Tag Archives: gentile

“Redemption” ?

Luke 2:22-40 What do you make of that story? Only Luke tells it – so is it less interesting, or less relevant? It starts as a bit of ritual. Jesus was brought up as a Jew, so circumcised a week after his birth, and then at 40 days old taken with his mother to the Temple. Mary presents him in the Temple, and makes a sacrifice – the 2 pigeon option allowed for the poor – in a ceremony required by the Old Testament.

So far, not very helpful you might think. But hold on. That ceremony came from the Exodus and the Passover. You remember how the slaves in Egypt escaped after a series of plagues, and the last and worst of the plagues was – the death of the firstborn. And Exodus 13 explains how all the firstborn of the Israelites belonged in a special way to God. There is more detail, but it makes sense – Jesus belonging specially to God; a small fee paid to ransom him and return him to his family . .

Then the excitement grows again. Simeon appears. How can he tell one baby from another? Somehow the Holy Spirit makes it possible. He has been promised (and, since God keeps his promises) now understands he is seeing the promised Messiah.

He speaks of a light for the Gentiles – all the world!

And of glory for God’s people

and he warns Mary of suffering, as Jesus will bring some people down, as well as raising others up.

If you feel excited (and perhaps you should), Mary and Joseph are amazed. They haven’t forgotten the earlier messages and promises, angels, shepherds – but how does Simeon know? This Holy Spirit has something.

To reinforce the importance and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, Anna arrives – and she is a prophet. Whether she accepts Simeon’s word, or knows by her own spiritual insight – she now also give thanks to God, and talks about Jesus to all who were still looking for God to do something.

It started with a bit of Jewish ritual. It gained significance as we found a connection with the Passover (don’t forget the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and the Christian eucharist depends on it). God’s people were set free at the Exodus, as they will be again more lastingly by Jesus and his death. The idea of Redemption is interesting.

Then there is the excitement of the Holy Spirit giving revelations and warnings – the same Spirit who will be active in Jesus ministry, the same Spirit who guides and empowers Christians today. It is beginning to happen, and it is good, and we know it hasn’t stopped. Where is the Spirit active today? Who are the Simeons and Annas, praying, understanding, talking about God?

Even at 40 days old, Jesus is exciting, making things happen.

April Fool Easter?

It’s not often Easter falls on 1st April. (Yes, I looked it up! It has happened once before in my lifetime – 1956, and will come again in 2029,2040, but not then till 2108). I mention it because it seems to fit with Mark 16:1-8 – a funny end to the gospel, as the women run from the tomb, afraid? We almost want to ask, “Are you serious?” (Yes, verse 8 is the end, although there are 2 other endings given in most bibles, they are not in the best manuscripts, and look like attempts to “round off the story” from other gospels).

We can suggest all sorts of things:

  • Mark wanted to explain how unexpected this was, adding to the authenticity. If you were going to invent a story – be more plausible!
  • Better: He continues the theme of the failure of Jesus followers (the men are no better!) – which emphasises what God does, and the hope for imperfect believers (yes, like us!) later.
  • And perhaps: This is the end of part 1. Part 2 is being written by the believers for whom Mk wrote – they know about the spread of the Church (it has reached them in Rome), about the importance of the Resurrection, and the power of the risen Christ. What Mk is saying – to us as well – is “Now, write the next chapter”

Fear of the unknown is real in today’s Church, too. As we face changes, there will be voices that cover the fear with cynicism or ignorance. Perhaps we can go back to the good old days? Perhaps the changes we don’t like thinking about will never happen? But no, what is past brings us to our present. The present we need to face with faith.

“We just have to carry on as we have in the past”. No. The past contains some big mistakes. In Wales we have failed to engage with younger people, or indeed to evangelise their parents and grandparents, for half a century now, and unless we find the courage to do so, the Church will die out in Wales with us – and we will have to answer for failure, complacency, and unfaithfulness. (There may be other fears and failures where you are – something to think about).

