Second Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018
2 Cor 4:13-5:1
Division, Judgement, and Things Eternal
‘we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.’
Today I’d like to say a few words about why I never preach on ‘hot issues’ in the Church –
Issues that Divide
Over the last few months, I’ve been introduced to the work of the Canadian Psychologist, Jordan Peterson. One of his books is on our bookstall as a result of this. Peterson has risen to global prominence in some spheres and the book is the number one best seller on Amazon. As is often the case when someone becomes ‘famous’, various groups wish either to denounce him, as ‘one of them’, or to claim him as ‘one of us’. Such is the nature of what passes for public debate in this fragmented age that the gulf between the ‘us’s’ and the ‘them’s’ is all but ‘a gulf fix-ed’.
But Peterson, wisely in my view refuses to be labelled. He is often asked ‘Are you a Christian?’, or ‘do you believe in God’ – and you can find many posts in favour of or against these points of view – but he remains resolutely silent on both matters, except to say, in his somewhat abrupt manner – ‘its none of your damn business!’ He refuses to be ‘put in a box’ for he is wise enough to know that people put people in boxes for their own ends, to buttress their own agendas – and he isn’t about to be manipulated like that.
Are you ‘one of them or one of us?’ Such is the spirit of division which seems to be the zeitgeist – the spirit of the age.
So, it is difficult to hear those words of Jesus ‘If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.’ and not think that The Modern World, with its phenomenal divisions, or indeed the Anglican Church here in these Islands with its gaping wounds, will not be able to stand. For here we are ‘by schisms rent asunder and heresies distressed’; certainly if the recent General Synods and the fall out from them is anything to go by, division and taking sides is the order of the day. And everyone seems to think that Jesus is on their side, Jesus is like them, judging those ‘on the other side’
Abstract principles like ‘Truth’, or ‘Justice’ are hurled around, and Jesus is blasphemously dragged into the fray to back up one point of view or the other. I say blasphemously for the fact is that this is breaking the 3rd Commandment ‘thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain’. The name of Jesus is not to be ‘used for any purposes whatsoever’, by us, or by anyone else.
Our only hope is in the words of the Jesus whom we crucify – ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’
They know not what they do. We do not discern – we do not See. Most of all, we do not see Jesus.
This mornings gospel finds Jesus in the very midst of Conflict and Division. Of people making judgements, but not about ‘issues’, about Him, and thereby unveiling the very heart of division.
If you recall from last week, our readings on Jesus and The Sabbath, it ended with these words ’And going out the Pharisees immediately exchanged counsel with the Herodians against him, that they might destroy him.’ Mark 3:6 [DB-H trans]
Immediately before todays gospel just a few verses later we read Jesus called the twelve to be with him, including ‘Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him’. Mk 3:19
This then is the context – Mark’s gospel is barely opened and the scene is set – Jesus has chosen a betrayer to be his close companion, one with whom he breaks bread, Judas, the one who wants to use Jesus for his own ends; and throughout the religious and political leaders are bent on destroying Him.
This is Conflict of the highest order and we cannot read any part of Mark’s gospel without that front and centre of what is going on.
That elusive text ‘But no one can enter the strong man’s household and plunder his possessions unless first he should tie the strong man up, and then he can plunder his household.’ begs the question ‘who is the strong man who must be tied up? who is the plunderer? what is the household? who will be ‘tied up’ . . . so when we see Jesus ‘tied up’ and handed over to Pilate we get an inkling . . . that Jesus is on the one hand speaking of himself. For they want to destroy him, this usurper King and keep control for themselves . . . we always want to keep control for ourselves.
But of course it is ambiguous – perhaps Jesus himself is the one come to plunder the household and must bind the one who is its Prince, Satan, the strong man. Whichever way, the conflict is set up. And conflict brings with it division.
We may hear these words of Jesus from Matthew ‘ ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.’
Jesus Himself is the locus of Division. His very being divides . . .
It is hard to hear these words without returning to our gospel today
Jesus’ blood relations want to lay hands on him ‘And his relatives, hearing this, went out to seize him forcibly; for they said, “He is beside himself.”’ David Bentley Hart’s translation gets to the centre of this – They look at Him and say ‘he is beside himself’ – he is internally divided, and this judgement of Jesus continues within the house.
