Posts Tagged ‘recognition’

How is your relationship with Jesus?

March 24, 2018

Palm Sunday – 2018

Mark 14:1 – 15:27

Marian Free

In the name of God who asks us to retain an openness to the world around us so that we don’t mistake Jesus for a trouble-maker and miss him altogether. Amen.

We interrupt this bulletin to bring you some breaking news. Police have called for back up to quell a potential riot in the small regional town of Woiwoorung. Crowds from all over the region have descended on the town for the annual music festival. The usual levels of excitement and anticipation are threatening to spill over into mob behavior with the arrival in town of one Jesse Bunda. Jesse, a young indigenous woman, is well-known to police. She is a controversial figure who has been attracting crowds wherever she goes. Jesse has been spreading the message that the regional authorities are inefficient and corrupt. She has been suggesting that those who live beyond the town have the power to take things into their own hands to create better lives for themselves.

Some people are drawn to her and almost as many are disturbed by her presence, her actions and her words. The authorities in particular are wishing that she simply would fade away. As we speak, the police have the situation in hand, but they are worried that there might be a stand-off between Jesse’s supporters and those who see themselves as the brunt of her criticism.

At this moment the streets of Woiwoorung are continuing to fill with people. They are spilling out of their homes and businesses, from the pubs, the shops and the school just to catch a glimpse of the person who is causing such a stir. There is so much excitement in the usually quiet town that people are climbing on to cars and the backs of trucks. They are calling out, waving clothes and branches – doing whatever they can to catch Jesse’s attention. The populace is wondering whether Jesse will dare to speak here – here in front of the authorities of whom she has been so critical. Until now the influential people of the town have, of course, known about Jesse and what she has been doing, but they had thought of her as a harmless eccentric whose influence would die out as quickly as it had grown. They were completely unprepared for today’s reaction.

Our reporters on the ground tell us that it is almost impossible for the local police to see what is going on. At any moment things might turn ugly especially if those who support the status quo decide to take on those who are challenging it.

Keep watching as we bring you the latest developments.

It is easy for us, from the perspective of our comfortable, middle-class Anglicanism, to think of Jesus as a benign and comforting figure, to forget that in his day he was difficult, confrontational and divisive. As much as there were people who welcomed him and his message, there were those who viewed him with anxiety and suspicion – even with alarm. Almost from the start of his ministry Jesus angered and offended the leaders of his day – the Pharisees, the scribes and the priests. Jesus blatantly broke the Sabbath law and presumed to forgive sins – something that was God’s prerogative. He called the Pharisees hypocrites and told parables that implied that the authorities were greedy and corrupt. And the people he mixed with – well no decent, law-abiding person would have been seen dead with them, let alone have eaten with them or, worse still, included them among their companions. Those in authority could have been forgiven for thinking that he was inciting insurrection – after all the crowds seemed to hang on his every word and at any moment they could have turned against them. Jesus was provocative, disruptive and troublesome. No wonder that those charged with keeping the peace wanted to subdue and restrain him. No wonder they wanted to get rid of him.

From time to time I find myself asking: “If Jesus were among us today, would I recognise him (or her)? Would I find Jesus challenging and disturbing or comforting and reassuring? Would I try to protect the status quo or would I join Jesus in challenging structures and norms that had become unwieldy and unhelpful? Would I have the courage to own up to and let go of my hypocrisy?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” I can only hope that I have not created a Jesus who makes feel comfortable and secure and that I am able to retain an openness to who Jesus might have been and who Jesus might be if he were to appear in front of me today.

We should never be so comfortable in our faith that we do not allow our ideas to be challenged. We should never be so complacent that we allow ourselves to think that we know all there is to know and we should never simply assume that we alone are on the side of right.

Two thousand years ago, those who thought they knew who and what to expect called for Jesus to be put to death. Let us hope that we do not make the same mistake.

How is your relationship with Jesus? Would you know Jesus if he were right in front of you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Martha’s problem- too busy, or too unhappy?

July 16, 2016

Pentecost 9

Luke 10: 38-40

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who values and delights in each of us in our own way and desires that we are true to ourselves. Amen.

