Hearing the voice of Jesus
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, they follow me
Amongst my most irritating habits is thinking about something else whilst someone is talking to me. As Sarah will readily attest, what is really irritating is that after being accused of not listening, I repeat back pretty much word for word what she has just said to me . . . thereby proving that I have heard . . . but of course I haven’t heard at all!
I haven’t been attentive and responsive to what was said to me.
We are in the season of The Resurrection. The season of the call to New Life – the Life of the Children of God. Hearing that call is literally Vital. If we do not hear the call to Life we remain dead in the old life. Jesus you may remember emphasises the blessedness of those who have not seen, yet have believed. That dear brothers and sisters is us. We his church are those who have Heard and believed. As St Paul says, ‘Faith comes through hearing’ Romans 10:17. For we Christians ‘Hearing is believing’ Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. This is why we stand for the gospel, to Hear Jesus.
One of the things we notice about John’s gospel if we are attentive listeners is how often Jesus speaks of the significance of Hearing. So when today we hear Jesus say ‘My sheep hear my voice’, we may well remember hearing in John 5
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life.
‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Very Truly – in Greek ‘Amen! Amen!’ [Return to this re receiving the Eucharist.] Not just Amen, but Amen Amen! Twice in two consecutive verses. Amen Amen. Jesus is speaking Words of Deep Truth, Amen! Amen! like a trumpet call to bring us to attention
Anyone who hears my word and believes God has passed form death to Life. Amen, Amen! the hour is coming when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live . . . and then that perhaps makes us think of Lazarus! Who hears the voice of the Son of God and passes from death to Life. ‘Lazarus! Come out!’
The Resurrection of Lazarus is not as it were a sign of The General Resurrection of the dead – for if it were he would be here with us to this day. No the Resurrection of Lazarus is a Sign of what happens to those who hear the voice of Jesus. They come out from death to Life. They enter the Life of the Resurrection, the Life of the Risen One. In which the Life is one of response to the voice of Jesus. That is their very Life.
His voice literally Animates – Enlivens. His Command is Life!
We have learned to Hear his voice – to respond to his command. Those who have heard His voice have moved from death to life.
This is clear in John’s first letter
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. We’ve heard Jesus. Whoever does not love abides in death. Has not heard the voice of Jesus, has not come out from the place of death, to the place of Life. ‘you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice’
Why do we love one another? Because we are responding to the voice of Jesus, we reveal He is our lIfe in so doing. We have heard His voice and so we love one another. But we are responding to his voice. The word Obedience is from a latin root which means to Truly hear! One who lives in accordance with the voice of Jesus is one who has truly heard the voice of Jesus and to hear the voice of Jesus is to pass from the old way of Sin and death to new Life in Him
My sheep hear my voice. What does it mean to be one of Jesus’ sheep? It means that we belong to the Shepherd – put in terms which make this clearer we recognise Him to be our King. The Shepherd was the Image of the King. So we find Jesus walking in Solomon’s porch. He is in the Kings door – no wonder they are asking Him, are you the Anointed One? Are you the King? As Jesus has said – The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. – Jesus walks in the Kings gate to the Temple. The Temple the place from which flowed the life giving water of the Life of God, through the King.
Throughout the story of the children of Israel, the King was called to be the source of Life. The king whose Life was devoted to God was Life giving, a good shepherd. The Life of the King was intimately woven together with the fortunes of the people, and this life giving nature of the King was epitomised in the Temple from where the Life flowed.
Lives woven together with the Good shepherd. ‘My sheep hear my voice, I Know them.
Regrettably we live in world where relationships are horribly thin . . . we may even say that we know someone whom we have never met. We may be ‘FB friends’, but to Know someone in the Scriptures goes much much further. It the the verb used to describe intimacy between a husband and a wife. To Know is to Love and to surrender oneself to. To be identified with – Jesus in saying ‘I know [my sheep]’ is saying he has surrendered his life for them, has woven His lIfe together with that of His sheep so that He is their Life. If we have heard and respond to the voice of Jesus, we are his sheep, His eternal Life is woven together with ours
My sheep hear my voice, I Know them.
My sheep hear my voice, I Know them . . . they follow me
Jesus says, ‘The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’
Those who belong to Jesus, his sheep, hear his voice, they respond to it – they are Animated and enlivened by His command. This is the meaning of faith! Do you believe in Him? Then your life should correspond to His! How do we know we have passed from death to Life? How do we Know that we are Jesus’ sheep? Because He is our Life! His Life is ours and we delight in responding to Him.
