Sunday 24 February 2019
Are we brave enough to bear the family likeness?
By Rosemary Wakelin
Supernumerary Methodist minister
Context: a Norfolk country church
Aim: to show the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching
On the whole we hear what we want to hear, or what we think we hear. I like the Norfolk story of the two old ladies sitting on the sea front on a blustery day. One says, ‘That’s windy!’ The other replies ‘No, that’s Thursday.’ To which the first responds ‘So am I, let’s get a cup of tea.’ Maybe it’s a bit like that with the way we pick and choose which bits of Jesus’ teaching we want to hear.
Jesus often wrapped up his revolutionary Message in stories, so that their truths would ‘slow release.’ Had he not done that he may well have not had even three years ministry. But to his disciples he often spelt it out. They were to continue his work, it was essential that they understood.
But previous to today’s reading Jesus had been saying plainly what his Kingdom message was about in the Beatitudes, and then today, he goes straight for the jugular – the things we don’t really want to hear! Throwing all caution to the winds, he spells out Kingdom life. He is exuberant, counter-cultural, innovative, revolutionary! Neither the world nor the Church (in its long and terrible history) has wanted to hear this, let alone put it into practice. Are we being advised by Jesus to become doormats?
Certainly not! But Jesus is offering another way of resolving conflict – knowing full well that it is dangerous and will cost him his life. For Jesus it is the perpetrators of revenge, hatred, greed, violence, abuse, who are the real victims, and he is offering them freedom from this bondage. In this new way of being, we need no longer be imprisoned in the old ways. We are made in God’s image, to bear the family likeness. Scary perhaps? Because accepting being made in God’s image – made to share his characteristics – also means accepting vulnerability, and the possibility of suffering, as God does. Which means meeting other people’s desire for power and control with Jesus’ methods, which are lacking in tit-for-tat and getting your own back tactics.
I was a Prison Chaplain for some years in a male prison. I remember an officer making it clear to me that he disapproved of a small, vulnerable woman in the role. However, I noticed that if a difficulty arose with a stroppy prisoner, he asked me to come. I asked him why, and he said that when I was there it altered the chemistry.
The Church ‘hears’ Jesus’ Kingdom message but even a cursory glance at its history shows that it has never taken it seriously as an institution. Jesus’ third Temptation – to use God’s power to back your own ends – has been the most attractive, and most branches of the Church have fallen for it to a greater or lesser extent: the Inquisition and the persecutions of the Reformation being the most obvious. At local level many people have been hurt by judgmental ‘Christians’ seeing them as the enemy because they ‘do different’, as we say in Norfolk.
Of course, ‘Loving your enemy’ does not mean loving what he/she does. In fact, it may well mean confronting them with what is wrong. As Lord Soper used to say, ‘Jaw jaw not war war.’ Jesus was offering an alternative – starting from a different place, heading for a different destination, not a new rule book, but another way of being.
I know there are people who think the Jesus way an impractical pipe dream except perhaps at local level. But it has worked at national level. When the dreadful apartheid system finally broke down in South Africa, with many others I thought there would be a blood bath as the indigenous population took revenge. But it didn’t happen because some amazing Christians decided to give the Jesus way a chance. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela set up, with others, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For the first time a situation was provided where people could admit to the terrible things they had done and express real regret to the ones they had hurt, who in turn, could offer forgiveness. In Jesus’ terms they were set free from the hatred, racism, and need for revenge which had enthralled them. They were enabled to share in the generosity of God. Sadly, the old ways have crept back, but now we know it can be done.
God is not just generous but enormously patient and is still counting on his wayward Church family to get stuck in to the family business of helping him bring in the Kingdom of Love.
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