Day 176: Matthew 20:25-28

You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority.

This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others—like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.

On Day 172 Jesus tells his disciples that they will receive eternal life and that thrones will be reserved for them in the New Age to come.  Then, on Day 175, they are approached by the mother of two of the disciples who want to make sure that they get thrones next to Jesus.  Jesus responds by talking to them about the suffering that is to come, and tells them that God is the one who assigns the seats.  All of this talk about reserved seating upsets the rest of the disciples, and Jesus feels the need to clarify what it means to “rule” in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In this scripture Jesus turns it all around.  He says that in the New Age where the disciples will rule, they will not have power over other people.  Instead, their position of privilege is really a position of servitude, slavery in fact, to others.  It is the opportunity to serve, not to be served.  In the New Age the greatest serve those with the least.

When I read this I find myself focusing on the last phrase.  Maybe it’s because I go to Redeemer Lutheran Church.  So what does it mean that Jesus is our “redeemer”?  What does it mean that he gave his life to “redeem” many people?  When I look at the word in Greek, it’s “lutron” which directly translates to the word “ransom”  (not redeem, as in the Good News Translation).

In the original Greek, lutron is translated as the price to purchase a slave for the purpose of setting him free. This particular word only appears in the Bible twice – in this verse and the parallel verse in Mark.   While in English a rasom is the price to pay someone who has been enslaved or is being held hostage, the word redeem has a somewhat broader meaning.  According to Websters, it can have many different meanings, including “to buy back,” “to exchange for money,” “to free from captivity,” or “to release from blame or debt.”

The writers of the New Testament developed and promoted a theory that humanity is unacceptable to God because of our sins, the blood sacrifice of Christ was required to appease God’s anger and “pay the ransom” or provide restitution for our the sins. The theory that people are “enslaved by sin” and that “Christ redeemed them” by dying on the cross was fully embraced by Christendom and is an important cornerstone of traditional Christian belief.

Yes, Jesus says here that he will redeem the many (but not all) people by paying a price.  But to whom is the price paid?  He doesn’t say, so it is open for debate.

Again, the theory put forth in many of the New Testament writings and endorsed by the church is that the price is paid to God because he is so upset about the sinfulness of man.  Jesus gave his life as the ultimate blood sacrifice to God so that he would forgive humanity for all of its mistakes. One really big problem with this theory is that there isn’t any real indication, according to the words of Jesus himself, that God was angry at the people. Neither John the Baptist nor Jesus himself ever said that God was mad at humanity or preparing to levy some great punish against us for our sins.  His message was always about the love of God.  It wasn’t to fear God.  He said that God is our loving father.

Another problem is that the message of both Jesus and the prophets is that Father God doesn’t want sacrifices or payments (See Day 18).  He isn’t interested in bribery or ransom money.  It certainly doesn’t make sense within the context of God being our father.  Imagine that you are a child and your father wants you to clean your room because he doesn’t want you to get asthma attacks, salmonella, body fungus or some other horrible thing.  Because it is necessary for your health and well-being.  Because the whole household is tired of smelling your stinky room and it could make others sick.  Because you waste everyone else’s time looking for stuff buried under piles of debris.  Do you think a good parent would be appeased if you offer him $20?  (This would be the equivalent of Jews and Christians giving money to their religious institution). No, he wants a clean room.  What if you kill the cat instead and give it as an offering to your father? (This would be the equivalent of the Jews sacrificing a chicken in the Temple).  No, I don’t think it would help.  And what about killing your wonderful little kid brother, his son?  (This would be like the Christians saying that Jesus was sacrificed for our sins).  No, even killing his son would not accomplish your father’s objectives.  Monetary offerings will not make the room clean.  Sacrificing a chicken will not make the room clean.  Killing his son will not make the room clean. Think about it.  God doesn’t want bribes.  People want bribes.  God wants us to do the right thing.  God would never settle for anything less.

So if Jesus says he came to redeem people, but God doesn’t want our bribes, then to whom was the ransom paid?   I assert that the religious institution of the day was holding the people hostage and it was to them that Jesus paid the price.  The religious authorities were the ones who wanted payments.  They demanded animal sacrifices, temple taxes, tithes, offerings, and all the rest of it.  The people were enslaved financially, emotionally, and socially by the sacrificial system.  They were indoctrinated to believe that blood sacrifice was the only way to stay on good terms with God.  However, Jesus taught that anyone can forgive sin (Days 72-75).  Jesus wanted to get rid of the Temple and all the killing and the enslavement of people by the legalistic, domineering religious leaders.  I believe the ransom of Jesus’ life was paid to the religious authorities and the society that supported them.  Jesus’ life was the ransom that freed the people from the tyranny of the religion of his day.

SalvationAnd what ultimately happened?  Was the world freed from sin because of a so-called ransom paid to God?  No.  Sin’s still there.  But what about the sacrificial system?  Gone.  Even for the Jews.  For everyone all over the world, all religions, except for a few weird stragglers here or there who still practice it.  Like devil worshippers.  It ultimately shamed the Jews and the rest of the world into getting rid of the temple system and the endless blood sacrifices.

One final thing that caught my eye is that Jesus doesn’t say he came to redeem everyone.  He says he came to redeem many.  I suspect that he came to redeem those who embrace their freedom as children of God and accept the reality that he is more of a loving Father than an angry slave owner.  For those who would rather worship a judgmental, frustrated, distant, greedy, guilt-inducing God who requires perfection and endless sacrifices, the slavery to institutional religion continues.  Even today.

What does this scripture say to you?


One thought on “Day 176: Matthew 20:25-28

  1. Pingback: Scripture Countdown: Number 98 | Who Are You Following?

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