Tag Archives: question

Normal

You might think it strange that the Sunday after Christmas we read of Jesus as a 12 year old. (Luke 2:41-52), but it makes clear that Christmas is no “baby story”. The baby grows to a normal youngster, here on the edge of adult status.

There is a play on words when Mary and Joseph catch up with Jesus in the temple. His mother speaks of her anxious search with “your father” – as Joseph was in many ways. Yet Jesus speaks of “my father’s house”, meaning the temple, and God. Jesus has come to know who he is, and to recognise God for himself. It does not mean that he rejects his human family, nor the need for obedience to them. Nor was he teaching in the temple – he was listening, though his questions were full of insight.

This is our only glimpse of the story between the visit of the Wise Men and the start of Jesus’ public ministry. It shows a real child, though one in whom there is a growing understanding of a special status and purpose. It reminds us that the one who comes into our world is God, and also fully human.

It is also important in reminding us that the Son of God has, in his perfect humanity, to be obedient, and submit to those who do not understand as he does. If he was hurt by the rubuke and frustrated by their lack of understanding, it is not made the excuse for an argument, still less for abandoning his family. It is not always easy for people who understand to do that.

MONEY!

If you want to offend someone, telling them what to do with their money is a good way to go. It is a very “personal” matter, but one Jesus spoke about quite a lot.  Mind you, when the Pharisees ask a question about tax (Matthew 22:15-22), it is rather like the bolas they use in South America – 2 or 3 balls linked with cord, thrown to tangle the legs of an animal and bring it down.

The question to Jesus was a trick – they thought they would trip him whichever answer he gave. Money was a key issue, as emotive then as now. “Don’t pay tax” might be popular, but  treason would be reported him to authorities.
“Pay tax”  would discredit Jesus as a true Jew, painting him as a collaborator with the Roman occupation.  Whatever Jesus says, it will be unpopular – telling people what to do with their money usually is.

But Jesus escapes – not with a clever answer, but with the right one. We need to take note of it. Loyalty to God is most important, but it doesn’t let us off all other commitments. In this case, you can pay tax without being unfaithful (it’s still true).

  • Pay tax, even to “pagan Caesar”, for the peace, justice and trade you enjoy, even in a difficult regime
  • pay God, to whom you owe everything [perhaps we forget that is part of our religion]

Why do we give as part of our faith? Recognising:

  • God created it all
  • God paid the price for us when we could not
  • because, especially in our culture, this is how we express thanks and commitment.

Money is a tricky subject. Jesus didn’t give it a wide berth and avoid offending people. He said that our use of money is part of our faith, part of a response to the love of God which has to involve every part of our lives. In fact, giving is part of the gospel Good News. It reminds us of the good things we have (not only the material ones!), and makes clear our thanks and commitment to the Giver.

Good doubt, bad doubt

It is important to encourage the right sort of doubt – and not the wrong sort.  But do we know the difference?  John (John 20:19-31) tells the story of the first Easter evening.  Jesus appeared to the disciples, but Thomas was absent, and refused to believe their story.  It must have been a difficult week!  When Jesus appears to them all, a week later, Thomas outdoes the others in his declaration of faith.

So, what is good or bad doubt?  Bad doubt is an excuse.  I can’t prove that my choice of spouse will be right – so I won’t make a commitment in marriage.  I can’t prove that my choice of career is correct, so I won’t put energy into doing it well.  You can go on.  Bad doubt feeds cynicism, laziness, lack of faith.  There are many things we either cannot prove in advance, or don’t try to.  (I drive a car, but don’t check the brakes every time I start off).

Thomas teaches us a sort of doubt which may not be comfortable, but looks for an answer.  Jesus resurrection is so unlikely, he wants good reason.  When he gets it – as Jesus invites his checking – he is ready to change his opinion and commit.  Without his doubt, would he – could he – have been as firm in his following a Risen Lord?  Good doubt is helpful, encouraging us to ask the right questions – questions which can deepen understanding, strengthen conclusions, sharpen our perception of reality.

Good – but not enough!

Nicodemus deserves credit (John 3:1-17).  He comes to Jesus – yes, at night, which might look embarrassed, but also allows him to ask questions freely.  He already has a life of disciplined goodness.  We suspect Pharisees, and some were guilty of pride and religious red tape, but for others the life meant knowing and living the Old Testament Law in detail.  Perhaps most important, he wants to know more.  That is good.

So, why does Jesus ask him such difficult questions?  We might have thought this polite man an ideal disciple – or church member.  But it seems that he won’t do.  Why?  Jesus refers (v13,14) to his ministry and his coming death.  What Nicodemus knows is not enough – for him, or for other good people.  Christian faith depends on what God does and gives – Jesus and his sacrificial death.  There are real benefits in living a good life, following the commandments, but that is incomplete.

Nicodemus goes away puzzled, but doesn’t give up.  He reappears in the pages of the gospel story at John 7:50, and again at John 19:39.  Sometimes the most important changes come “between events”, as the Holy Spirit works.

Our passage hasn’t finished.  v16 is one of the best known in the gospel, but we should read on.  John 3:16-21 goes on to speak of judgement.  This picture does not see God handing out suffering and pain (a deity we would find it hard to worship!)  It seems that Nicodemus was ready to come into the light.  We have to ask if we are also ready to be examined, and perhaps embarrassed, in order to receive the gift.