You may remember last week – and we considered the climber who climbed that great cliff without a rope? This was his Life – it was what he lived to do. Do you remember what the climber said after he had climbed the mountain, not – ‘I am so glad that is over, that was so scary – I was so afraid.’ But That was so good! So delightful. We know we are the sheep of Jesus when we enter into the knowledge of Jesus of the Goodness and delight of responding to his voice, of loving one another!
Sermon for Easter 2 2019
‘All too much?’
CS Lewis in his stunning allegory – ‘The Great Divorce’ – suggests that the reason we do not seek the True Life of ‘The Great World we are made for’ is that it is too Real, Too much for us.
In this he imagined Hell not as fire and torment, but dark and somewhat dismal – like a Northern English industrial town on a rainy afternoon in winter. In his story, every day a bus left Hell to go to Heaven and anyone could make the journey, and anyone could stay in Heaven should they so wish, but Heaven was too Real, it was too much. Almost everyone got back on the bus to return to their lives of quiet desperation – Too Good to be True – Too Good to bear . . . perhaps their lives had not prepared them to bear the beams of Reality, to bear the beams of divine Love as william Blake puts it . . . for our lives here are meant to prepare us to Life in the fulness of the Reality of the Great world for which we are made. Each day an opportunity to grow deeper into the Life that is Life in its fullness
Here we have an echo of our suggestion of last week, that we struggle with the Resurrection of Jesus, because it is Too Good to be true . . . how can anything be Too Good? Yet if Goodness is Too much for us when we encounter it? Unbelievable – and we all too readily shape our lives to comfortable mediocrity and our perception of heaven is to say the least vague and nothing we set our hearts on – The Good. God Himself. Our struggle to believe something Too Good to be true is a sign of our alienation from the One who is Good.
And the early days after the Resurrection find the disciples struggling to come to terms with the Good Reality, to use Tolkien’s word – the Euchatastophe – the good Catastrophe – that has come crashing in , like bright sunshine rousing us from comfortable slumbers.
Yet the idea of a catastrophe, can this be Good? Can’t we keep things just as they are? Ok? Nice? Safe even? Safety having become the secular version of the Good – there is no room for Aslan in New Zealand for Aslan is not Safe . . . which means there is no place for the Good!
I think perhaps we are so insulated here – we struggle really to comprehend the Good. Evil breaks in and we cannot comprehend, but good also.
My primary school headteacher, whose class I was in – had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk railed against the word ‘nice’ – and I guess anyone who had survived such an ordeal – a Life and Death Reality, would want something more Real, Awake, Alive! from what we wrote.
The Reality of the Resurrection of Jesus being Too Good to be true may be in no small part the product of our desire not to believe, for if it is true, it is the announcement that the world is not as we thought – our lives don’t fit a World shaped by the Resurrection. And we have two choices, to remain as we are or to begin the long hard work of reconfirming our lives to fit the new reality.
The Resurrection calls forth from us is a life that is we had not known – New Life, in Jesus. Now and again I hear this phrase but not for some years now.
Is it just easier to doubt and hope that things will turn out ok? That the Resurrection in its Catastrophic nature isn’t true?
Is it not an avoidance of the Responsibility of walking through the door to a new life which the Resurrection of Jesus holds open to us? Perhaps when one is growing old, new life is not something we readily desire . . . I remember one of my former bishops railing against ‘it’ll see me out-ism’. He would visit dying churches and all folk could say was ‘it’ll see me out . . .’ Just leave us as we are . . . don’t disturb us with tales of New Life in Jesus
Yet if the Resurrection of Jesus is True, then like things being ‘nice’, this is a failure to walk in the new Life, to receive the Gift, a failure to take Responsibility, to Believe and not doubt
Of course here we have an echo of the words of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the dark, at night . . . and Jesus’ telling him that unless he is born again, born from above, born of God he cannot See the Kingdom of God’ But Nicodemus is getting on in years – ‘‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? . . .’
Being born is the greatest catastrophe – it is a Good Catastrophe – it has happened to all of us, but we forget it. There we are in the comfort and the warmth, food on tap, we don’t even have to think about it, no responsibilities, we are the centre of our own universe, everything is nicely arranged – and then the catastrophe takes place and we’re forced out into light and a place where after a time we discover that we’re not the centre of things, and then seemingly try and get back, to construct the world as it was in the womb when we knew no better . . . Too much effort, all that change. Don’t bother us with your promises of sharing in the Eternal Life of God . . .
