Jesus and Pharasaic Other

Lately, I’ve found that I’m becoming the kind of person that has an Other, a kind of conceptual (and sometimes actual) antagonist. In Otherizing someone, one perpetually takes a negative caricaturization and applies it to individuals that exhibit certain kinds of behavior. Conservatives, for example, often have liberals as their Others and liberals vice versa. This negative caricaturization colors interaction with and expectations of the Other. As a result, the Other is often the subject of prejudice and ill-treatment.

The Otherizing that many individuals (myself included) perpetrate is perhaps one of the prolific contributors to the shittiness of the world, or so it seems at first glance. (This is not to say that the world isn’t a beautiful place – at least from where I sit. Rather, I’m simply stating that the world could be so much better and that one of the reasons it isn’t is the pervasive Otherizing in which we a perpetually engaged.) I say this because Otherizing, aside from creating a group of individuals that one can hate on, although we are rarely aware that this what we are doing, it completely undercuts honest and productive dialogue, which is something that is absolutely necessary if this world is ever to resemble the Kingdom. (For how can we improve the world if we cannot converse productively about what those improvements look like?)

Needless to say, then, making the realization that I’ve been Otherizing is quite disturbing. Since Jesus is – or on my crappier days, merely ought to be – my normative gaze, I flipped open the gospels, the starting point from which my thinking and praying about the issue could begin. What I find there, however, at this point is more confounding than illuminating.

What I find is this: it sure seems like Jesus has an Other, a Pharasaic-Other. A quick survey of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees seems to consistently crap on the characterization of Christ as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” More importantly, these verses seem to preclude a Jesus who is not engaging in Otherizing.

Instead, we find a Jesus that seems to have Otherized the Pharisees completely. Recall that Otherizing implies a sort of negative sterotyping. This seems evident in Jesus’ behavior. Consider, for example, the fact that all of the Pharisees in the synoptics are “always the same.” They always oppose Jesus and Jesus always “knows their hearts,” which, invariably, are filled with evil intentions. (It would be simultaneously slightly embarrassing and relieving to find that there’s an exception to this rule – the rule that Jesus stereotypes Pharisees – in the gospels.) This stereotyping, of course, sets up the Pharisees to be called “children of Satan” and for Jesus to predict a divine smack-down for them.

At this point, I can see that none of this makes any sense without certain Christological assumptions. Making those assumptions explicit, might reveal that this Jesus-Other thing might actually be about something deeper. I’ve been supposing that Jesus is not omiscent, a claim whose negation is not unsupported by scripture. But I am supposing more than this. I’m supposing that Jesus might have been wrong about some of the Otherized Pharisees. This claim certainly seems to pose a problem for thinking that Jesus was “divine,” if “divine” entails without error, but that’s a christological conversation that must occur on another occasion. There may have been, for example, a Pharisee that had a better-than-wicked heart but was simply mistaken about who Jesus was or mistaken about some other relevant belief. This mistake, in turn, could have lead to inappropriate responses to and treatment of Jesus.

I’m supposing that this is possible because, in my experience, I’ve often seemed to find that “evil” people are often just people who are 1) mistaken about the beliefs that justify their actions and are also “stuck in their ways” in a manner not unlike those of us who happen to be correct and/or 2) misunderstood because they have been so Otherized as to have their voiced drowned out by the negative characterization of Otherness.

I’ve now arrived at a place that Kierkegaard has been before. (Interestingly, Kierkegaard also had an Other, Hegel.) I, as a person thinking from the Christian tradition, have to choose between a more Socratic view of sin and a more “biblical view.” To choose the later is, from both Kierkegaard’s perspective and from mine, absurd, but apparent – or even bona fide – absuridty does not preclude truth, especially truth about the Divine.

Actually, there’s a third option. Its not always either/or. Sometimes its both/and, although both/and doesn’t exactly seem orthodox in this case. In this sense, even if I pick the hybrid option, I ‘m choosing something outside my tradition. (I’m not nearly knowledgable enough to say that this belief really is outside the tradition. There may be plenty of Christian thinkers who thought this way about sin of whom I am unaware.)

Regardless, whatever view of sin is true, this Otherizing isn’t quite solved. I now can see that this Otherizing strikes at a view of Justice that I’m not comfortable with: the retributivist one. Indeed, the apparent Otherizing that I see in Jesus’ treatement of the Pharisees is simply a temporal (earthly) version of the retributivist judgment that is found in more orthodox soteriologies. I know that this is the heart of the issue (for me) because even if Jesus had perfect knowledge fo the Pharisees actions and even if their actions were sinful, in the wilful malice sense of the word, I would still be uncomfortable with how Jesus treats them. I would still wonder, in other words, “Does Jesus hate these guys?”

Why? For the same reason that orthodox conceptions of hell seem unloving and thus, incompatible with the Divine: because the acts of Otherizing – like the retributivist judgement of hell – is not directed towards restoring and redeeming. (Hell and Jesus’ retributivist actions, by the way, even seem unjust on one meaning of the word “justice” – viz., justice as “making something right.”) I suppose that one could argue that Otherizing actions needn’t necessarily be unrelated to the project of redeeming and restoring. That is certainly possible.

The question, however, is whether we are to interpret Jesus’ actions as directed towards redemption. And as soon as the words of that question “leave my mouth,” this question strikes me as an absurd one. Could it really be that we are to interpret the works of the one who “was not sent into the world to condemn it, but to save it” as works that do not embody that statement? (Perhaps Crossan was right about how deep the divide is in the scriptures on the issue of Justice.) My current knowledge of Jesus is inadequate to answer this question well. I need to spend some time reading and thinking and praying through the gospels with this particular “lens,” that is, I need to spend some time looking through the gospels with a particular eye towards Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees and to try and understand the motivations behind these interactions.

…Or maybe all of this is nonsense.

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