I have to think that a large part of the conflict in Jesus’ day was the clashing of cultures. There was the Roman culture, marked by brute force and affluence; the Hebrew culture of faith, sacrifice and law; the faith community that was divided by Pharisees, Essenes and Sadducees (to name a few). And when these cultures came into contact, there would certainly be clashing and misunderstanding.
Yet with Jesus, he is speaking within a culture marked by occupation (Rome controlled the region, rather than their own leaders) and by a people who believed that obeying the Law of God would lead to freedom from their current reality. Jesus comes in the midst of this and begins teaching, and living, a cultural reality that was different than what was believed.
For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records these sayings of Jesus, that start with “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” There were normative cultural practices and beliefs that he is calling into question. You’ve heard to love people like yourself and not be concerned with the others, right? Well, I say love your enemy and pray for those who harass you. You heard that eye for an eye thing…makes everything fair? Well, I say turn your check if someone slaps you; give to the one who takes from you; become generous of spirit and stuff.
I often wonder, what would be the sayings of Jesus for a time like ours? What cultural norms, that we value or live by, might come under the light of Christ for a closer look? I have to believe that some of these norms would be the way we view others; the cultural assumption of bigger is better; that one group might be more worthy than another; the list is endless. To Embody Christ is to allow space for the Spirit to stir us, challenge us, and free us from that which we think might help us, but only hurt us.