So New Birth is highly appropriate as a means of describing the Good catastrophe that is the Resurrection of Jesus, that in Him we are raised to a New Life. A life which calls us into the full stature of our humanity – a life of Responsibility. A Life in which fear has no part, for Death itself has been trampled down. A Life that can only be lived from the clean wellsprings of faith, not doubt. A Life which comes from and is directed towards God . . . and perhaps it is too much?
So this week Jesus comes to his disciples – their door locked for fear of the Judeans. And says the most earth shattering thing to them . . . What had they said? ‘Only God can forgive sins!’ If we push it onto God, then we can cary on not forgiving because it’s God’s job not ours, and Jesus breathes on them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit – whosoever sins you loose, they are loosed, and whosoever sins you hang onto, they are hung onto . . .
There is a starkness in these words – We have the responsibility – We are now by the Life of God in us Sent into the World, as Jesus was sent by the Father – do do God’s work of forgiveness. But we are responsible . . . This is why He gives us his Life! That we might do what he does . . .
but in freedom, so the door always lies open to return to the sleep of death and sin – to hang onto sin and not release . . .
We are Sent – sent into the World as the Father sent the Son, so Jesus the Son sends us – to do the Father’s work of forgiveness and reconciliation . . . And Sent in Faith of the Risen One
Which brings us to Thomas . . . frequently over the last couple of weeks I have recounted how Thomas is badly done by. He believes in Jesus far more than the rest of the disciples – ‘Let us go with him that we might die with Him!’ He is the one who asks Jesus What is the Way you are going? He identifies with Jesus – there is no ‘I do not know him’ as with Peter. He sees Jesus as his Life . . . and he has seen that Life go . . . is it any surprise he struggles at this point?
He Loves Jesus . . . Jesus who said ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall See God’ To be pure of heart is to Love truly. Thomas Loves Jesus, and now he Sees Him for who He is. ‘My Lord and My God!’ John has thought his gospel kept the true identity of Jesus open to differing interpretation – but not now. Thomas declares the Risen Christ Jesus to be LORD, and God . . .
it is because of who he is that we go out – He has passed through death – He calls us from Death to Life – all authority is given to him and he sends us to responsibly carry that into His World. Forgiving Sins and pointing all to the Centre of Life – God, manifested to us in Jesus Christ, the one who has trampled down death by death. He is Risen indeed! Or is it all too much?
Easter – 2019
Too Good to be True?
‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.”’ Revelation 1:17-18
“Do you remember where you were when you heard the news?”
For the generation which came before mine, this question always seemed to be ‘do you remember where you were that you head the news that JFK had been assassinated?’ – I remember a senior teacher at the first school I taught at giving an assembly on the 25th anniversary of that event . . . and it was obvious the shock and sorrow still lived with her . . .
For my generation it might be “do you remember where you were when you heard the news of the attacks on the World Trade Centre?” “Certainly you remember the date . . . the date we all learned to date the world as the Americans do, back to front, 9/11”
Or do you remember where you were on March 15 this year when we heard the news from Christchurch – or even this week ‘do you remember where you were when you hear the news of the fire which engulfed the Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris?’
I was sat in bed, idly reading an article on people ordering a single onion online -when the banner headline flashed across my screen – there in the midst of the utterly mundane – horror
This News, we struggle at first to find words for it, but finally we come down to the old tired and weary and too well worn words – ‘horror’ ‘Tragedy’, ‘atrocity’, ‘disaster’; ‘catastrophe’ even.
It’s interesting to note that of all Shakespeare’s plays, almost all are Tragedies.
The opposite of Tragedy was technically called a comedy . . . what that meant was ‘a story with a happy ending’, like a fairy tale. This is why Dantë’s epic poem which begin with his Inferno is called ‘The Divine Comedy – because like a fairy tale it has a Happy Ending.
Comedy, Fairy tale . . . words which seem to us to sum up the idea of escapism . . . relief from the day to day tragic nature of our existence – ‘dust you are and to dust you will return’ The Words at the beginning of Lent sum up the human tragedy . . . and so when we ask ‘do you remember where you were when you heard?’ . . . it is almost entirely tragedy, atrocity, disaster, or catastrophe . . .
The reports of the women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James as well as the other women that were with them . . . sounded like nonsense – like a fairy tale . . . this news didn’t fit the way of the world . . .
Today – The Great Feast of the Church – Our Great Feast is a Day like no other. A Day out of History – from somewhere else . It is a Day that doesn’t fit ‘the way of the World’ . . . a day that comes to us not out of the darkness which surrounds us, but a Light so great it blinds us, so accustomed as we are to the dark . . . it sounds like nonsense. To a world accustomed and resigned to tragedy – it sounds too Good to be True . . .
