Text: Matthew 11.16–19, 25–end
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“What can I say about the people who live today? What are they like? The people today are like children sitting in the marketplace. One group of children calls to the other group,
‘We played flute music for you, but you did not dance;
we sang a funeral song, but you were not sad.’”
Why will Jesus not jump to their tune? Why does he not act like they want? He eats with “sinners”. He lets a “sinful woman” anoint him. He’s a friend with rich and poor, with prostitutes and traitors and trouble-makers.
Jesus doesn’t mention the Pharisees in here – it seems like a rant against just about everybody! But they were a great example. Jesus is – in most of what he seems to say and do – in broad agreement with the Pharisees. He shares their views on the Resurrection and, mostly, on the Law. But he won’t quite be one, will he?
It’s so easy to find people dragging Jesus in on their side. It’s as though, having taken on board the idea that we are made in God’s image, that God is also made in our image.
For example, there are those on the far right who believe that Jesus is a capitalist – quoting the Parable of the Talents to prove it.
Whereas others could find plenty of examples of people proving Jesus is a socialist: because he told people to give their money away.
But Christ’s earthly ministry predates both socialism and capitalism. Christ left the money stuff to earthly powers… Render unto Caesar what is caesar’s… and focused on the relationship with God. But, no, we want the words of Christ to be those of our chosen political philosophy.
Similarly, Elton John’s comments about Jesus also echo this deep desire. Elton John looks at Jesus, sees the epitome of compassion, and decides that therefore Jesus would agree with him.
“”He was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together and that is what the church should be about.”
That’s the Jesus Elton John has decided he wants, and that’s the Jesus he invokes on his side. But he doesn’t mention the Jesus who called a Phoenician woman a “dog” because that’s not inclusive. He doesn’t mention the passage where Jesus says
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”
No, that’s a different Jesus, that is. A scary, divisive Jesus. Likewise when he starts burning up tares but saving good wheat. Or sending goats one way and leading sheep the other. This is a non-inclusive Jesus – if inclusive is meant to be of everybody. Which it isn’t. Inclusivity recognises that we all can be formed into the likeness of Christ, not Christ formed into our own likeness.
It’s a kind of narcissism, deciding that whatever I believe, that’s what Jesus was like.
But it’s natural, and it’s always happened. There was a body a few years ago called the Jesus Seminar. It decided that by voting, and examination of the texts concerning Jesus, they would decide which bits of the stories of Jesus were true, historic, and which were fables and legends. By the end they’d decided Jesus was a wandering wise man, a social revolutionary, who was not born to a virgin mother, didn’t do miracles and wasn’t resurrected. Which was, of course, what they’d thought beforehand or they’d never have started the exercise. They got exactly the Jesus they wanted.
But it’s what people have always done. They’ve looked at Jesus and seen a socialist, a Buddhist, a Victorian gentleman, a druid, a freedom fighter, a nice Tory, a dreamer, a spaceman, an Egyptian mystic, a Greek Philosopher, a bunny-hugging environmentalist. They’ve found, in Jesus, exactly what they’ve put in there.
It’s the danger of the whole “What Would Jesus Do” concept as well. Quite apart from the obvious issue that it can’t be applied to whole areas of human experience. As the kids in the programme Outnumbered knew when they asked the vicar, “What would Jesus do if he met a polar bear?”
Tricky question. He’d probably start off by wondering what on earth this creature was – as it wouldn’t be anything you could expect he’d heard about. Then I guess he’d have either run, or charmed the beast…. Or zapped it…
But this doesn’t really help me if I met one.
If you’re thinking of getting married, but not sure – the question “What Would Jesus Do” is not helpful. Unless you’re really really looking for the answer “stay single”.
No. Jesus is not there to reassure us in our certainties. He is not there to confirm what we already thought. He is not there to put the seal of approval on who we are. He is not supposed to dance to our tune. He’s much more Jewish than most of of us can consider. He was, in his earthly life, probably rather smellier than we’re really approve of. His feet and hands would have been calloused. He was almost certainly not blond.
The Jesus of the Gospels is so much richer than that. So much wilder. So much stranger. The One who walks on water, who tells the storm to be quiet, who lays hands on lepers, who has no human father – he’s pointing us to something so much deeper, so much more important, than whether you’re nice to people, what your politics are, whether you think the way you behave is right.
When we look into the face of Jesus, what we are not to find is ourselves looking back, generally speaking. Not if we are comfortable, happy with our own situation, a bit smug. What we are to find is the face of those we are called to love. A challenge to our attitudes.
But for the ones who are struggling – the ones who feel judged – the ones needing God’s love – the ones who are told they don’t matter – there’s something else to be seen. The face of the one who doesn’t judge. The free love of the God who cares – the one who counts every sparrow on the earth, and knows every hair on our heads, and loves us to bits. The one who says to the one who is tired, come and rest. To the one broken down, I will lay down with you. The one whose yoke is easy, and whose burdens are light.
When you look into the face of Jesus, what do you see?
With thanks to the Archdruid Eileen