during the last couple of weeks, i have been investigating the culture into which Jesus was born. when i first began writing this post several days ago, i reviewed the history of the jewish people from the period of Alexander's conquests to the time of Jesus, but i don't want to write a history lesson. anyone who is interested in this period can easily find the information, as i did. what struck me about the milieu of roman palestine was the great contrast between the rich and the poor, and it was to the poor that Jesus chose to minister.
the wealthy lived in luxury in the cities--in sepphoris, tiberias, caesarea maritima, jerusalem--while the rest of the population supported them. the government was corrupt and unmoved by the plight of ordinary people. none of the major population centers of palestine, except jerusalem, are mentioned in the gospels. jesus grew up in the shadow of sepphoris, yet there is no record that He ever traveled the few miles between nazareth and this home of one of herod antipas' palaces. instead, He visited small fishing and farming villages, He saw the great needs of the people and had compassion for them, He taught them that the kingdom of God was not a kingdom like that of the romans or that of herod, but a kingdom whose citizens care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the defenseless, in stark contrast to the way life was conducted in roman palestine.
Jesus taught a religion that was lived out in day-to-day life, not the religion of burdensome rules intended to lead to ritual purity as the pharisees taught. He taught that the religious compromises of the sadducees, made to protect their positions of power and privilege and to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy and the romans, were just as wrong. He taught that the withdrawal from life to live in monastic communities to wait for the coming of the messiah like the essenes had done was not the way of true religion. only living out one's religion in love for others was and is the way to the kingdom of God.
the example of Jesus' life, His ministry to those who were forgotten by the rich and the roman conquerors, is striking. no other teacher in His time lived out such a religion. it is my prayer that we learn from the example of Jesus, that we see the parallels between His times and ours, that we confront the growing gap between the rich and the poor and that we work to minister to those who, like the ordinary folk of Jesus' day, are forgotten by those in power.