‘the scribes coming down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in him, and he exorcizes demons by the prince [Archon] of the demons.” Well as Jesus notes, they are accusing him also of being ‘divided within himself’ and that is a futile place to be, for were that the case then the kingdom, the house would fall – but this is your hour . . . you will have to bind the strong man . . .
Both Jesus family, and the scribes stand separate from Him – judging Him. This is what we do. When we judge someone, we pretend that they are nothing to do with us – Jesus family don’t even come into the house – they stand outside – echoing the charge they make against Jesus who they say is beside himself ‘literally ‘standing outside’ himself . . . what they see is what they are.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that we see as we are – we only judge others for things we see in ourselves, setting ourselves apart from others. His family see Him as standing outside of themselves, as they stand outside of the house. The Scribes see only something which could be divided. As we know, Jesus opponents are far from being a unified bunch – they come together in political alliance to destroy the one who threatens them all
Jesus opponents see division – they See Jesus as ‘beside himself’ – they see him doing things which are the action of divided people – themselves are divided. His family are ‘beside themselves’ If nothing else this shows us that to judge others is to see ourselves . . .
But we must be careful here ourselves, for it is very easy to divide with regard to Jesus – separate Jesus from his teaching, as if he is pointing us finally to some great moral truth which can be known separately from him.
Jesus Himself is The Truth. Jesus himself is the one who judges justly. There is not Truth nor Justice that can be known apart from Him, and any that can is neither True nor Just. This is all fundamentally a conflict about who Jesus really is. They are divided about Him . . .
The question goes around and around, Who is He?
He is the One who is forming a new humanity around himself
“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And looking around at those sitting in a circle about him he says, “Behold: my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother and sister and mother.” Echoing these words of Jesus from John
‘Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.’ His teaching is from God, for He is from God
The fundamental issue is quite simply this – it is one on which all human division is finally founded – Who is Jesus? The question is not ‘Is Jesus on this side or that side?’ It is are we on His. Seeking only to do the will of God
The answer to that question is the answer to all our human questing. Jesus is the manifestation of The Image of God – the True Human – The True Humanity. In Him all things hold together
The many and diverse issues and controversies the church is mired in are all about the things that are passing away, fuelled by words in ears about ‘these people’ or ‘those people’ – words that come from where . . . ‘who told thee that thou were’t naked?’ who told you this about your brother or sister? Who told you? Strife and conflict in the church is always and everywhere rooted in a failure to See, to behold Christ himself. As St Paul puts it, the very theme of the first letter to the Corinthians is ‘failure to discern the Body – failure to See Christ. Failure to see our life is together in Him. And that failure is potentially deadly. Such things are tools of division – we have nothing to do with them. They are ‘of this passing moment’ – tomorrow they will disappear and new things and new controversies will present themselves to us, to distract us, to pull us apart, if we choose to look there, or do we choose to behold The Man, Jesus the Christ? Our gaze rather should always and everywhere be on Him – on that which is eternal
This is the root of Jesus words about ‘eternal sin’ they are not seeing that which is Eternal standing before them and listen to the words whispered in their ear ‘he is one of them . . .’ His words to us are a stark warning – don’t get caught up in this stuff, for you will end up sinning against existence itself, and there is no forgiveness for that
That is why our gaze is on the things that are eternal – like Mary we sit at the feet of Jesus to gaze on Him and to Hear His Word to us – the One thing. Not divided Martha’s with her ‘many things’
And this is why I never preach on ‘issues’
And indeed why would anyone, for Jesus is the irruption into the space and time which are passing away of eternal Life and Existence itself. Full of Beauty and Truth and Goodness. Of Peace that passes all understanding. Of Life, and Joy in the Holy Spirit. Who in their right mind would be caught up in and by anything less?
At the beginning of Pilgrim’s progress, the pilgrim runs out on his quest with his hands over his ears to the cries of the World, saying ‘look here!’ ‘look there!’ crying as he runs, ‘life, life, eternal life’. May we be a people consumed by that quest – our eyes fixed on Him who is eternal Life in our midst – our beginning and our End