SERMON - DID JESUS EVER LEARN ANYTHING?
You’ll have had them I’m sure…
MOMENTS OF INSIGHT/INTUITION…
a sudden dropping of the penny, seeing of the light, lifting of the mist…and there…you can see it now…see what the others have been telling you about…but has hitherto seemed to pass you by…
but now…now you have it…or it has you.
We can be rolling along fine. Thinking we have life all figured out. We buy a newspaper that echoes and reinforces our world view…we know who fits in where…what is as it should be…and the corners of our thinking are rounded…the edges softened. We’re there.
And then something happens to make us look at things again…and we are unsettled…we are shaken and stirred and pretty uncomfortable about things…and we discover that the neat little box we have put life into…isn’t sufficient…lacks flexibility…we have to review our stance on this, that or the other matter…and suddenly it’s not just as simple and straightforward as we imagined.
Usually, those seismic shifts in our thinking have to do with people and our experiences with them…
· The parents, of traditional) moral principle, whose daughter comes home and tells them she is moving in with her boyfriend…
· The couple with strong views about homosexuality - whose son tells them he is gay.
· The man who has always been critical of the Health Service -who finds himself in hospital and overwhelmed with kindliness and skill…
And the examples could go on:
· The man who had no time for what he saw as the feckless unemployed is made redundant and can’t for the life of him get a job…
· The church elder who would “never have a woman minister” finds himself with one…and she is wonderful!
· The man who grumbles about all the “political correctness that makes such a fuss about disabled people and their rights…” who finds he now has to push his wife around in a wheelchair…and suddenly he sees the world differently.
And so on…
Time for a re-think…
All our hard certainties…rocked by… reality.
And we have to think again…look at things afresh. Re-assess our dogmatic stance.
We can cling onto our stubborn certainties – or learn to respond as situations arise, and as real people enter the equation.
And it often is to do with people…and the awfulness of their plight, the severity of their need, the depth of their crisis, the hard choices they make.
And we begin to think that sometimes, actually, it’s people first -and principles second.
That can be a risky road to take…who knows what accommodations, adjustments, waterings down and radical reviews it will demand
- but when the person is actually there in front of you and their need cries out…their humanity presents itself, we know instinctively where our priorities lie.
Theory might be one thing…but it often has to go out the window when we are dealing with real people.
Intellectual arguments are one thing…the needs of real individuals for compassion, grace and tenderness are another.
So, here’s the question…did Jesus ever change his mind about things…? Did his thinking evolve, develop, change…alter – in the light of circumstances…did he ever learn anything…have one of those moments when all his certainties had to be readjusted in the light of the need of a real person there in front of him?
The creeds of the church from the earliest times talk about Jesus as being human and divine. That’s not an easy concept and has always left tough questions for us.
But the early church fathers – after much study and many councils, decided it was the truth revealed in the biblical texts and the remembrance of the Christian community.
So, did he know everything all the time…in the light of his being God an’ all…or did he have to learn stuff the same as we did…and so, his “being divine” gave him no special advantages –
He had to learn to read and write…
He had to come to an understanding about truth and morality and what is right and wrong…
he had to learn to be a carpenter…just like any apprentice and get skelves in his fingers and rough bits on his hands…
And he had to deal with his cultural heritage and the strait-jacket that can be - and the certainty among his people that they were the people…and they were so chosen it hurt…
and that everyone else was pretty much not worth very much …
And having breathed that air of prejudice and social arrogance from his early days…did he have to learn new thinking…discover new attitudes, different ways of dealing with the world?
And when and where did those tipping points come?
I think we read about one today.
The incident with the foreign woman is pretty shocking.
Jesus seems to give her short shrift –
His has other, bigger fish to fry…his mission to the people of Israel has his full commitment, and there is nothing left for the desperate woman with her need and crisis.
Because she is not a Jew, she counts for less
She is not a priority.
He has other things on his mind.
Simple. As it should be – according to the measures and manners of his time and common thinking of his people.
