Jesus Answer To Christianity - Compassion  v


by Wells Behee

READING -- Meeting Jesus AGAIN For the First Time" Marcus J. Borg of the Jesus Seminar-page 59  "The struggle between compassion and purity goes on in the churches [WB1]today. In parts of the church there are groups that emphasize holiness and purity as the Christian way of life, and they draw their own sharp social boundaries between the righteous and sinners. It is a sad irony that these groups, many of which are seeking very earnestly to be faithful to Scripture, end up emphasizing those parts of Scripture that Jesus himself challenged and opposed. An interpretation of Scripture faithful to Jesus and the early Christian movement sees the Bible through the lens of compassion, not purity.... It is not only in the church that the politics of purity remains alive, but also in our culture as a whole with sharp social boundaries...A politics of compassion shaping our national life would produce a social system different in many ways from that generated by our recent history."


During the past couple of years we have heard many references by various speakers from this pulpit about the ancient Purity Laws against which Jesus rebelled.  I now wish to explain them relating (1) their source,  (2) a small taste of their content (3) how to remedy violations of the Purity Laws (4) Jesus’ relation to the Purity Laws.

I.  Source of the Jewish Purity Laws

The Torah, (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) were written as a guide for moral living and to provide direction in personal, national and religious affairs.  The Torah exemplifies the perfect mind and character of God; and through Torah, He has given us direction that mankind may live in peace, health, and happiness.  I have in my hand 15 pages of God’s commandments to the Jews taken from the Torah containing 613 commandments of which the familiar commandments we consider as Ten are only the beginning of 603 more.  There are 101 Positive commandments and 365 negative commandments.    It is appropriate to ask at this time that if the commonly accepted Ten commandments are accepted as God’s commandments, why then does the Christian community reject the other 603 of God’s commandments?  Oh yes, there is one more commandment selected out among the 603 that is retained by the Christian community.  It is the commandment that 1/10th of all income must be given to the House of the Lord.   Strange is it not that only that one and only that one of the 603 Christian churches so earnestly seek to enforce.  That makes 602 rejected commandments given to Moses by God.  

Contents of the Purity Laws

There are many commandments regarding worship, national policies, Swearing, conduct of the priests, procedures of sacrifices, tithing and offerings, conduct of the Priests, agriculture, loan and business affairs, treatment and release of slaves, Judges and rulings by judges, 30 commandments on preparation and serving of food and the dietary regulations, 47 commandments concerning family, 15 commandments dealing with our duties to our Fellow Men.   Many of these are GOOD for human relations even for our day. But some are very negative such as a women in her menstrual cycle are unclean for seven days, unclean after childbirth, anyone coming in contact with semen, anyone coming into contact with a corpse or dead carcass of any animal are unclean. 

                 These are among the best of the Purity Laws.  But like our Constitution, there developed thousands of other laws expanding and explaining the first.  These purity laws were used by the powerful priests to be in power and to maintain almost absolute power over everyone else in the country, rich and poor.

III.       The Remedy

 In many cases, if a person becomes unclean, the condition remedies itself during a designated period of time.  When a husband and wife have marital relations, they are unclean for the remainder of that day and the uncleanness wears away by sunset.   But they must be careful not to touch a child or another person, or to have someone step in their footsteps or that even person shall unknowingly become unclean.    If a mother births a son she is unclean for 7 days, and  birthing a girl child makes her unclean for 14 days.  Then the mother may ritually bathe saying the correct prayers to become clean again.   But the condition of uncleanness was constantly on every person’s mind. And even if you were at the moment clean, there was constant fear of becoming unclean by association with others

                 But for violations of many of the commandments a person had to leave his work, go to the Temple in Jerusalem (for Mary, Joseph, Jesus and siblings, the trip from Nazareth was the distance from New Madison to Columbus.  On donkey, mule, and walking that was a far trip and costly to a poor family for loss income being away from his occupation for so long).  At the temple, they traded secular money into temple money at a costly exchange rate, purchased a dove, goat or lamb for sacrificing on the high alter, and then paid the priest for making the sacrifice along with reciting the appropriate prayers.  Few people could afford  this especially if they lived a distance from Jerusalem.  And even the poor people living in the city of Jerusalem a block away from the Temple could not afford time or money to perform the necessary acts to become ritually clean.    All the lower class people were bound to being unclean. There were only two classes in Israel at that time---the poor and the rich, the clean and the unclean.  There was no middle class.

                 Then there are more serious unclean conditions.   Jesus was born a mamser, i.e. of an unknown father.  Even if the birth stories of Jesus were true, how many people in Jesus’ home town Nazareth would believe the virgin birth tale?  Just let a young unmarried girl try telling that story in New Madison or Greenville.    And again if the story were true, Jesus was still born of an unknown father (I am not saying illegitimate or a bastard, but just an unknown father).  To the community this still made him a Mamser who was denied admittance to the Temple at Jerusalem, ostracized and rejected by other children.  He was a loner and forced to play by himself as he was unclean. And by association, all the rest of the family was unclean and therefore publicly shunned. There was absolutely no remedy!