We all hate martyrs don’t we? By this I don’t mean that we hate those who are martyrs in the true sense of the word – those who have given their lives for their faith, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Oscar Romeros and so on. People such as they rightfully command our attention and our admiration. No I mean the martyrs who are martyrs of their own making. Those who demand that we notice how busy, how put upon, in short how “good” they are. I mean those who take on things that they would rather not and then whine and moan that no one helps them or that no one recognises how much they are doing/how much they have to do. Such people have no joy in the task in which they are engaged and very often suck the life out of those around them. The reasons for their taking on more than they really want to could be the result of any number of things. They might think that they will receive recognition and thanks, a sense of importance in the eyes of other for doing something no one else seems to want to do. Sadly, because they take no delight in what they are doing, the effect of their overwork is the opposite of that they had hoped for. Instead of being commended, they are seen as kill-joys at worst and attentions seekers at best.

The interpretation of the Mary/Martha narrative with which I grew up and one that has haunted more than a generation of happily busy women, suggests that because Jesus commends Mary and censures Martha, that he values contemplation more than work. How often have you heard someone (usually a woman) say rather guiltily, ‘I’m only a Martha’ as they uncomplainingly pour yet another cup of tea at a Parish function. This view has been very damaging to many women in the church who are left feeling that their contribution is somehow lacking because it is not spiritual enough. At the same time their contribution has been undervalued, because making jams for the church fete and ensuring that churches and halls are kept clean has not been seen as the real work of the church[1].

A better way to view the story is to see it as an illustration of need for balance in our lives, to understand that it teaches that our times of busyness will be more fruitful and less stressful if they are sustained by prayer, and that a healthy spiritual life is one in which time is spent with God informs and guides what we do, so that what we do is not banal and empty, but infused with the presence of God. Martha and Mary are opposites who demonstrates that action and contemplation are both necessary for a life lived in the presence of God.

A feminist view of this account identifies the fact that Luke effectively silences both women. Martha is censured for feeling burdened and Mary’s silence is commended. Neither woman is given a voice, which is interesting given that in John’s gospel both women play prominent roles in the community.

Then there is, to me, the most compelling interpretation. It is not that Martha is too busy or that Martha is not holy enough. Jesus problem is that she is not happy enough.

Jesus has apparently dropped in on the pair unexpectedly. Hospitality was an important cultural norm. The women would be expected to provide Jesus with food and shelter. That didn’t mean providing a feast, it simply meant sharing what they had. Why then is Martha so upset, what are the “many tasks” that are driving her to distraction? We can only guess that Martha is not so much focused on making Jesus at home, but on impressing him with her culinary and housekeeping skills.

Martha appears to be doing more than is required. The problem is not what she is doing, but that she is getting no pleasure from her endeavours. She has taken on too much and no one seems to have noticed or if they have, they don’t care! it appears that what Martha wants, is not just to ensure that Jesus is fed and comfortable, but for Jesus to appreciate her efforts, to commend what she is doing and to confirm what she believes – that it is she, not Mary, who is doing what is necessary.

Martha does not have the insight to recognise that both she and Mary have a choice as to how they exercise hospitality. Mary has chosen to listen to Jesus first and to worry about other details later. Martha has given other things priority and now that those things have overwhelmed her, she looking for someone to blame for her distress and is wanting to draw Mary into the maelstrom of her distress.

It is important to recognise that there is nothing wrong with being busy If no one did anything the world would grind to a stop. So the issue here is not that Martha is working rather than listening, but that what she does is driven by a sense of self-importance or a desire for recognition.

Jesus’ interaction with the two sisters is a reminder that there is not a tension between prayer and work or that one is superior to the other. Both are necessary and it is our task to find the balance that works best for us. Underlying the narrative is the reminder that our faith is intended to be a source of freedom, peace and joy. Faith is not, and was never intended to be a burden, a struggle or an imposition.

Martha’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that she needed to earn Jesus’ recognition and regard. Mary’s better part is not so much that she prays rather than works, but that in contrast to Martha she knows without needing to be told, just how much she is loved and just how little she had to do (has to do) to warrant that love.

[1] This despite the fact that many Australian churches have been built on the sales at church fetes and many continue to rely on cake stalls for their survival.

 

Seeing only what we want to see

October 24, 2015

Pentecost 22

Mark 10:46-52

Marian Free

In the name of God who opens the eyes of those who are willing to see. Amen.

It is true that many of us, indeed from time to time – all of us – see only what we want to see. This is true in relation to so many things – individual and corporate. Parents sometimes are unable to see their children’s shortcomings. Spouses are often able to turn a blind eye to their partners’ misdemeanors – adultery, corruption, and even criminal behaviour. Whole populations want to believe that their governments will not mislead them and will do what it best for the nation as a whole – even in the face of information to the contrary. The gullible and not so gullible find themselves wanting to own products that advertisers tell them are absolutely essential to our well-being or our life-style – this despite the fact we know full well that we are being manipulated.

