Wednesday 27 March 2013
Joseph thrown into a pit.
12 Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing.
25 Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26 Whoever serves me, must follow me
Humans, saints and sinners alike, can seldom honestly claim to commit any action for but one single motive. We bring the whole of our previous experience, our outlooks and our feelings, to bear upon each of our acts whether we are conscious of this or not. An artist when asked how long it took to make a particular sketch could honestly reply "five minutes and an entire lifetime." Those authorities of Church and State who conspired to bring about the trial and death of our Lord on the first Good Friday did so, they thought, to prevent Him fomenting a dangerous spirit of unrest which would bring down upon all Israel the avenging fury of Imperial Rome. In part that really was their motivation, and a very sensible one by worldly standards. The prophetic words from the Book of Wisdom, however, point us towards another reason, no less powerful but unacknowledged, which was at work in the conspiracy to kill Jesus.
Saintly people are intensely annoying. They irritate us. We think that we live good, moral, justifiable lives which could be a little bit better but not much. We are better than our neighbours, so we are within our rights to despise them, and not very far short of the best we could be. When we encounter (or hear about) those whose lives are massively more genuinely good than our own we are, as they say in Scotland, black affrontit. Their existence poses a fundamental challenge to how we understand ourselves and how we choose to live and move and have our being. They imply that we require a complete change of mind and heart if we are to be genuinely, absolutely, good and not just relatively so. Rather than doubting ourselves it is existentially much easier to doubt the saint. They are lying, they are hypocrites, they are bigots, they are dangerous. The fury against Jesus was not simply the result of an accurate political calculation. It was personal, truly, madly, deeply personal.
The implication of our Lord's words that His followers must hate this life is that those who love this life must necessarily hate them not for what they say but for what they are. His life no less than His words are a constant reproach to those who find themselves more or less comfortable with themselves and the case is the same with His followers. We do not like being reproached. Still less do we like it if we are in the positions of teacher, leader and exemplar. If we cannot ignore the challenge, as the High Priestly party and the Pharisees could not, then our choices are to accept it and change ourselves, repudiating all that we are and all that we have been, or to silence it by whatever means come to hand. Passiontide was a conjunction of political expediency with personal angst. The boil which was to be lanced, and lanced it truly was, Jesus, stood as a thorn in the flesh of those for whom flesh was all that they considered to be important.
Those Christians of today who retrospectively stand on the side of Jesus and in condemnation of His condemners will do well to recall these words of His Whoever serves me, must follow me Being considered annoying is not in itself a sign that we are following in our Royal Masters footsteps. Neither is being persecuted although both these things should be notes of the Christian life amidst the masses of the worldly. What following Jesus means here is just this, live the Good Life unselfconsciously. Do what comes unnaturally to us as if it came naturally because it comes supernaturally. Complete and humble surrender to the work of Grace within us is the only basis upon which we can do this. We must provoke annoyance not by being provocative but by being pure peace.
Monday 18 March 2013
15 Thus, through his intervention, a new covenant has been bequeathed to us; a death must follow, to atone for all our transgressions under the old covenant, and then the destined heirs were to obtain, for ever, their promised inheritance. 16 Where a bequest is concerned, the death of the testator must needs play its part; 17 a will has no force while the testator is alive, and only comes into force with death
For those joyful pilgrims to Jerusalem who welcomed Jesus with such exuberance there was no thought of death. They believed, and rightly believed, that the path before His feet and theirs was the fulfilment of the promises of God, the glory and triumph of the heir of King David over His deadliest and most intransigent foes. They were right in their choice of a Champion of their cause. They were wrong in assuming that they knew who the enemy was and what was the weapon that would defeat him.
It was not Rome or the High Priestly party at whom Jesus aimed. It was at death and the power of death. And His weapons were submission, defeat and an agonising passing into the shadow of destruction. The ending of life and with it the apparent dashing of His hopes and those of His followers, the joyful, exuberant, hopeful pilgrims scattered and despairing, sheep without a shepherd.
In the day of optimism all surely remembered the words of Zecariah See where thy king comes to greet thee, a trusty deliverer; see how lowly he rides, mounted on an ass, patient colt of patient dam! Our Lord knew, if no one else did, that lowliness was not a cloak which He was about to cast off as He gloriously led an army to victory. Lowliness, humility, was not with Him a state of mind which could come and go. It was an essence, not an accident, of His nature. And to be true to Himself it could only be in and through and with this essential characteristic that He would fight His battle, secure His triumph and bequeath His inheritance to those who believed in Him. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.
Though these Palm Sunday crowds could not foresee the future nor as yet understand their Messiah and His purposes they were not wrong to rejoice. They thought that their case was that of the Psalm 12 Word has come from the Lord, good news borne on a multitude of lips: 13 Routed their kings, routed the armies; they have left their spoils for housewives to carry away; 14 never shone silver so bright on a dove’s feathers, never gold so fair on a dove’s wings; and you, all the while, resting quiet among the sheep-folds! And so indeed it was. But they gained their share of the spoils as legatees, inheritors of a Testament, not as warriors and their camp followers.
It was the way then, as it often is now, that adherents of religion mix their material desires with their spiritual in a confusion of hopes and fancies not without a hint of greed for possession and prestige. Palm Sunday should teach us that if we hope in Jesus we do rightly especially when we recall that a death must follow. Upon that death we must stake our lives. And the Kingdom we shall enter into is not of this world.