Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jesus offensive?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Looking at our Gospel reading today the image that some people have of Jesus being all meek and mild takes a bit of a battering. In the first part of it he's told the Pharisees are offended by what he is saying and not only does he apparently not care, he continues with teaching that they will surely find even more offensive… not exactly meek and mild territory … but then, it seems to me that, remembering that in the first book of the Bible we are told that God created man in his own image, that some people decided to return the favour by, if not creating, then at least presenting God in their own image. Hence the meek and mild, completely inoffensive Jesus beloved by some … and image that flies in the face of what we actually read in scripture.

We can learn a lot, I think, from the tougher, realer, Jesus we read about in scripture today. I've picked out three things. The first comes from the way he reacts when he is told his teaching is offending the Pharisees. And as has already not been noted, Jesus not only doesn't retract what he has already said, he continues to say things that doubtless will make their ears burn. Why? Doesn't he care that they are offended? Offending people hurts them, it wounds their feelings. Isn't that a bad thing? And the answer is yes, but only when one is being gratuitously offensive, offending people for the sake of it. That is not what Jesus has set out to do. He has come to preach the truth. And if speaking the truth is a cause of offence, then the problem lies with the one offended, not the one speaking. There are many people who don't like hearing the truth, especially today when the truth of God's Holy Laws contain truths that are very inconvenient to the way that many lead their lives. And not only do they not want to hear the truth, they say they are offended when anyone reminds them of it. But Jesus' actions today remind us that nonetheless we must continue to speak the truth boldly.

And then having spoken the truth boldly, Jesus goes away. He withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He doesn't stay to fight and argue with the Pharisees. He says what he has to say and then moves on. And the lesson to us, I think, is that we are not required to be in people's faces 24-7, haranguing them endlessly with the word of God. And that makes sense, because frankly that kind of behaviour would be counterproductive. No one listens to a person who does nothing but correct and give out all the time. The Christian speaks the truth clearly, refuses to change or modify that truth for anyone, is available and open to share that truth with anyone at any time, but does not obsessively hound those they think are ignoring it or not living up to it as fully as they would like. That, I suggest, would be to be more like the Pharisee than Christ.

And the final lesson comes from the encounter with the Canaanite woman. A desperate mother seeks healing for her child, and what is the first response of Christ? 'I was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.' In other words, you're not Jewish, so too bad. Not exactly what we would call today a politically correct response. And when she persists, Jesus' far from unbending, speaks to her even more harshly – it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. What's going on here – is Jesus being uncaring or deliberately offensive? No, in fact he is still simply telling it as it is. He was sent by the Father to carry out a certain mission. And that mission was to bring his message of salvation to the people of Israel of his time. It is clear from scripture that Jesus had great compassion – he would doubtless have loved to go everywhere that people were hurt and need of healing. But he did not put his own feelings above the will of the Father.

And in fact there is great wisdom in this. If he had tried to spread himself too thin, how much could he have achieved? Instead, he focused on his own mission, and did that well. And then he gave the follow up mission to others to carry on elsewhere, who in turn passed on the task to others, until in a very short time his good news had traveled throughout the world.

And all of this teaches us not to try to take on too much. There are great problems in the world that need dealing with – people turning from the faith – people who call themselves wise who publicly sneer at religion and call much of the morality it teaches evil because they say it interferes with peoples' choices and enjoyment. Jesus' focus on his own mission reminds us that we don't have to try and deal with all the world, just on what we ourselves are called to do. God calls us all to act for him in a particular place and time. We must be faithful to that call, even as we trust that he will call others to do the work elsewhere.

So that's it, three lessons: don't be afraid to speak the truth of the faith, even if those who don't want to hear it try to batter you into silence with the offensive stick; don't be singing the one note all the time, say your piece and move on; and play your part in God's plan, whatever it is, and have faith that God will do the rest. Because sometimes being like Jesus means remembering that we cannot always be meek and mild ourselves.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

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