Jesus and Tolerance

Did Jesus teach tolerance? There are certainly a number of scriptures that suggest that Jesus was tolerant, compassionate and forgiving.

Mat 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Luk 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Joh 8:11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Luk 9:54–56 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Mat 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luk 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

Mat 11:19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

Luk 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him (the hero in the story is a Samaritan – a heretic as far as the Jews are concerned)

Mat 8:13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Jesus helps a Gentile, and a leader of an occupying army).

There are also scriptures that show Jesus being angry and judgmental. I will argue later that some of these are not original with Jesus, but if we start by taking the gospels at face value, it’s instructive to note the people and circumstances that arouse Jesus’ ire.

People who are more interested in religious rules than compassion. (Mark 3:1–5)

People concerned with outward religious show (Matt 6:2,5,16)

People concerned with evangelism, tradition and religious legalism, but not with compassion, justice and mercy and living spirituality (Matt 23:13–29)

Corrupt politicians (Luke 12:32)

People who hurt children (Matt 18:6)

People making money from religion (John 2:14–17)

His own disciple when he tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his mission (Matt 16:23)

  • People who reject his message (Matt: 11:20–24) [More on this in a moment]

On the other hand, the people he was remarkably tolerant of and compassionate toward included:

Sinners, prostitutes, adulterers, outcasts, women, children, heretics (Samaritans), pagans (Romans), the sick and the poor.

I think we can see some interesting patterns here. Jesus is mainly judgmental of the judgmental, and intolerant of the intolerant. He has little patience for those who ought to know better, and those who think they ARE better. He is particularly concerned with anyone putting barriers between people and God, in the form of onerous regulations, hateful judgments, or monetary considerations.

Regarding Jesus condemnation of those who reject his message – scholars have long believed that many of these scriptures condemning those who do not receive the message are expressing the frustrations of early Christian missionaries, who did not have the success they would have liked, and who consoled themselves by putting harsh words about unbelievers into Jesus mouth. I think it’s pretty plain that this did in fact occur. Contrast Jesus approach, for example, in these two scriptures:

Luk 9:54–56 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Vs.

Mat 10:14–15 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (15) Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Even if we want to pretend that the condemnation scriptures are authentic, there is an important distinction. ‘Jesus’ particularly condemns those cities and people where mighty miracles were performed, and still did not believe. In other words, those who knew better. This is in contrast to such people as Samaritans and Romans, who “know not what they do”.

In summary, if we are looking to Jesus for our guideline of behavior, we will be tolerant of those who do not follow our beliefs or standards, particularly if they appear to be sincere in their beliefs. We will also be compassionate with human imperfections and weaknesses and have mercy on the oppressed, the helpless and the downtrodden. Against religious hypocrites in particular, we appear to have more latitude 😉

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