Season of Creation 2B, 2006
A Liturgy is also available
PONDERING A JESUS THAT ‘GRABS US’...
This morning’s story by the bloke we call Mark,
about Jesus and the healing of a deaf-mute,
is a genuine ‘out of character’ story.
Indeed it followers another quite remarkable ‘out of character’ story:
about Jesus and the Lebanese woman
and a mouthful of prejudice (WLoader web site).
Why is the healing of a deaf-mute ‘out of character’?
Well, first, it is a story full of inherited tradition.
And second, that inherited tradition has this story as a ‘miracle’ story.
But not so.
Not miracle, but magic.
Yes magic and ritual and symbolic actions.
‘Jesus Seminar’ fellow, Queenslander Dr Gregory Jenks, offers this comment,
and then asks a very important question.
“This story presents us with (an) unfamiliar sketch of Jesus. This is not the Lord of eternity... Instead, we catch a glimpse of a strange and somewhat frightening Galilean holy man. Is this the human face of God for us? [Or] do we prefer a face that is more like our own?” (www.FaithFutures/wiki).
Miracle worker? Magician? I don’t know.
But what I do reckon is... faced with human need
a credible Jesus is persuaded that people matter most.
No one is to be excluded.
None can be ignored or treated like ‘dogs’ or ‘unclean’ or ‘outcast’.
So for me this story highlights the human-ness and compassion of Jesus,
rather than the so-called divine-ness of the community’s Christ of faith.
Yes, his total human-ness.
Whatever else it does or does not do, Mark’s story celebrates this reality.
We in the 21st century are the heirs
of many different ways of understanding and interpreting
religion in general, and
Jesus in particular.
Which, if any, should we commit ourselves to and seek to develop further?
Which should we ignore or discard?
These are fair dinkum and difficult questions.
In the past these questions were often answered on the basis of
what was regarded as “authoritative divine revelation” (Kaufman 2006:56).
It was called ‘orthodoxy’. And all else called ‘heresy’.
But there has always been a range of different opinions
available in Christian thinking, about
As the editors of the study program we use here at (NN)
called Living the questions, put it:
“For medieval Europeans, it was understood that famines and plagues were sent by God as punishment for sin... Wars were divine earthly retribution... Feudalism, absolute monarchy, and slavery were ordained by God” (LtQ 2005: 12/1).
But how the world has changed!
Today, much of the developed world takes for granted mobile phones,
relative ease of international travel,
education for our children, and
the miracles of scientific medicine, including sound
via a transistorised amplifier and a plastic plug in one’s ear!
“Daily work and life is inconceivable without our computers, cars, comfortable homes, and instant communication. We've long-since left the idea of a flat earth and a three-tiered cosmos behind...” (LtQ 2005: 12/1).
And yet... And yet...
In virtually every field of human endeavour, new discoveries are praised.
But not so with religion.
In no area of life other than religion is the denial of progress held up as a virtue!
Harry Emerson Fosdick, the early 20th century American spokesperson
for liberal or progressive Christianity, was always
a positive influence on my life, rather
than that other American preacher, Billy Graham.
Fosdick tells the story of meeting a young man
during one of his walks in Central Park, New York.
“I'm jealous of your faith,” said the young man. “I'm afraid to ask questions, because I was raised in a faith that provided all the answers and to ask questions is to show unfaithfulness.”
Coming upon a reflecting pool, Fosdick mused,
“Son, your faith is like this pool: calm, bordered, shallow - you always know what it's going to look like and what the boundaries are. But it's not a ‘living’ faith. It's not going anywhere. Vital faith is like a stream bubbling up from a well deep within the earth. As it makes its way, it twists and turns, sometimes changes course, is shallow and slow in
some places and fast and turbulent in others, responding to the geographical reality. It's joined by the waters of other streams and together they make their way back to their source” (LtQ 2005: 12/5).
While another who was to influence me greatly
was Henry Nelson Wieman, little known outside his country of birth.
Writing back in the late 1920s (edited into inclusive language) he said something similar:
“...as soon as a person begins to think about anything, it begins to change them. It takes on diverse shapes and hues. It swims about like a fish in the sea. Only if s/he refuses to think about religion... can it remain unchanged like sardines in a can. But the person who thinks about religion will not find it always the same. Like fish in the stream it not only changes but it may come and go... It is plain that s/he must live a much more adventurous life of the spirit...” (Wieman 1928:37-38).
Stagnation, not change, is religion’s enemy.
Vital faith has always been dynamic, flowing, human, and moving.
And the storyteller we call Mark
tells us a ‘dynamic’ story which lets through the human-ness of Jesus.
Even in the midst of magic and bizarre events.
When Mark collected his story from oral tradition,
probably 40 years or so after the death of Jesus,
the early Jewish/Christian communities seemed to be going through
considerable struggles, as they sought a right relationship with Gentiles.
And we know that process of changing their theological underpinnings
so as to recast their religion as something ‘fluid’ rather than ‘static’,
required a heart-wrenching re-imagining for many.
But the movement persisted.
And the storyteller we call Mark told some of their radical story.
So I reckon it was Jesus’ sheer humanity of living out a ‘fluid’
rather than a ‘static’ religion, that attracted others
to his uncommon wisdom and compassionate deeds.
And while it might seem a big call, I also reckon
it was his sheer humanity, that made
“...the khaki-clad loudmouth who made both a hobby and a higher calling out of wrestling with crocodiles” (Idato. SMH, September 5, 2006)
The bloke known to millions around the world as The Crocodile Hunter,
Steve Irwin, such a loveable and unique Australian.
And why so many have been shocked and distressed
at his sudden, untimely and freakish death.
Steve Irwin was certainly “pushing the envelope” (Idato. SMH, September 5, 2006)
on matters conservation, the environment,
and the protection of wild life.
To do so he used the media and his own unique personality
to show ‘true’ conservation is something ‘fluid’ - that constantly changes.
But was he the human face of Australia for us?
Did his ‘risk taking’ life with the poisonous and the dangerous
inspire us to new ecological directions,
or did his death fill us with guilt?
Similarly, I want to suggest that one of the greatest challenges
for thinking Christians today, is facing those who argue that ‘true’ Christianity
is something that was determined in the past
and never changes.
So in our time, we are faced with a series of choices.
Which Jesus really ‘grabs us’?
Which makes sense to us?
Which is the human face of God for us?
Which will help us grow in important new directions?
Maybe we might all like to ponder those questions some time.
Because the answers we give to those questions
will largely determine the version of the Jesus-story
we will tell, and live by.
As do the stories we tell in our time about
Kaufman, G. D. 2006. Jesus and creativity. MN: Minneapolis. Augsburg Fortress.
Wieman, H. N. 1928. The wrestle of religion with truth. NY: New York. Macmillan.