear today, “He that lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

Many modern scholars believe that Jesus may have been a Pharisee, but he is very critical of this sect of Judaism saying, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The word “Pharisee” means “separated one,” so when Pharisees condemn Jesus for eating and drinking with sinners, they want Jesus to be like them, separated from sin. “Righteousness” means “faithfulness” and Jesus is faithful in spite of our sin.

Sadducees, the sect of Judaism most responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, is the sect of the High Priest and the leaders of the temple. They are afraid of Jesus because he threatens their power. Jesus could have made deals with this sect and have become a powerful politician, but Jesus knew that the actions of the Sadducees were not motivated by love, the power that overcomes separation. Sometimes the groups to which we belong cause us to do great evil, even crucifying our saviors.

We live in a day fraught with separation. I am a Baptist, therefore I know separation. In 1979, the year after I graduated from seminary, I arrived in Houston, Texas, for my first Southern Baptist Convention. I have never seen anything as separated in my life. People were calling each other everything but a Child of God.

People who were kind and polite in their day-to-day lives had divided themselves into factions, and they despised each other because they came down on different sides of an argument about how old the world is.

These folk all claimed to follow a man who taught grace and love, but allegiance to a group mocked any identification they had with Jesus who taught them to love their neighbors and their enemies. He even put a Samaritan (who worshiped at the wrong place with the un-credentialed priests–one of those half-breed cousins that embarrass us all) as the best example of neighbor in a parable.

I read that the pope said the Catholic Church was the only place to receive true salvation, sounding like many Protestant preachers I have heard. Jesus would not tolerate this kind of arrogance.

The Kingdom of God shows up in Jesus who, unlike the Sadducees, had no credentials but himself. The thief on a cross enters the Kingdom; the racketeer’s prayer is heard, not the Pharisee’s; the woman of ill repute will always be remember for shamelessly washing Jesus’ feet.

In the story of judgment Jesus says that if we want to find him, we must be among the un-credentialed ones–the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, strangers, jailbirds and the lonely. According to Jesus, credentials for the Kingdom of God don’t come from the religious leaders of this world but from the needy of humanity who are given, by the powers that be, no credence at all.

Larry Wilson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Biscoe, N.C.

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