Sometimes this sort of blindness is so firmly entrenched that nothing short of a major catastrophe can shake us into opening our eyes to reality. Conversely, sometimes reality is so disturbing and hurtful, that blindness – however unreal – is preferable to seeing and accepting the truth.

In fact, on occasions the truth makes us so uncomfortable that we seek to silence or even to destroy those who expose it. John the Baptist lost his head because he dared to name Herod’s adultery for what it was. Those who saw through Hitler were sent to death camps. Nelson Mandela and others who identified the evils apartheid were jailed for decades. Journalist Steve Biko was tortured and killed by a government that needed to silence opposition.

The truth can be dangerous. It can be so disturbing and confronting that many prefer to ignore it finding it simpler remain in ignorance. There are many who would rather not acknowledge that governments can and do act immorally and dishonestly. They close their eyes to the truth and dismiss the critics by labeling them troublemakers or dissidents.

By and large we prefer the status quo. We don’t like our comfortable lives or strongly held ideals challenged or confronted. It is easier not to rock the boat, sometimes in the face of very strong evidence that the boat is corrupt or dangerously compromised.

One of the themes running through Mark’s gospel is that of a refusal or a failure to see. Members of the religious establishment suffer from a form of blindness that leads them to dismiss this unknown, uncomfortable person from Galilee. They do not like this man who challenges what they do and what they represent. It is impossible for them to conceive that such an unlikely person might be the one promised by God and because they do not understand him, they try to silence Jesus by plotting to kill him. Even the disciples are blinded to the reality of who and what Jesus is. They simply cannot accept that Jesus will be rejected, will suffer and will die. They can only envisage a future in which Jesus will triumph. When Jesus predicts his suffering and humiliation, his disciples retreat to what they think they know. They try to silence Jesus by rebuking him or by changing the subject to something that makes them feel more comfortable.

Neither group is able to see beyond their expectations or prejudices. Neither the disciples nor the authorities can accept the apparent contradiction – either that the Christ should suffer, or that such an ordinary person could be the one sent by God.

There are however, some who are able to recognise Jesus for who he is – the demons and those who are on the outside. The demons are able to identify Jesus because he challenges their authority. He presents a threat. Jesus is able to reduce their power to nothing which enables them to discern that he is a representative of good and therefore of God. On the other hand those who are on the outside of Jewish society have no preconceptions that might blind them to Jesus’ true nature. Such people have no idea how a Christ or Son of God should behave or should present himself. This allows them to see Jesus for who he is and not for who they think he should be. So it is that at the moment of Jesus’ death, when it appears that he has utterly failed, when all his followers have deserted him, when he has been publicly humiliated and shamed, it the centurion – a Roman, a gentile, an outsider who declares: “Truly this man was God’s Son” (15:39).

Bartimaeus is another outsider who, despite his blindness, instinctively knows who Jesus is. Sitting by the road he calls out not once, but twice: “Son of David, have mercy!” The crowds react by trying to silence him. What he is saying is reckless and dangerous – to identify Jesus as the Son of David is to invite trouble, to threaten tenuous peace that exists between the Hebrews and the Romans. At the same time it is disturbing that someone such as Bartimaeus identifies Jesus as the Son of David, despite the fact that Jesus bears no resemblance to a King like David.

Bartimaeus is undeterred. He speaks what he knows and is rewarded by Jesus’ response. Even though he is blind, his openness and clear-sightedness enables him to see what others cannot see.

It is easy to make the mistake of believing that we see clearly, that we know all there is to know about God. We can convince ourselves that what we have learnt in the past is sufficient for the present and for the future and we can allow our faith to be reduced to well-worn formulas, easily remembered doctrines and simple to follow rules. We can find it tempting to silence or ignore the voices that challenge our world-view or suggest that we may be wrong.

If Jesus showed us anything, it was this – that faith can and will take us out of our comfort zone, and in directions that we cannot imagine. Jesus’ own experience show us that he journey of faith can be perilous and dangerous, it can expose us to ridicule and misunderstanding and it can force us to see the world around us in new and different ways. Jesus didn’t promise us that following him would be easy, instead he told us that it would lead to the cross.

If we silence the voices that disturb or challenge us, we risk the spiritual blindness that led Jesus’ contemporaries to misunderstand, to reject and destroy him and we lose the opportunity to grow and develop and to come to a fuller understanding of ourselves, of others and ultimately of God.


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