Jesus and elites

Why did Jesus keep running into trouble with elites? The scribes, an educated elite, are judging him in Mark 2:6-7, 16, and the Pharisees, a pious fellowship honoring ancestral tradition criticized him in 2:24 and 3:6. Jesus answers evasively and in riddles and parables designed to delay harsher confrontations till the closing phase of his ministry. In 3:22, Jerusalemite scribes accuse him of acting by Satan; although Jesus still reasons with them, his response escalates to a serious warning. Jesus responds more harshly to the challenges of scribes and Pharisees in 7:6-13, even calling them hypocrites. (In 7:5, as in 2:24, they criticized his disciples, inviting his defense. In 10:11-12, Jesus defends innocent parties divorced by their spouses.)

Jesus’s forerunner, John, suffers under a different elite: the political ruler of Galilee, the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who executes him (6:27).

Yet Jesus also warns his followers against acting like religious elites themselves. When his followers want to exclude someone who acts in his name because the person does not belong to their own group, Jesus stands up for the person (9:38-42). When his followers want to protect Jesus from interruptions by “unimportant” people like little children or blind beggars, Jesus reaches out to those “unimportant” people (10:13-16, 48-52). When some disciples want to become most prominent in the kingdom, Jesus reminds them that true leadership ought not to reflect the world’s ideals of power, but servanthood (10:35-44). Our Lord himself modeled this, coming to serve and to die for us (10:45).

Naturally Jesus’s conflict with elites escalates in the region’s elite location, Jerusalem. He fends off challenges from critics in ch. 12 and reveals coming judgment on the temple (and thus the religious establishment that claims to speak for God) in 13:1-2. And finally the chief priests, who doubled as Judea’s aristocratic leadership, hand Jesus over to the Roman governor for execution. Jesus had already hinted as much in his parable in 12:1-11, where he depicted Jerusalem’s leaders as abusing their rule over God’s people.

Jesus welcomed everyone, but he went out of his way for the lowly, not the rich (10:17-25) and powerful. To the extent that any of us have some social advantages in life, to that extent we must humble ourselves all the more to approach Jesus; it is harder for the wealthy to enter the kingdom (10:23) and easier for children (9:35-37; 10:14-15). If we want to follow our Lord’s example, we need to humble ourselves. When we live by the world’s values of celebrity cults and seeking power over others instead of being servants to all, we miss the very point for which our Lord called us.

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