Jesus also closely related John to him. The incarnation of ancient-day prophets, John was never recorded teaching about the customary rituals of religion, which included increased Sabbath day observance, stricter washings and sacrifices, and the ordinary exercises of piety. Instead, John only spoke of repentance, of turning away from sin. We see John demolishing the self-confidence of Jews, just as Amos and Jeremiah did.  The way John prepared the world for the Messianic era and what he taught about escaping the wrath of the Messiah both intended to establish a brotherly life and to promote for equality in a world plagued with social equality.

10 “Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has extra clothes should share with the one who has none. And anyone who has extra food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay. (Luke 3:10-14 NRSV)

In addition, John was well aware of the social inequality of his time and the exploitation of the people by the representatives of this organized society (i.e. the tax collectors and the soldiers). In the Bible, Luke describes John’s purpose by quoting the call of Isaiah to make the way of the Lord ready, by leveling down the hills, leveling up the valleys, and making the crooked things straight. John saw the real obstacles to the coming of the kingdom of God. Coming to Jesus was not about fulfilling religious requirements; it was about repenting from wrongs. Moreover, it was the national hope that John brought to Israel that carried the crowd to the desert to hear John.

Like the ancient prophets, John put the kingdom on an ethical basis. One does not get to enter the Kingdom of God because one is of Jewish descent. One can only do so by repenting for one’s sins and turning to Jesus. This was John’s message. Jesus accepted John as his forerunner. It would be impossible to think Christ’s fundamental purpose would be divergent from John’s. The bottom line of Christ’s message also included national and social hope.

As Christ allowed John to baptize him, Christ himself joined hands with John; he clasped hands with the entire succession of the prophets with whom Jesus classed with John. Like the prophets, Jesus sided with the poor and the oppressed.  Luke, Amos and Jeremiah, who foresaw the conflict of their people with the Assyrians and the Chaldeans, Jesus also foresaw his nation moving toward the conflict with Rome. Like them, Jesus foretold of this disaster, the fall of the temple, and the holy city. Jesus shared the fundamental religious purpose of these prophets.

If Jesus abandoned the collective hope that these ancient prophets preached and focused his faith on religious individualism, then he would have expressed statements that would allow him to avow the religious past of his people.  However, the context in which Jesus operated must always be considered.

Jesus came from the common people. He had worked as a carpenter for years before he began preaching. Never did he think of neutralizing the sense of class solidarity, which grows up under circumstances. The common people heard Jesus because he spoke like them and he spoke about what they cared about. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a poor man’s procession. His tapestry was the clothes from their backs. Their voices were his brass band. A donkey was his steed. He did not have a luxurious parade.

During his last days in Jerusalem, Jesus was always almost near being murdered. The people, who protected him from powers of political authority, feared for his life. His midnight arrest, his fast trial, and the anxious efforts to turn the crowd against him showed his standing with the common people.

It is true that Jesus is looking for a personal relationship with you and me. He worked on and through individuals. However, his real end was not individualistic, but social, and in his ministry, he used strong social forces. A new view of life would be sown before a new life can be reaped.  Christ’s end was not the new soul; it was a new society—a New Heaven and a New Earth.

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How do you think you can ground your ministry on ethical grounds?