“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
I'm not sure when it started, but somewhere along the line it became popular to call certain people extremists. I have traced it back to at least the 1960's. When Barry Goldwater gave his acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican Convention he reacted to the label of "Extremism" by saying, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue." Whether you think Barry Goldwater was a good man or not, don't miss the point. The tactic of calling ones opponent an extremist has long been employed to marginalize the arguments offered no matter what the topic and no matter how reasonable the arguments. The underlying assumption is that all forms of extremism are inherently evil and that moderation is inherently good.
If extremism is inherently evil and moderation inherently good, we ought to be able to look at history and see that our heroes were people of moderation in what they said and did. So, let's take a look at the greatest hero of all time, Jesus. It seems that almost everyone wants Jesus on their side whether they are Christians or not. Even Muslims claim Jesus as a prophet. Some Buddhists claim Jesus was on them. Jews are a little bit of a mixed bag when it comes to Jesus, but many of them hold Jesus' teaching in high regard. Even many atheists claim Jesus was a good man or moral teacher. Could it be that the most beloved historical figure in all human history, the one that almost everyone wants to lay claim to was, as the title to this post suggests, an extremist?
The simple answer is yes! Okay, but what is the evidence for such a claim? The evidence found is found in both the teachings and actions of Jesus himself. First, let's take a look at some of the most extreme teachings of Jesus. Perhaps the most famous sermon Jesus ever delivered was the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. In 5:20 Jesus says something that many readers probably don't see as extreme, but if you were Jewish in the first century, you would have seen it as extreme. Jesus says that unless a person is more righteous than the pharisees, that person would not enter the kingdom of heaven. The pharisees were the most righteous people in the land, at least on the outside. They were so committed to following the law found in the first 5 books of the Bible that they made over 600 additional laws to make sure they didn't break God's law. For instance the concept of work was strictly defined and many activities, including exactly how far one was allowed to walk on the sabbath, were prohibited. All of this to maintain righteousness, but Jesus was saying a person had to be more righteous than the pharisees. Just a few verses later Jesus says, "Anyone who says, 'you fool' will be in danger of the fires of hell!" You don't have to be a first century Jew to think that sounds extreme. In 5:38 and following Jesus says if someone sues you and wants your shirt, give them your coat as well. WHAT?
Jesus didn't just say extreme things, he did them. He touched a man with leprosy when he healed him. This wasn't just a party foul, this was viewed as putting the community at risk by spreading the disease. Jesus put mud in a guys eyes to heal him. He let a woman wash his feet with her hair and a burial perfume. Removed from their context these things may not seem extreme, but put in context, these are extremist actions.
The most extreme thing Jesus did was take a beating and go to the cross when he was innocent and in so doing he took on the sins of humanity in his death and conquered sin and death in His resurrection. This is extreme!!
Extremism is never the problem, extremism based on an ideology that leads to evil actions is the problem. Let's be extreme in our commitment to God and let's be extreme in our attempt to live the values that Jesus taught.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.