14 October 2013Matthew 11:2-19
"Let anyone with ears listen!" (v. 15)
Jesus' ministry was set in a culture of ferment and unrest. John
was baptizing large crowds in the river Jordan. The Essenes had
opted out of regular society, to form a holiness monastery in the
desert, at Qumran: there they prepared for God's new age. Zealots,
like Barabbas, promoted revolutionary violence against the pagan
Roman authorities, to hasten their departure and the advent of
God's kingdom. The Pharisees were developing a non-revolutionary,
lay holiness network through the small town and rural synagogues of
Palestine, making themselves ready for the coming Messiah. (The
Sadducees conservatively chose safety: they were allies of Rome,
cementing their power in Jerusalem and the temple.)
What were ordinary people to make of these cross-currents? When Jesus came along, he was a further complication in the mix. Where did he fit? Who was he working with - or against?
Jesus sketched a profile for his mission:
- Jesus staked a link to the tradition of Israel (the law and the prophets) through John the Baptist.
- Jesus celebrated John: he was the climax of all that God had done for Israel and given to Israel. John was God's final warning to Israel: he was Elijah returned to earth (Malachi 4:5).
- For all his indebtedness to John, Jesus had something new to reveal, the like of which had never been known before. God's kingdom was now present - in Jesus. Everyone who had the faith to claim God's healing power through Jesus experienced grace and mercy, forgiveness and new life. The world's values were turned upside down. The least were accorded higher honour than the historic saints of Israel. Moral and spiritual transformation led to lives of humility and gentleness. Their hallmark was humble service of the poor.
- Jesus has no time for and no links whatsoever with violence.
However, Jesus' movement was vulnerable to violence from
others. The Zealots wanted to take it over. Herod was on the prowl
against all reform movements. Pharisees and Sadducees were
constantly sniping at it.
Even so, if people only listened hard enough, they would hear God's voice in the words of Jesus.
- Do you feel confused by the great diversity of Christian organisations and theological perspectives in contemporary society? What helps you to find a secure basis for faith?
- Who among contemporary Christians inspires you as a model of discipleship for today? Why?
- Many congregations feel small and vulnerable. To what extent is that necessarily a negative experience?