Was Jesus intolerant?
Why being loving sometimes means saying you disagree.
Intolerant: not tolerant of views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one’s own.
Tolerant: showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with: we must be tolerant of others | a more tolerant attitude toward other religions.
If the above is how you define tolerance, then yes, Jesus was often intolerant.
In today’s society, tolerance is seen as being of uttermost importance. There’s even a United Nations ‘International Day for Tolerance’. It’s 16 Nov if you’re interested. According to the UN Declaration, ‘People are naturally diverse; only tolerance can ensure the survival of mixed communities in every region of the globe.’ Tolerance is seen as vital for peace and harmony; vital if nations are to get along and agree; vital if people with different religious beliefs are to exist peacefully in the same community.
Jesus was often intolerant
Sometimes Jesus appears incredibly intolerant. Jesus regularly rebuked the views and beliefs of the religious leaders of his time. He constantly warned people against certain behaviours. Jesus is so intolerant of beliefs that differ from his own that he says that few will enter the narrow gate of life but many will pass through the wide door to destruction! The same charge of intolerance can be levelled against the disciples who came after Jesus. Their task was to teach to the early church the implications of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Like Jesus they regularly speak against views, beliefs, and behaviours that differ from their own. They condemn idolatry, rebuke certain sexual practices, and time and time again they warn against following people with different religious beliefs and teaching. Tolerance doesn’t even appear in any of the ‘virtue’ lists.
But Jesus shows us something even better than tolerance.
Jesus' intelorance was always loving
Tolerance may do well, unless people are in danger. My son might believe it is safe for him to run across the road but I’m intolerant of that belief and behaviour. Instead, because I love him, I shout ‘stop’ and grab him. My friend might believe that alcohol doesn’t affect his driving ability but I’m intolerant of that. Instead, because I love him, I’ll take his car keys and drive him home myself. Jesus knows that people whose views, beliefs, and behaviours differ to his own are in danger. Jesus knows that certain beliefs lead to death, and judgement, and hell. Jesus knows that certain lifestyles are actually harmful to those who practice them. If Jesus had simply tolerated different views and behaviours he’d have smiled, waved, and done nothing. He’d have left people in deadly danger. But instead, Jesus loves people whose beliefs and behaviours differ from his.
Jesus was intolerant towards sin
Do you know how Jesus showed his love for people whose views, beliefs, and behaviours differed so radically from his own?
He died for them. Died for them even though they hadn’t asked him to. Died for them so that they could escape the consequences of their views, beliefs, and behaviours. Died for them so that he could offer forgiveness. And not just forgiveness but also cleansing; a washing clean of all the stain of one’s past life. And then Jesus offers a better way to live and a better person to trust, better views and behaviours. And Jesus doesn’t leave us struggling to do it alone he continues to help those who follow him.
Jesus love meant that he couldn’t stand by while people were in danger. His love was displayed in the wonderful way he treated people whose beliefs differed from his. All through the gospels Jesus shows compassion, respect, patience and concern. Those who came after Jesus speak of showing all those same qualities, summed up as love, to those whose views, beliefs, and behaviours differ from theirs. Ultimately Jesus’ love was displayed in his dying for the very people whose views, beliefs, and behaviours differed so radically from his own.
Jesus is intolerant. Yes. But Jesus is loving. And love is even better than tolerance.