Sermon for Palm Sunday 2019 Yr C
‘Jesus – The Anointed’
There are words we often use as Christians which we give little or no thought to – indeed which we may not have ever stopped to wonder what they mean. Salvation – for example. But the word we use most is caught up in the very word Christian – that is Christ. What does this word mean? The apostle Paul uses it a lot – he speaks of Christ this, Christ that, Christ the other . . . What is he talking about? He says for example ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.’ He speaks frequently of being ‘in Christ’ – but what does it mean?
Well to the early Christians it would have not been a mystery at all. For Christ was the Greek word used to translate Messiah. Jesus Christ could as well be rendered Jesus the Messiah – and both Christ and Messiah meant the same thing. The Anointed one. The Messiah was of course The King, the long awaited one – and the King was the one who when sat on his throne was Anointed with oil. Just as our own sovereign is to this day in an echo of that
So when we say Jesus Christ – what we are saying as a wonderful translation of the new Testament puts it everywhere – The Anointed. Indeed when you read a translation which uses an unexpected word in this way, you really notice how frequently it crops up. The Anointed this, The Anointed that, the Anointed the other . . . but if you picked up the book without any prior knowledge and read ‘The Anointed’, you would of course be left with a question . . . Who is ‘the Anointed’?
The modifier ‘Christ’ – points us to a person – that of Jesus of Nazareth.
The title points us to a person, and cannot be understood apart from that person. It directs us to some aspect of a particular person, but the focus is on the person. And for Paul and all the other writers of the New Testament, whenever you read ‘The Anointed’, you were directed to Jesus of Nazareth . . . but as we are so familiar with Christ as a word apart from its meaning, so often we seek to disconnect Jesus and The Anointed, or rather The Christ.
The other day a friend pointed me to a new book – a New York Times Bestseller no less – endorsed by Bono!! who said ‘I couldn’t put it down!’. It was entitled ‘The Universal Christ’ which is one might say an oxymoron. For the title The Anointed points us to a particular.
We live in a world increasingly dominated by Universal Abstract thought and the end of this always is the loss of the personal and the local. Wendell Berry speaks of this as he recounts his brother going to hospital for a difficult operation. After the operation with her husband in intensive care ‘his wife Carol was standing by his bed, grieving and afraid. Wanting to reassure her, the nurse said, “Nothing is happening to him that doesn’t happen to everybody” And Carol replied “I’m not everybody’s husband”’ None of us is . . . we are all particulars people . . . and there is only a Particular Christ, not an Everyman Christ, or a Universal Christ, but Jesus The Annointed, The Christ . . . who comes to us humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey . . .
This is the true focus of what we call ‘the scandal of particularity’ By that we often mean ‘Christian faith is right and others are wrong’ – but the Real Scandal of particularity is not an idea, but a person – Jesus is the Anointed one – He is the World’s true King! As the earliest proclamation of the Church was, when the Spirit had been poured out on the gathered disciples, ‘Jesus the Anointed is Lord!’ Not Caesar, nor any other human Ruler, but Jesus. And not any Jesus, ‘This Jesus whom you have crucified!’ . . . Not only the King of Israel, but the King of all . . .
A Jewish carpenter’s son, with his band of rough and ready devotees – as Isaiah says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him. He was nothing to look at . . . According to the eye what do we see?
Remember two weeks ago? The elder brother does not see aright, he does not see with the heart of the Father, as the Pharisees didn’t See Jesus.
So too last week Judas does not see theLove and devotion of Mary, all he sees is in an echo of the elder brother in the parable the Waste as Mary reflects the gratuitous wasteful love of Jesus back to Him . . . so Judas will continue to See wrong.
Judas is as I said last week a universal – the one who judges, calculates . . . he lives in the sea world of numbers and money . . . 300 denarii, and indeed as he looks he asks ‘what does this crowd, this rabble Jesus has gathered around him add up to’??
He sees the powers of the religious authorities, he see the might of Imperial Rome, he sees Jesus on the colt of a donkey with the band of fishermen and other assorted nobodies. The peasant teacher with his rabble band – storming the city with his donkey and filthy footed galilean hangers on! . . . and he judges, he calculates where he is going to be safest, and casts his lot with what to all intents and purposes looks like the winning side . . .
Yet . . . what do the crowds say
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
The King! Your King!
but this weary, dusty hungering Galilean, with his unsophisticated band of disciples so called doesn’t look like much. His teaching on the perils of wealth and comfort don’t resonate with those whose lives are built on such things. His demand that unless we give up all we possess we cannot go his way . . . – and at the very end, what kind of a king is just another dead jew on a cross . . . as Pilate puts it ‘Here is your King’ ‘here is your Anointed!’ Here is your Christ . . .
So we find – and it must be said, entirely amongst the wealthy and comfortably off, those whom Jesus repeatedly warns – as we have been reading Luke we become aware that Jesus’ teaching is not comfortable listening for those with comfortable lives . . . Gnostic teaching is popular amongst those for whom the particularity of Jesus is too disruptive and disturbing – not the sort of king for the cultured elites, amongst whom such teaching is so popular getting to the top of the NYT best seller list and avidly read by pop stars – and this is an old story.
The early roots of Christianity are not auspicious – it was largely a movement amongst the poor and off casts of society. As we have said recently – Galileans are pretty much beyond the pail – certainly not the sort of folk you’d invite to polite Jerusalem, Judean Society . . . it grew as one of its most clear eyed critics put it as mainly a slave movement, a revolt amongst the poor.
Sometimes when we speak of sharing the Good News of Jesus with those around us, we uses the metaphor, ‘one beggar showing another where to find bread’. Well for many if not most of the first Christians that wasn’t simply a metaphor as they shared the little they had with one another, homes and food
Yet as ‘a new thing’ it attracted the curiosity of those who looked for a more ‘spiritual cast to life’, particularly amongst the Greeks, for whom the association of Christ with The Anointed Messiah of the Jews was not part of their story. There’s always a market for something spiritual but undemanding – These people – the Gnostics – were so spiritual that for them the body was insignificant, and so thus the particularity of Jesus an offence. They would be into ‘spiritual things’, ‘Spirituality’ would be a buzzword amongst them. They would be more than happy to talk about The Universal Christ, The Cosmic Christ or whatever – . . . but Jesus? Happy to patronise him . . .
Tidy him up, scrub out his awkward jewishness and of course don’t refer to him by name – don’t get into all that ‘Jesus worship stuff . . .’ Let’s just call him Christ. ’We mustn’t make the mistake of attaching too much significance to this one man . . . he is merely pointing the way – his teachings were about how we might be spiritual, and we shouldn’t take at all literally his words of judgement for the rich and comfortable . . . then as now despising the company he keeps, His body of disciples, the Church . . . “Spirituality is IN! Organised religion is OUT!” You will always find reason to criticise if you look with the eye of Judas . . . Jesus’ followers nothing to look at, and as for the man himself . . .
And so it goes on – As one very popular modern gnostic writer puts it, ‘Jesus is probably seeing at a much higher level than most of us’ and then goes on to explain why Jesus view is so restricted, and implicitly teach those who drink deep from this guru’s wells, that he sees at a higher level than Jesus . . .
The offence of the gospel in the early years as today is that it offends polite sensibilities – we want another King! But as we begin to walk through Holy Week we get closer and closer to The Cross . . . where our King, Jesus is Crucifed . . . will we go with Him?