Tag Archives: division

Judged – for what?

Sometimes it really helps to understand Jesus words when we know what he is referring to.  This week we read Matthew 25:31-46, but it may be easier to first read the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel 34:11-24, which is also a reading for this Sunday which we call Christ the King.

When Ezekiel, prophet of the exile in the 6C BC, spoke of God shepherding his people, it was a direct and forthright criticism of the leaders of the nation. Read the rest of chapter 34, and you will find no excuses for the abuse of power by the powerful.  But the prophet has more to say than to denounce the leaders of the time. First, he makes clear that God is concerned – concerned not just with punishing the abuse and removing the abusers, but with stepping in to care for his victimised people.

But there is more. In verse 17 he says “I myself will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats”.  And in verse 23,“I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them:”

Jesus clearly finds several points of contact with Ezekiel’s prophecy. Yes, like it or not, Jesus is talking about judgement, and about a judgement which divides people into just 2 groups. In the context of his day, the criticism of the leaders of the people is very clear. They have opposed him, refused to hear his message or to recognise his God given status.

The basis of the judgement is not “Have you been nice to people?”, despite what so many seem to think. It is not even “have you been religious?”. Jesus says “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”. Earlier in the gospel (chapter 12:48f) he has made it clear that his “family” are not the blood relations, but those who followed him. It seems that here he is saying that our support of, and identifying with, poor Christians is critical.

You will understand why we read this today, on the the feast of Christ the King, last Sunday before Advent. The promised King Messiah, descendant of King David, has arrived. He will assume the role of shepherding leadership of the people, and will be judge of all.

But what are we supposed to learn, and – perhaps more important – do? We know that we are not saved by being good enough – because we are never up to God’s standard. Our hope is that faith in Jesus, and the forgiveness he offers, brings us to new life now and after this life.

The punch line is that it has to be real. Christian faith is not about mental acrobatics, or sophisticated pretending. Our faith is a trust which has to work through and show in every part of our life. There is an old joke which says, “If you were arrested and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Would you, perhaps, be able to pass it off – I didn’t really mean it, just went along with some friends, it didn’t change the way I worked, or spent money, or who I socialised with. . . .

We won’t frighten people into heaven with talk of judgement, but as Christians we dare not be unprepared to face our Judge. Is my faith more than words and vague good intentions? Am I prepared to support and stand with Christians, even poor, vulnerable and needy Christians against their sophisticated and rich critics? Both sheep and goats seem surprised at the judgement – but neither argue the truth of it.

In sight?

This week many British churches will be taken up with Mothering Sunday (and there is a Dialogue Sketch on that theme here), but the lectionary provides a reading from John 9:1-41 for others.

It is a story of a blind man coming to sight – and a great deal more than just physical sight (remarkable as that was, and is, in someone who have never been able to see).  It is made clear that the healing of his eyes is only a start.  He then has to struggle with some heavy questioning before he finds Jesus in a new way, and is able to “see” more profoundly.

Alongside this happy story is another, of increasing blindness.  By verse 41 Jesus has harsh words for those who say they are spiritually able to see, but cannot.  The division is there in v16, and has hardened by v24.

Is this still true?  Yes.  There are those today who are finding “sight”.  There are also others, even within religion, who are not.  We say that we walk in the light.  What happens if that isn’t true?

  • the occasional failure can be repented of and forgiven
  • but when we fail to recognise God at work, and persist in that opinion -!

The challenge is to speak of what we know.  We are intended to know God.  If we fail to know, become complacent, or imagine that God must work according to our traditions, that is far worse even than physical blindness.

A dark time

It’s a dark time.  Clouds are gathering and optimism in short supply.  As Jesus goes to Galilee, (Matthew 4:12-23) John the Baptist has been silenced, thrown into prison.  But there is prophecy of hope from as far back as Isaiah, and Jesus’ proclamation seems to be announcing something good.

Meanwhile, he is not going to work on his own.  First he calls Simon and Andrew, and then quickly also James and John.  It is not immediately clear how well they know Jesus, nor what they are letting themselves in for.  It seems to be enough that for the moment they will leave normal routine to follow and learn, taking instruction.  There is no contract.  This “discipleship” will take time to work out, but it is worth starting.

We know a little more of how things developed.  These four, with others, stayed as Jesus taught and healed.  Perhaps at first they sat and listened, but no doubt they began to help.  Was it organising those who wanted a private word first? or the practicalities of shopping for food or finding a bed for the night?  How long before they started to re-tell some of the favourite stories, to help people understand what Jesus was talking about?

We know that later, they were sent out in pairs. (Matthew 10:1-15)  Told, not just to preach, but to heal and exorcise people as well!  However they felt at first, they came back celebrating – and went on to learn some more.  There were all sorts of disciples, not just 12 men.  Luke tells us of 72 (Luke 10:1-20), and also speaks of how the women contributed to Jesus ministry too (Luke 8:1-3).  After the resurrection, the Acts of the Apostles explains how it was disciples who spread the message of Jesus.

They didn’t always get it right.  The whole of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians show an enthusiastic, but sometimes mistaken, church.  Early on (todays reading is from 1 Corinthians 1:10-18) we hear of dangerous divisions into groups and cliques.  Paul is clear that unity is important, and that Jesus is the leader, his death on the cross the vital answer to the need of messed up humans.

Disciples don’t become perfect – at least, not until they get to heaven.  But they do understand their need to learn.  Following Jesus goes on.  We learn more than stories to tell.  We become who we are meant to be, and being together is part of the process.  Some things have to go – competition, useless argument.  Some things come to show their value – Jesus, his choice of dying to serve, a future which brings light in the gloom.  Discipleship is still something to value, and keep doing.