His words to her sound rough, harsh –ungracious impatient…shocking. Un-Christ-like.
He had work in hand and the people of his own culture and their blindness, their tragedy- summon him with all his resources, energy and compassion - and he seems to have nothing left for those on the fringes, on the edges…beyond the reach of his compassion.
He tells her to go away.
He sends her away.
But she won’t go.
She won’t take a telling.
Her persistence is relentless.
And then it seems to happen.
The moment comes.
The penny drops.
He sees it.
He sees her…as a person with a desperate problem, an immediate need.
And it falls into place
Compassion overwhelms cultural stereo-typing,
Old prejudices are pushed to one side by an overwhelming humanity and love…
And he sees.
And is liberated by that moment, that insight – that divine revelation
to love the whole world…
To leave no one outside the scope and compass of his compassion.
Now he is gripped by the need of the whole world
And draws that whole world to his heart.
American Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor (swopped) describes it this way:
-- You can almost hear the huge wheels of history turning as Jesus comes to a new understanding of who he is and what he has been called to. He is no longer a Messiah called only to the lost sheep of Israel, but God’s chosen Redeemer of the whole world - Jews and Gentiles alike…beginning with this Canaanite woman.
That other story - of the woman taken in adultery -
whom the law said should be stoned
offers another one of those disclosure moments…
When the light dawns
And Jesus learns that people are more important than rigid legalistic attitudes…and he invites, dares his critics to share that moment of understanding…
“I know the Law says this.
But here in front of me is this trembling, terrified woman.
What matters most?
What does God the Father want me to allow to matter most?
Yes, who knows into what murky moral waters this decision will lead and how complex it will all become…
But the truth is ….people matter
Grace is for all God’s children.
The good news is for all the world…
And if there are blurred edges…we will live with them, deal with them…”
And, on another occasion - when his disciples offend against the strict Sabbath regulations that have become just silly in their rigidity…another moment of clarity….
Of course, this is the truth –
that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…
Yes! That’s the right emphasis! This is what matters…
We all carry stuff around with us…simplistic assessments, ancient prejudices, caricatures of this type of person or that….and we should bless those disclosure moments, when we learn something new about truth…its capacity to unsettle, its sometimes grey areas, its challenge to our comfortable certainties.
If we are truly blessed we will have our moments of discovery and insight - tipping points - when the clouds of ignorance part and the sunlight of truth illuminates our story.
If that opens us or our message up to the charge of us “being a soft touch,” offering cheap grace, we will live with that rebuke and try to explain that grace isn’t cheap…even though it is free. Kindliness is not easy – just right.
And we will allow ourselves to be open to those disclosure moments when the love of God enables us to see things differently…in the midst of real encounters…not “wham bam rockets galore revelations” –but in the quiet new certainties that creep into our soul - and we discover that people matter more than us being right all the time.
There was a man in the early years of my ministry who gave me a torrid time…he could be difficult, negative…
you say black, he’d say white … his mission seemed to be to block and stymie and make sure I never got what I wanted for the church, without a struggle. He was a pain in the neck.
He got ill. I visited him in hospital and he lay there scared and sick vulnerable …and as I looked at him- I realised that, actually, I loved him. I loved the old beggar…and that all the other stuff was nothing. He mattered and he mattered to me. It was a revelation indeed.
I’m still waiting for the other moments to come. When I can open the door to a needy individual who’s looking for money or something…and feel only compassion and never cynicism and suspicion…or when I’m able to see a beggar in the streets of Edinburgh and not be torn between helplessness anger and shame…only feel only sorrow and compassion…
I take some comfort from the fact that if there were things the Master had to learn, journeys and adventures of discovery he had to make…that he will understand if it’s taking me a while to get myself to where he would like me to be….where I too will know that when it all boils down to it…people, whoever they are – strong or weak, feckless or confident, gay or straight, rich or poor, fat or thin, nice or nasty, Christian or non-Christian…they are our gift, our responsibility and our blessing.
Every one of them.