                 It must be said that the Jews were  joyful in their submission to God for observance of the multitudes of the commandments and ensuing laws,  They  were a small gesture in return to God,  who, all the peoples of the earth, had selected the Jews as his Chosen People. 

                 The commandments were but small atonement, recompense and restitution for such an  honor and a privilege for such a prestigious and august honor—God’s Chosen People.

Jesus and the Purity Law

Jesus was unclean not only by birth, but in reading the Old Testament Commandments, Jesus violated a very large share of them.  He ate with those hated gentiles (non-Jews).  He praised the hated non-Jews such as the Good Samaritan.  He ate with his disciple Matthew, a tax collector. 

He rejected his family; He lived, associated, and allied himself with all the other unclean people of his village and other locations where he preached.  He was thoroughly as unclean as a person could be without blaspheming God or committing murder.   And even if he wanted, he had no way to cleanse himself of his hopelessly unclean status. The common persons  of Palestine had no means to rise above their uncleanness.  Jesus lived, ate, slept, drank, talked, and spent his whole life among the unclean for he himself was unclean, spoke and preached to his audiences in terms they understood for he was one of them.  They were his followers for they knew and felt that he understood their plight.  No matter how Jewish they were and how much they tried to follow the Purity Laws of Kosher, they were never good enough.  They always fell far short.

V Jesus’ message

This  “unclean” Jesus prodded the Priests, Saducees, and Pharisees and emulated the poor and downtrodden.  No one could be worse!!!!  This threatened the social, political, and religious structure of  Israel.  And he spoke so forcefully to the crowds that he upset the social order to the point that he got himself crucified on a common Roman Cross.

The great parables and the teachings of Jesus which Mike Short has been explaining to us these past few weeks have demonstrated the central teaching of Jesus that the poor  people who cannot keep the purity laws of the Temple and being forever doomed to an unclean status are the beautiful (Beautified) people.

Read the Beatitudes with this  background and the Beatitudes take on a different meaning.  When one reads the Beatitudes in our modern setting, to a thinking person, they are sentimentally beautiful. So beautiful  that tradition convinces us to believe them.,  yet by reason they are  incredibly  unbelievable. But now when I read them from the point of view of Jesus, they are astounding and speak   forceful across the ages.

I am now examining just three of the Beatitudes in the few minutes I have left.


Despite your present uncleanliness, the Kingdom of heaven is made of people like you.  The clean people are no better than you.  Jesus preached the unqualified worth and dignity of every person—clean or unclean.



                            There are more unclean people than those proud and haughty clean people.

We, Charlie Browns, of the world will always be here; we shall survive; and we shall win.



                       FOR THEY SHALL BE FILLED.

                 We unclean try to be as honorable and noble in every way as do the clean.  We little people love and appreciate life and what we have, little as it may be, more than the ritually clean.  The rich spend so much time worrying and fretting about their uncleaniness that they never get to know life.  They are never filled.


                 These are the first three of the eight BLESSEDS.  And I leave the rest to you to read for yourself at home. Read them as if you were like Jesus.  Put yourself into his sandals and I am certain you will come out with astounding meanings.  Messages which we say today, such as “That CEO is a great man but he is no better than I am.  He frets about his wealth  but is not really happy. 

The central message of Jesus was that God has compassion and loves these hard working paupers who are hopelessly and religiously suppressed.  This was the speaking power that Jesus won the hearts of the people.

In the parable of the Dishonest Servant, Jesus is telling the paupers to whom Jesus is preaching, that they have more sense and more of everything which is important than the rich man who attends Temple regularly and performs all the prescribed ceremonial rites and then stupidly praises the manager for his dishonesty.  This happens today.  The dishonest gets all the breaks.   The pauper can leave the story joyfully thinking,

   "I know better than to do that.

   I may be poor and unclean but even I am smarter than that righteous wealthy man.

   Indeed, I, too, am a wise person.  He is no better than I am” 

   I am worthier of the Kingdom of God than that clean wealthy man who praises that employee for being dishonest.

This man, Jesus, is my savior; for today, he taught me that I am HOLY .

That feeling is spiritually ennobling.

                 Now what does this mean to us today?

As Christianity became a religion in its own right and moved away from Judaism, Paul and the early Christians moved from a status of clean/unclean and substituted  “everyone is a sinner.”  Everyone is a sinner is the primary purity law upon which all the rest of the Christian rests.  Compare this doctrine “All men are sinners” to  Jesus’ teachings for compassion.  Because of Paul the people were dumped right back into the same kind of fears of disapproval, condemnations, and ostracisms from which Jesus had saved his followers.  Only now, they are called sinners.  Rather than clean/unclean , everyone is declared a sinner.  But that is not enough===perpetual sinners, who are damned to the eternal fires of Hell except for the select few who are predestined to make it to heaven.  At least under the Jewish Purity Laws, the perpetually unclean were never doomed to some damnation after death.. Clean/unclean  existed only in this lifetime.  Jesus’ message of compassion for the unclean of his day should be the same message to the little people in the pew of our Christian churches who are forever condemned  sinners by the priests, ministers, Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, and all the good people who follow the Christian adaptations of the Jewish Purity Laws and enjoy it .  The Christian leaders speak out against the Priests of a former century but institute the same sort of principles of fear, guilt, human degradation, and condemnation in this century. 