Too Good . . . small acts of kindness – great tragedies . . . it is interesting how our way in the World is marked by a language for which the good is Small, but the opposite looms large . . . .
Why do we for example casually say, things are ‘Too Good to be True?’ . . .
What word can we come up with to describe this Day? We have a whole lexicon of words for all those other days we remember ‘terrible’, tragic, appalling, disastrous . . . but what word will we use for something which is Terrifyingly, Shockingly, Old World denying and New Creation Announcing Good?
Perhaps this is why we heard Jesus say on his way to the cross on Good Friday, “they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.”’ So accustomed to the dark we are, that we cannot begin to cope with the Light – it is Too Good to be True . . . by our evaluation of what is True
JRR Tolkien, a man given to the world of myth and fairy tale gave much thought to this – to the end that he had to coin a new word for Something which is Shockingly Good – he called it ‘Eucatastophe’. Literally The Good Catastrophe . . . which I think sums up the Resurrection of The Crucified One – it is Catastrophic – it challenges and dismantles everything – nothing of our old way of looking at the world is left – and it is GOOD!
On Friday we considered how easy it was to be ‘Hosanna!’ ‘ Alleluia’ Christians . . . people who avoided the Cross of Jesus . . . but the Shock of Resurrection is visited on those who have seen Jesus die . . . humanly speaking all hope is extinguished at the cross – this is The End of the Old story . . . the story we are so accustomed to . . . only in following Jesus into the darkness – Seeing and understanding god’s judgement on our old tired and weary ways, of constantly trying to save ourselves, of constantly trying ourselves to build what we call the kingdom of God – Only when we see this in the dust are we finally in the place where The New Creation can WAKEN us from the sleep of death . . .
As we sleep something stirs within every human breast . . . as we look out on a tired and weary world, a voice within us, is it our voice, this voice says ‘things are not meant to be like this . . .’ deep within ourselves every human being . . . it is that voice that impels so many as it were to ‘try and build a better world . . . the voice ‘things are not meant to be like this . . .’ but it is like a form of sleep paralysis. I used to get this from time to time, I would imagine myself awake and need to get out of bed so in my sleep I’d get out of bed, only to find myself in bed and try again and again and again . . . but I was asleep – i was only when the Light of the Sun blazed through the window I experienced the shock of waking . . .
‘it is not meant to be like this . . .’ As Tolkien says, the eucatastrophe of the Resurrection tells us that THIS is how things really work in The Great World for which we are made . . .
We are made for something different – completely Different – The New Creation . . .
And this is the great challenge of the Resurrection of Jesus
As we spent time at the Cross on Friday we realised that the words of Thomas were to be our words ‘Let us go with him, that we might die to him . . .’ Good Friday is the Great End of human history . . . the only way forward is to the New Creation, god History, The Life of the One who is alive for Ever. Who by his death had trampled down death . . .
We only finally walk in Easter light when we embrace good Friday Death – that is the way to Life which is Terrifyingly, Shockingly, tired Old World denying and New Creation Announcing Good. If we are his people, His resurrection is Ours . . . whoever lives and believes in me, will never die . . .
The World shattering Joy of Easter is for those who have known the Death of the World on Good Friday – By his death he has trampled down death!
Too GOOD to be True?
Christ is Risen – will we allow this Story to shape our entire being . . . that we might be Raised with Him?
Sermon for Maundy Thursday 2019
‘Jesus came to Simon Peter who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him saying “you do not Know what I am doing now, but afterwards you will Know”’
One of the thoughts that has been going through my head of late is of how unaware we are of . . . well of anything. We are amazed by ‘the sum total of human knowledge’, yet the more I consider that, the more I realise that ‘the sum total of human knowledge’ is the merest drop in the vast ocean of the sum total of human ignorance’ Just consider you own life . . . there is so much which in truth we do not know . . .
For example, think of someone you know – do you know anything about what it is like to be that person? How it feels to be them? How they are feeling right now? How they will feel tomorrow? And then you multiply that by all the people you think you know, let alone those you don’t.
Or the effect you life has on others? Think of your car. Who works in the factories, what are their lives like – what are the true costs?? What about the land where the raw materials were mined? What is happening to the emissions our car makes? I like to say ‘you never just . . . do anything’ Certainly ‘you never just . . . buy a car’
The car stands as a metaphor of our life – a bubble of the things we know in which we feel secure as we go about the world, a tiny bubble with airbags and side impact protection – keeping us from the terrifying universe of our ignorance
This evening we See Jesus as he kneels to wash his disciples feet – Peter thinks he understands – but Jesus tells him that he is ignorant – ‘you do not know what I am doing now’
Peter stands for us all in our tiny bubble of understanding ‘Lord, you will never wash my feet . . .’ , but as ever we do not Know what we are saying . . . Jesus tells him ‘unless I wash your feet you have no part with me . . .’
