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Storkersen: Jesus and tolerance

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The definition of tolerance has changed. By that, I do not mean that people have merely had a shift in mindsets, but that literally the dictionary definition of tolerance has changed as well.

Braeden Storkersen

Braeden Storkersen

Tolerance used to be defined as the ability to endure someone’s practices and actions despite dislike or disagreement with them. Today, it has been added that tolerance also includes respecting and approving of that person’s practices.

This shift is actually quite dramatic in nature when you stop to consider it. After all, everyone can endure someone’s practices, choosing not to criticize them even though they disagree.

Yet the new definition includes approving of, or agreeing with, that person’s practices. This is dramatically different and, I believe, impossible for anyone to accomplish.

Tolerance, under the new definition and mindset, is absolutely unrealistic and also unbiblical. Every single human being has an opinion, so no single human being will agree with everyone’s views.

When you consider religious views, political views, and moral views, there is such a diversity of opinions in our world that tolerance, under the new and commonly accepted definition, is completely implausible for a person to live out in their daily lives.

Even those who claim to be tolerant people would have to admit that they disagree with and would even oppose certain people’s views and actions.

The Bible is no different.  When asking “What does the Bible say about tolerance?” I believe we should look to the central person of the Bible, Jesus Christ, whom all Christians strive to follow and be like in their daily lives. So the question is not simply, “What does the Bible say about tolerance?” but “Was Jesus tolerant?”

The difficult task here is that the Gospels of Jesus present so many occasions in which Jesus interacted with people, that I can’t include them all in this article. Therefore, I will do my best to include the biblical texts that most fully capture the nature of Jesus as he interacted with different types of people. Let’s look at three different people, and how Jesus treated them.

We shall start with the man, Zacchaeus:

“He entered Jericho and was passing through And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.”

 Luke 19:1-6

Zacchaeus was hated by most people because he was a chief tax collector, which I suppose would be today’s equivalent of someone who plays a large role in the IRS.

Many people considered him a terrible person, and the religious people would have labeled him “a sinner” and simply refused to interact with him.

Jesus instead says, “I must stay at your house today” which may seem weird to us in today’s culture, because inviting yourself over to someone else’s house is extremely rude. Yet in the first century Hebrew culture, this was basically saying “let’s hangout” or “let’s be friends.”

So Jesus was absolutely friendly to people despite their lifestyle. After all, tax collectors at that time cheated people of their money. Jesus certainly would disagree and disapprove of how Zacchaeus treated people by cheating them of their money, but nonetheless, he was friends with him.

Jesus loves us, even though we do things that are contrary to his nature.

A second circumstance where Jesus may seem intolerant by today’s standards was a case that many have heard of; the woman caught in adultery. Many have heard of how this woman was caught in adultery, and therefore, the religious people were getting ready to kill her. Then Jesus steps in and says “Let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone.”

What comes later is what many fail to see. Here’s the part we tend to discount:

“When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one condemn you?’ ‘No Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more.’ “

 John 8:9-11

Jesus forgives her. Jesus meets the woman where she is at. Yet when she calls Him Lord, a sign that she has accepted Him as Christ, He calls her to sin no more. Simply put, when people become Christian, God calls them to change their ways.

Telling someone to change their practices would be considered very intolerant by some. Jesus only calls for change though to those who choose to follow Him. Only Christians are called to live by the moral principles in the Bible; nobody else.

So we have seen that Jesus loves everyone as they are. He befriends everyone and does not expect them to change, but if they become a Christian, He does expect them to change.

Due to the fact that they have chosen the religious system of Christianity, He calls them to follow the moral system as well; which includes the teachings of the New Testament.

Lastly, we see how Jesus interacts with hyper-religious, or hypocritical-judgmental, people. Jesus is without a doubt, the most harsh towards these specific types of people:

“And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.’ “

Luke 11:39-44

Jesus criticized the criticizers, judged the judgers, and was intolerant of the intolerant. Jesus absolutely despised the hyper-religious people because of their indisputable hypocrisy. Notice the analogy of how they “cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside are full of greed and wickedness.”

It absolutely enraged Jesus that these religious people were putting on a show like they were moral when in reality they weren’t.

We can learn so much from how Jesus interacts with people. The fact is that Jesus was tolerant with certain people’s actions while intolerant with others.

Christians can learn so much from this. Jesus doesn’t want us to put on a moral show and act superior to others, but to be real with our imperfections and recognize that Jesus forgives us.

Yes, Christians are called to strive to be like Jesus, but that will always be a life-long journey and we must be honest with our shortcomings rather than act like we have everything together.

We must also treat other people as they are, people. Christians often mistreat non-believers as if they aren’t even human; it’s horrendous how some Christians conduct themselves.

Christians, like Jesus, are called to be friends of all, but they are not called to agree with the practices of all.

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