Yes. The answer is yes.
Jesus was at the same time, both liberal and conservative.
John 8 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is a snapshot of Jesus that does not exist in the other three Gospels, and not even in earliest manuscripts of John. Regardless, it tells us something wonderful about his actions and intentions, and therefore, something special about his identity.
John 8 recounts the story of a woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus by the religious leaders and is ready to stone her. Delightfully enough, Jesus is unpredictable. It reads…
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
So, what Jesus liberal or conservative? Well, he was liberal with the execution of the Law, but he was conservative in interpreting the heart of the Law. He was lenient on the death sentence (to which he also did not tell the religious leaders to erase from their texts), but was quite harsh on the reality that no one is without faults or mistakes or failures of judgment. Then, he also acknowledges the woman’s sin but then advises her to leave it behind.
So, was Jesus liberal or conservative in this passage? Yes.
In the quest to ever find ourselves closer to the reality of the Kingdom of God in the here and now, we find ourselves in situations that call for dynamic responses. More than that, these dynamic responses must be grounded in wisdom and love rather than information and ego. The religious leaders in this situation were quite well informed yet also unknowingly burdened by their own egos of superiority.
The Jesus tradition, the way of Christ, being “Christian”, or however you wish to call it, is always a surprising approach to spirituality, to community, to ethics, to sociology, to finance, etc. The question of “should I stay liberal or conservative” is relatively a poor one if you cannot recognize the “hum of reverence” behind and in and through all things and people. If anything, Jesus, if he truly was the full embodiment of the Divine, exemplifies a life of dynamic wisdom and love that humbles the proud and uplifts the humiliated.
May we ever seek to do the same.