When I began as a Home Missionary, long ago, last century, we were appointed for a maximum of three years and there was a saying at the time amongst us to describe the experience of those three years which went:
First Year – Idolise
Second Year – Criticise
Third Year – Ostracise
No wonder we rarely got a fourth year!!
I guess Jesus must have been in his second year in the reading John 6:1-13. He went to his home town and, as the saying goes, they did not receive him.They had many things to say –They were surprised by some of the things he did, but it seems they were also a bit annoyed and disdainful. Who did he think he was? He was a craftsman, they knew his mother, his brother and his sisters. They were scandalised. and took offense.
Interestingly another translation of the Greek word we hear as scandalised also is listed as stumbled. So, in wondering who this upstart thought he was, and in their disdain and anger, they stumbled. They could not accept what they had already admitted – his given wisdom and his actions.
John the Baptist had been killed by Herod before Jesus began his ministry, but Herod was now afraid. He was the Jewish puppet King authorised by Rome. He was an incredible builder. He made his area prosperous by building a central port where there was none. The work involved virtually slave labour from his own people. And he increased taxes and cruelty at the same pace.
But now, some told him this was John the Baptist raised from the dead and he thought they might be right. Beware of the wounded lion or the cornered animal. Herod had the power, the ruthlessness and the emotional violent reaction where needed. He liked listening to John even though John had criticised him. But when he became overexcited and made a promise – for the sake of the bystanders he was happy to deliver John’s head on a plate. This to please his wife who was less sanguine about John’s criticism. ‘Happy wife – Happy life’ taken to the extreme. This man would stop at nothing.
Far from the adoration we heard of in the last few weeks here was a turning point. His own people rejected him because they thought they knew him, and he was getting above his station. Herod was afraid and tended to be dangerous when cornered.
The smart thing for Jesus to do would be to stop – leave town – keep his head down until the dust settled. But what does he do? He sets of on a circuit of the villages teaching. And in addition, he inaugurated a new phase of his ministry. He formed his troops into pairs and sent them out to teach and preach and heal as well. Now his influence was even greater, and he would be more obvious, and perhaps, more of a target.
Some people just don’t know when to quit. In the end it would all catch up with him. He would be denounced by the Jewish authorities, condemned by the representatives of Rome. Yet even that did not stop his influence and we are here today some 2,000 years later because this man did what he considered right. It is an amazing thing that even his death did not stop the influence of Jesus.
Many others who came as would be Messiahs and who roused the people to fight against Herod had been dealt with harshly or killed. Their names we do not even know and yet for some reason the name of Jesus is remembered and spoken of with reverence – and still sometimes with disdain and fear.
His influence has been felt in our lifetime with people like Bonhoeffer who opposed Hitler and died for it; with people like Ghandi who greatly admired Jesus and possibly took him more seriously than we do, and was killed for the inconvenience and offence he caused; Martin Luther King who caught the dream and died for it; Oscar Romero y Galdamez, the fourth bishop of El Salvador who, no matter how he was warned, spoke out against injustice and torture and poverty and assassination, and was himself assassinated while conducting a mass in 1980, after only three years in his position.
Interestingly, the word martyr is derived from the Greek ‘martus’ which means ‘witness’ or ‘testimony’. And the early Christian years before Constantine was known as the ‘Age of Martyrs’. The Vatican reporter who wrote ‘The Global War on Christians’ says 2/3rds of the 2.3 billion Christians in the world belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities and are often at risk.
Here, in our quiet suburbs, there doesn’t seem to be too much that is dangerous or threatening about being a Christian, but it can have distinct disadvantages. The younger members of our families may smile indulgently as we trot off to church each week. Colleagues at work may think we are outmoded and perhaps in some of the new healing professions there is the greatest disdain. People find our morals inconvenient. They don’t like us mixing politics and religion, as if there ever could be a separation. Religious views and ceremonies are increasingly banned in school and kindergartens and grandchildren have sometimes never learnt the wisdom of the Bible and of the faith. They are taught to say grace to please Grandad and Grandma. One of my in-laws was astounded when my daughter told him that the story of Noah’s Ark came from the Bible. On quiz shows the very clever contestants miss the most simple questions about Christianity and the Bible.
The agony no longer is the attack but becoming seemingly irrelevant.
There are some T-shirts with the saying , “When the going gets tough the kids go to Grandma’s”, but originally, they said when the going gets tough – the tough get going. They do more of what needs to be done, rather than less and rather than running away. That is what Jesus did. Just as he began to be criticised, and ostracised and feared he stepped up his ministry.
In our modern day we have a choice. Keep it nice and quietly die away, or to increase the effort – not to get people in or to convince them by argument, but to go out into the world and do things. Make yourself more obvious, and the things you are supporting and encouraging clearer. That is what you have done in the local school, in aged care places, in schools, with Fresh Youth Theatre, in U3A, in supporting others, in service clubs, in work and recreation – simply living the life of faith.
Following the way of Jesus – not because it is convenient, but because it is right, and it is worth doing. The way doesn’t have to be invented – we have been given the example and teaching in the life of Jesus and those who followed him. People are not remembered for their theories but for their courage and action and peacefulness and caring and love and presence when needed.
Simple – but not easy. The way of Jesus is best lived beyond these walls.
Here we do not need to convince or set new examples. Outside of here we might seem different – like the early Christians who were seen to love each other and believe in equality and justice.
Bonhoeffer spoke of the arcane or secret discipline, which makes no sense to those not of the faith. The discipline of worship and prayer and study and meditation which allows us to find the strength to live the life of Christ. Then he said, we have no special advantages for our work in the world, we have to have the courage to live as if God was dead, acting in the strength gained from that discipline.
Not rocket science – but it is not the science that lifts the spaceships, In the end it is the fuel that leads to lift off. We come here for the fuel. We go away from here to live the life of Jesus. Not to seek any reward but simply to do his will.
Simple but not easy. Time to get going!!
Rev Bob Ridley