And that is why it is important that the women were afraid, and that they got over their fear. If you look at Acts 10:34-43, you will see how Peter felt all sorts of doubts about going to a Gentile – it took a dream, and a summons to show him God’s way, but the result was vital.  He went beyond his fears.  If you look at 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (another reading set for Easter Sunday) Paul was not surprised his friends in Corinth were daunted when some of their congregation died, and they wondered if they had somehow missed out, or made a basic mistake in the meaning of the gospel. He had faced death himself, more than once, and could sympathise, but also remind them that the Christian Good News was, in 2 words, “Jesus, and Resurrection”.

Peter and Paul are both clear that the Christian faith stands, and faces fear, on the Resurrection of Jesus. That did 2 things:

  • it meant life had to be lived with a new perspective and horizon, no longer just for 70 years (more or less), but for life and eternity. It challenged fear of death, and of illness.
  • It meant Jesus was right. God raised him, and underlined all that he had taught and done. Fear of the unknown is now limited – God knows. We have reason to learn to trust Jesus.

What we face is not new, except in detail. The shadow of death, the fear – of the unknown, the unexpected, or just of not coping, is still real. It is a fear that needs to be faced, with a risen Lord.

Racist?

Was Jesus a racist?  It might not be question you would ask, but imagine a journalist today picking up Matthew 15:21-28 as a news item!  Jesus has come out of Jewish territory – perhaps deliberately for a bit of peace – and seems to ignore a woman asking for help. Worse, she is described as “Canaanite” – the name of the corrupt pagan tribe the Israelites had displaced during the conquest of the Promised Land.

This is not casual prejudice.  Jesus had sent out his 12 disciples (Matthew 10:5,6) “not .. to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns . . to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.” The first call was to the people God had chosen for a special purpose – not all peoples were equal!  There was a reason, of course.  It was not some “superiority” in this nation, but the fact that their history should have prepared them for Jesus and his mission.

It is clear Jesus was not hostile to foreigners –  in Matthew 8:5-13, we had read of the healing of the (Gentile) Centurion’s servant, and Jesus’ comment on his faith.  Here again, we have, after hesitation, and conversation, healing of a “foreigner”, and at a distance.  I suggest the problem is not in Jesus’ behaviour, but in our question. If we fail to think, we assume Jesus must match up to our standards. In fact, the reality is the other way, and we must understand and adapt to his.  It is from his teaching and example we get the value given to other humans, including those of different race, language and culture.  All are valued by God, and the Christian gospel, preached first to those prepared by their history, is open to all.

At the same time, different cultures, like individuals, are not the same. Israel was chosen by God for a special job, and the gospel had to be preached first to them. The centurion, and this Canaanite woman, anticipate a later stage when all may come by faith to Christian faith – and there remains a distinction between those who do, and those who do not. Christian, and non-believer.

The fight against racism is a Christian one, reflecting the understanding that every human is made in the image of God, and is of value to him. None are to be dismissed or devalued.  But that does not mean that all cultures are of equal value – nor that ours is all good. There are parts of our culture that are thoroughly rotten. How do we judge them? Against common opinion? No. Against the standards of Jesus. If we lose the ability to tell the truth, that is bad. If we fail to care for the weak and helpless, that is bad – by gospel standards. In the same way, other cultures may need correction, not because we say so, or in comparison with “British” ways, but against the standard of Jesus.

Jesus wants to announce God’s Kingdom to his chosen people first – and that is right. If a centurion and a Canaanite woman are given faith to anticipate the situation after Easter, Matthew will record that to show his church how all are accepted by faith – but not to suggest that all people and all cultures, let alone all creeds, are equal.

I hope that you do stand against Racism, and make the effort to bridge the gap of language and culture to strangers. I also hope that you realise that cultures, and individual actions, are not all of equal value, and to be weighed not by the popular opinion of the moment, but by the teachings and actions of Jesus. Weigh actions by Jesus’ standard.