Our natural bent is toward conservatism. We want stability. We want things to be the same across the board. We want people to be held by the same standards and for those standards to be the same in every situation. We want yes and no answers. Black and white contrasts. While we may not always actually live this way, we strive for it in the way we answer people’s questions, the way we debate politics and theology, and so on.
Liberal thinking requires getting outside the box. Liberal thinking is broad spectrum, big picture, outside of me, empathetic, holistically focused. It’s harder to do. For example, I would be labeled a theological liberal on some issues. I was recently discussing a Bible related issue with some guys who would have been labeled theologically conservative by most. At first I just asked questions, attempting to walk in their shoes and perceive the Scriptures through their eyes. But as it became more and more apparent that we disagreed on this issue I could feel my insides screaming for me to tear down their arguments and prove that I was right. While the position I was arguing would be considered a more liberal one by theologians, the mindset that I was battling inside was decidedly conservative. My way is right. Your way is wrong. There is only one right answer and I know what it is. Etc.
You see true conservative thinking seems to be consistently more about how you answer questions than what your answers are. I have friends who are quite liberal (politically, morally, or theologically for example) and yet the way they think is markedly conservative. Most definitions of the word conservative focus on the lack of change, the preference for the old ways of thinking, and the tendency to find a tradition and stick to it. There are plenty of pro-abortion, pro-government, evolutionary, universalists out there who would fit right in with this kind of thinking.
Jesus wouldn’t. Jesus went against all the conservatism of his time. Think about it. The Pharisees really were aspiring to follow law. In fact, they were so worried about following it perfectly that for every law God gave they create numerous other ones to exactly specify what that law did and did not cover. So the Jews could rest in the comfort of their neatly arranged laws, instantly recognizing the transgressor and leaving them with only one real choice in life: “should I follow the law, or not”. Jesus didn’t take that approach. He condemned the Pharisees for it. He started talking to Samaritans. Eating with sinners. Healing tax collectors. Saving adulterous women. He recognized that the law said to “stone the adulterous”. And in fact by equating Himself with God (“before Abraham was I AM”) He essentially claimed authorship of that law. But He also recognized that sometimes grace is a better way. Sometimes repentance is enough and forgiveness can cause someone to change their life.
Jesus was a liberal. In the way he thought. He wasn’t just different from the norm because he was Jesus and He was talking to a crowd of lowly sinners. He was different because Jesus got outside Himself, saw life through the eyes of the masses, and adjusted His message and His approach accordingly.