I now  speak about the universalism of Jesus. I am not so vain as to compare the Universalism of our         denomination. I speak of Jesus’ universalism with a small “u”. Though I must say that a large amount of his universal compassion has been retained through the centuries within our churches until consolidation when Universalism became so overpowered by the rationalism that the universal Universalist spirit of ultimate compassion became submerged. Even our denominational president recognizes this when three weeks ago at General Assembly, he quoted from The Rev. Doctor David Bumbaugh, professor at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, the following  “We have manned the ramparts of reason and are prepared to defend the citadel of the mind.  But in the process…we have lost… the ability to speak of that which is sacred, holy, of ultimate importance to us….”                            

                 In the full context of the speech, Dr. Sinkford is leading our denomination to revive this universal compassion.

More and more of our ministers are recognizing the truth of the statement from a speaker in the Cleveland GA three years ago that reason has come full term and Universalism is now where it’s all at.  

In his Easter sermon this past April The Rev. James Walters of the UU Church of the Restoration stated the following: “Unitarian Universalism is not doing enough to nourish the spirits and hearts of our lives. Can’t we be something more than a “refuge from”? Can’t we be more a “sanctuary for”? Of course we must continue to celebrate and cultivate “free thought,” but clearly we must do more to celebrate and cultivate “freed hearts,” – not just free minds, but freed spirit expressing and living compassionately!”

It overjoys my heart to report that the central message of the universalism of Jesus and our denominational Universalism is stirring to life in UU.   I cannot stress enough that the signature trademark of Universalism is UNIVERSAL COMPASSION--- God is ultimate compassion in God’s love of man that all souls shall be restored in holiness and salvation. 

 And Jesus commands us to be like God—compassionate

Be compassionate---learn to regard each person as being the best person , the person knows. understands, and feels himself to be  this point and time of the person's life.  I know that I often fail to do this myself.  But I try.  If we all tried, how much better a world we would live in.  Imagine a world built around COMPASSION for all.

This is the task of our church ---to bring the exciting and liberating Gospel of universal compassion expressed in heartfelt love, and self respect. This is still the gospel of good news to the world. We must not only know (reason) but feel (compassion) and proclaim the GREAT religion.  A much better world is not driven by submission, fear and damnation.  On this religion, the Great Teacher like that of Jesus elevates the heart of all people with joy and praise of living.  Jesus’ universalism is still the great message of hope and well being to all people emulating the supreme worth and dignity of every person in THIS day. The once popular book “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” was a book which hit on a powerful truth, but it ignored the ultimate essence of religion and the universalism of Jesus.  Its great truth lacked spiritual content for deep inner strength for the book to endure as a text for superior living by the human soul. The book rang the bell of truth but missed the essence of that truth for human love and compassion   The universalism of Jesus and our Universalism combines the truth of “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.” with the core of spiritual enrichment.

Universalism, it's just like the sun's rays. It reaches all the people of the earth regardless of their fame or insignificance. Do you have to believe in the sun for it to shine on you?  How do you receive sunlight?  Even on an overcast day, the solar rays reach the planet, and you will see them and feel them and receive them. You have no choice or vote on the matter. From its 1st century beginnings when the earliest church fathers advocated universalism, universalism, by its very nature, has been as inclusive and non-discriminatory as the light and warmth of the s-u-n. You don't have to do anything or believe anything, reason anything. You can be born blind, but the sunlight will still shine on you.  Then this enhanced self respect becomes light and love for others.  This is what our world needs---everyone to have a healthy love of self and love of others. In this light, the Bible certainly has much to say to us. Also, our faith, universalism, has the spiritual value of a message for which the world is still searching.  Instead we need the recognition and implementation of the Supreme worth of every human personality. Except for our own individually imposed religious limitations, we have within us to be giants of unlimited potential with the inner power and strength to endure all life’s greatest disasters and to be equal partners with God in building a world of our dreams.

An after thought to my sermon:

It has come upon me as to why Christianity rejected 602 of the commandments God gave to Moses, as it was reported in the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible).

                 Of course, since Jesus disobeyed so many of the commandments such as picking wheat (working) on the Sabbath, came in contact with the dead (raised Lazarus from the dead), destroyed a fig tree, ate with Gentiles, the Gentile woman in memses  touched his robe, ate with his disciple a tax collector, born a Mamser (of an unknown father), defiled the Temple, and many more.  These many Purity Laws made Jesus unclean according to the commandments of God.  Therefore, many and most of the commandments (602) had to be ignored, overlooked, and degraded to permit Christianity to create a perfect and pure Jesus (clean up his past), to be able to  elevate him to the status of one in the Trinity of God.

                 But we as Universalists can love Jesus, have him as an example, and  learn from his teachings despite his past.


Mural of All Religions
History | Sermons | Universalist Faith
Eldorado UU Church | The Hopedale UU Community
Amazing Joy Music | Universalist Home Page | Email