Pentecost 16C, 2010
A Liturgy is also available
‘REJOICE WITH ME’: AN ALTERNATE, EXPANSIVE VISION
“Jesus does not call people into their sins but out of them…
The judgement of Jesus is not a police-like searching out
and punishing of evil acts” (John Shea. The Challenge of Jesus).
John Shea is an American priest, theologian and storyteller,
whom I happen to know personally,
and with whom I have shared some stories,
and had some good laughs, and some red wine.
His comment, which I have just shared with you,
has been important for me in my own spiritual journey.
Even if I have not always been able to articulate it
as well as, or indeed the same as, he is able to do.
And... I also offer this comment because I feel it touches
at the heart of this morning’s stories.
So let me shape this up a bit more,
with some help from a few friends.
In the ‘nitty gritty’ of contemporary biblical theology today,
all the major scholars agree that Jesus’ primary identity
was that of a sage.
A sage or wisdom teacher,
interested both in understanding life,
and in communicating that understanding.
But as a sage, Jesus was not simply just a teacher.
And certainly no ‘blackboard-and-chalk’ type teacher.
“He spent at least as much time in figuring things out himself... seeking wisdom... as in communicating the understanding he came to... And the best place to gain wisdom, according to Jesus the sage, was right in the midst of ordinary life” (Taussig 1999: 14).
I have this mental picture of Jesus sitting on a couch in the corner of some tavern,
wine mug in hand, overhearing the conversations of
the peasant farmers and soldiers and business folk.
Every now and again he’d join in with a comment, a phrase, a story.
His listeners would laugh.
Maybe scratch their heads.
Or interrupt with a quip of their own.
In the midst of ordinary life... This concentration on ordinary life,
according to New Testament scholar Hal Taussig,
meant that Jesus as a sage:
• did not emphasis either holy scripture or
established religious systems as privileged sources of wisdom;
• did not care about religious codes of behaviour or belief, and
• did not promote an other-worldly emphasis.
So, Hal Taussig concludes:
“The real energy of his teachings is found in their expansiveness of vision and in their critique, not in the defence, of religion... And his favourite place to teach was probably at dinner” (Taussig 1999: 17, 18).
As a sage, we can accept that Jesus told many stories.
A number of those stories were about being lost and found.
And in many of them, that which was lost
had nothing whatever to do with their finding.
We have two such stories, called parables, today.
The story of ‘A man with a hundred sheep’.
The story of ‘A woman with ten drachmas’.
Luke’s Jesus seems clear.
Neither the lost sheep nor the lost coin contributed in any way to their finding.
Neither the sheep nor the coin were punished or lectured for being lost.
There weren’t any inquests conducted in any of these stories.
Nothing at all changed after the finding.
The whole focus of both Luke’s stories is not on
the repentance of the sheep or the coin,
but the seeking and finding by their respective owners.
And when that which was lost was found, the finder threw a party.
Perhaps even spending the coin or committing the sheep
to the proceeds of the party!
Thus, the call of Luke’s Jesus is not ‘repent’ but ‘rejoice’.
But there’s more!
As I have said on numerous occasions before,
and I am sure I will say often again…
But these stories are parables.
And a parable is a story with a twist in the tail, which
turns our world views upside down.
So where is the twist?
Let me continue to play with a few more observations.
Why a sheep? Why a woman?
In the society of Jesus’ day, both shepherds and women,
along with many other classes of people,
existed on the margins of society.
They were not included in the ‘A’ social guest list.
They had no status, were landless and poor, and not to be trusted.
Certainly not candidates for ‘the kingdom’.
And by naming them, Luke indicates they were indeed part of the general group
called ‘toll collectors and sinners’…
Those seeking the company of Jesus.
Those the pharisees and the scribes, if we accept Luke's comments or bias,
apparently complained about and rejected.
So some tension seems to be highlighted in these stories.
Along with some overriding negative feelings,
often overlooked or ruled out by other commentators.
And unravelling the stories further…
The world of the parable, is in the midst of ordinary everyday life.
Sheep go missing.
Women lose coins.
Sons get angry.
A judge cares little about justice.
A harvest is only average.
The stories themselves are about things of little intrinsic value
in the ordinariness of life.
So too is the kingdom or realm or empire of God.
And that’s the twist.
The realm of God is less grand, and less than anticipated.
It includes those who are usually or always, excluded.
So we have a couple of stories which say:
We are unable to predict the outcome
when the resolution is always unexpected.
Pretty ordinary, really!
I invite you to ponder that some more.
Surprise, extravagance, and joy charactise these parables (Donahue 1988:150).
Likewise, “Jesus’ teachings about God’s reign were fresh and surprising,”
also notes theologian Hal Taussig again.
“His teachings were so striking that usually his hearers were inspired, shocked, or actively puzzled. When he spoke, the clever social
involvement of his teachings called people to self-examination and new relationships” (Taussig 1999: 22, 23).
Like Jesus, the people who effectively invite us to change our world view of events or people or relationships,
are not the televangelists or the fundamentalists who often scream about other people's ‘sin’,
or the politicians who preach fear and insecurity in the hope of re-election.
But those whose lives proclaim an alternative.
A new vision of what could be.
And that requires living without reservation
into a completely open future.
(PS: This is the closest Sunday to the anniversary of 9/11 in America - the attack on the Twin Towers.
This week I came across this statement from my friend Rabbi Arthur Waskow... If you check back to my sermon on Anger (15/8/2010) you will read the context for this statement...
“The Inquisition burned the Talmud. Nazis, on 10 May 1933, burned thousands of books - among them the works of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, André Gide, Maxim Gorki, George Grosz, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Helen Keller. And now we have amongst us in America some who call themselves Christians, who have called for burning the Quran, and who have chosen September 11 as the day to do so.
“The great German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote in his 1820-1821 play Almansor: 'Where they burn books, they will finally also burn people'.” (Rabbi Arthur Waskow. 1/9/2010. The Shalom Centre))
Donahue, J. R.1988. The Gospel in Parable. Metaphor, Narrative, and Theology in the Synopic Gospels. Philadelphia. Fortress Press.
Taussig, H. 1999. Jesus Before God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Shea, J. 1984. The Challenge of Jesus. Thomas More Association.