Tag Archives: family

On the wrong side ?

Jesus is wonderful! He is healing, he is setting people free of evil, he is popular for good reason. What can possibly go wrong? Mark 3:20-35 explains how two sorts of opposition arise – and both still appear.

First come some teachers of the Law from Jerusalem. “This is an evil man. He’s in league with the devil, that’s how he does his miracles!”  Perhaps they are jealous – certainly they are offended. It’s not that Jesus broke the Old Testament Law, but he didn’t keep to the traditional interpretation – like about what was OK for a Sabbath, for example. AND – they don’t like the way he speaks with authority, as if he knew God, rather than working back through the scholars of past times, who might have known Him.

In league with the devil! ?  It is a serious charge, but Jesus has an answer. If the devil is healing people and setting them free, he is fighting against his own side, and he’s finished! If Jesus’ miracles are good – that’s rubbish. No. What you are seeing is someone stronger than even the Devil, who is starting to take over his Kingdom – and he hasn’t the strength to prevent it, just like someone tied up in a corner. They don’t believe him, – there’s too much at stake. Conflict will continue through the gospel. But do you see the sides clearly?

But there’s another source of trouble!  Jesus family reckon he’s going mad verse 21, and they arrive to “take him away”. For his own good, you understand. You can’t go against the system. If he keeps quiet for a while they will lose interest, and he’ll be able to preach a bit in Galilee without attracting too much attention. Don’t rock the boat; listen to people who know about these things . .

Jesus valued family, but his ministry is (thankfully) much more important. He stays with those who will listen and support, and goes on – for a time without his mother, brothers and sisters.

It’s an interesting bit of the gospel, and Mark makes clear that it is part of the story from very near the beginning. And it remains part of the gospel story in every time and place. Why would people be against something good? There are many reasons, but among them these two continue.

Vested interest – even in religion. How easily people become jealous of success, even of God’s blessing someone else. How easily offended some people are – even religious people. Be careful to recognise something good – even if you aren’t in control of it, even if you wish it had happened to you, or in your church . .  verses 28,29, about the sin against the Holy Spirit, are devastating. Don’t worry – you can’t commit the unforgivable sin by mistake! If you are concerned, you haven’t done it! This is about people who call evil, “good”; and good, “evil”. It is about saying “We’re right, and Jesus is with the Devil” Unforgivable, because it is turning into darkness, trying to turn the world upside down.

The second reason to be against good? The well meaning but wrong attitude: “I agree with you in principle, but it’s not practical”, “You’ve got to think about other people” – in other words, all the plausible excuses for not doing the right thing. God’s way is not easy. It will attract opposition. And Jesus sets out on it, inviting those who will to follow and join him. Are you coming?

Motivation

When a leader talks of self-sacrifice, it makes all the difference if we know whether he gives it, or expects others to give it.  Jesus is one of the few who lead by example.

This leads us to a great division between two motives for living as a Christian.  Some rely on the fact that the Christian faith is true, that Jesus has the authority of God, and that the promise of heaven and threat of judgement need to be taken seriously.  There is not a lot wrong with that, except that as motivation, it needs a very high level of self-discipline to keep going, and can be a bit – miserable?

I think there is a stronger motive, though I struggle to describe it without using cliches.  The motive is Jesus, who is worth following just because of who he is.  It comes out in John 10:11-18, where he uses the language of shepherding a flock to explain his ministry.  He is true – not because he talks about truth, but by his actions.  He is both justice and mercy, and at the same time.  He is not caught off balance, even when tired or threatened.  I hesitate to use the word love, because it is so often misused, but he defines it.  He gives, but gives only what is good; he never forces, never manipulates.  His love pays the cost, without whining, without announcing the fact or making demands.

You may be a Christian because you hold the faith to be true and accurate and offers the only sure way to heaven, and I shall have no complaint.  But I shall follow Jesus as much for what he is, for the way he gives our salvation, and invites our partnership.

If that provides a great motivation, I am afraid it is not well understood.  It worries me that I meet people who are not ready to serve.  Somehow they haven’t understood that to follow such a Lord comes before all sorts of other (good) things, like family, career, friends and lifestyle choices . . .  Odd! and sad.

Lifted up ?

(The fourth Sunday in Lent is often kept as Mothering Sunday, and there is a dialogue sketch on that theme here.)

“As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” These words from John’s gospel may seem a puzzle (John 3:14-21).  They come at the end of Jesus’ private conversation with the Jewish Pharisee, Nicodemus.  It helps to look back to a story from the wilderness wanderings, about poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9). Moses commanded the people to make a bronze snake, put it on a pole, to offer a cure to those bitten.

It may seem a strange idea, but you can see some reasons for it:

  • it showed the need for faith, to believe in the cure.
  • it required action according to the instructions, to take given cure.

Jesus picks this up in the gospel (in conversation with Nicodemus). He, too, must be lifted up on the cross to gather people, who will either take advantage of his sacrifice, or refuse to associate with it.

In many Churches a cross marks a gathering point.  It may be on top of the building, or a processional cross carried at the beginning of a service, or one placed at the centre of the building.

It is just a symbol, but is a powerful reminder that Christians are the people of the Jesus who was crucified. But do we want to be family? Do I have to belong? There are different ways of belonging, but the test becomes admitting to, or refusing, Jesus. Banners, and badges have always been used to gather those with an allegiance.

Jesus victory is not the sort that has everybody wanting to say, “I was there,” “I was with Him”. It leaves us the choice. Who am I with? Do I want to belong? Nicodemus obviously finds it hard, though he will work through it all, and believe. (see John 19:39)

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.