Jesus does not teach us more lessons about life. If we come to Him hoping to as it were take away some useful nugget tonight to help expand the minuscule bubble of our ignorance. we would be missing the point. For it is not about Understanding in such terms – rather the Gospel that is Jesus Christ is about coming to Know even as we are fully Known. And that as St Paul reminds us is the End – the Goal of Love
Jesus is not teaching us in the sense of telling us things, he is teaching us by identifying himself with us, and inviting us to identify ourselves with Him. To Know Him. To Love Him. Not to Know about Him, but Know Him. Not to love abstract facts, but to Love Him
Jesus identification with us is total – and so it goes way beyond our tiny bubble of what we falsely call ‘knowledge’ . He identifies with he full reality of the Life we cannot see – we are so unaware of our lives, but Jesus assumes the entirety of the human condition . . . and he does this most deeply in terms of Sacrifice
Jesus tells us that Sacrifice is the Centre of Knowing – it is the centre of Love – ‘Greater love hath no man than this than a man lay down his life for his friends’ – Sacrifice is the expression of Love – sacrifice is the deep pattern of our existence . . . but we are a sacrifice averse people
Years ago I remember a British ‘agony aunt’ who happened to be a secular Jew, [Claire Rayner] saying that she thought the idea of a religion based on sacrifice was a terrible idea – backwards – medieval even . . . Yet in so saying she was displaying her profound ignorance of Life itself – she was a stranger to her own existence. For, for each of us, our entire way of life is one of sacrifice.
And so much we have has called forth willingly or unwillingly the sacrifice of others – from the moment of our birth and before, the Mother gives up so much of herself to bring us into the world – she relinquishes so much to bring us up . . . and then . . . and then . . . and as we go about in our ‘low emmission’ bubble of knowledge – who has sacrificed what, what lands, what lives have been laid down for our convenience? Gradually the perception grows that we may have even sacrificed the Created world for the sake of our comfort . . .
Our lives are actually sacrificial, through and through. Every decision we take, is a choice for one thing and therefore a sacrifice, a closing the door to many many other things . And each and every sacrifice involves not just us, but the lives of those around us and by extension the lives of all around them. Think of how the choices parents make affect the lives of their children . . . and these choices are driven by our desires. We sacrifice something today for the hope of something we desire tomorrow. Our desires – our loves – but our loves are distorted, for we do not See our lives and their effects, we do not understand, we do not Know.
From Cain and Abel on, sacrifice is the pattern of our existence in a fallen world. Indeed before that. We are driven from the Garden of Paradise, for we sacrifice Knowing God, in order to Knowing Good and Evil.
We sacrifice being the Image of God in our attempt to Be God . . .
‘Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do’ The Words of Jesus from the Cross . . .
And So, there at our feet, The image of God, Jesus the Anointed One, embraces all of our humanity. From the tiny plot of our pitiful knowledge, to the vast universes of our ignorance. He steps down into the deepest place, washing our feet – and we do not Know what this is.
Jesus comes as a Slave of all – he takes upon himself the entirety of our human condition – not in a superficial way – it’s true Jesus IS a first century Palestinian Jew – he has never played golf, or seen New Zealand – and we think these things are SO important, based on ‘the sum total of human knowledge’ – yet they are as nothing for we do not Know the Truth of ourselves . . .
but Jesus does Know – He Knows our humanness in a depths and dimensions we cannot begin to conceive – he binds himself utterly to the fulness of who we are – he Knows intimately and in every detail the Life of Sacrifice – He Becomes the Sacrifice. We all become what we love . . .
But Jesus Loves Truly. He is the One who Loves God with heart, soul, mind and strength and in dying for us, loves his neighbour as himself. The Cross is the revelation of Love of God and neighbour.
As we sacrificed being the image of God in order to try and be God, so God in Jesus re-enacts that sacrifice. The Image of God lays down his life in our place that that which we had thought nothing might be restored – returned to us in His total identification with us and ours by the tiny spark of faith in The New Creation, where we Know fully, even as we are fully Known
This is his identification with us, and then he invites us to identify with Him –
Take, eat, this is my body given for you – Drink This is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your Sins – Love covers a multitude of sins – I am the Loving cover for your not Knowing.
‘Afterward, you will know’
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?