Jesus has given some astounding teaching to his disciples over the past few weeks, and He continues to do so today. Some of the challenges that the disciples faced are so far removed from our world view that it is difficult to conceive HOW challenging it must have been for them.
We have the advantage of two thousand years of reflection and engagement across human experience.
In our time the taboos, misunderstanding, and the natural instincts of societies built by and for the strong and beautiful, no longer openly supports the outright suppression of foreigners, women and children.
These attitudes do still exist though, and don’t be mistaken about that.
We tend to hide our racism and prejudices economically and socially in a number of ways that make it less obvious how poorly our world is structured still. I wonder how each one of us would cope with our world views’ being DAILY challenged in the words, example and life demands that Jesus is putting his disciples through.
For myself I can say that whilst this is perhaps not DAILY, it is certainly constant, as I engage with the scriptures and prepare for this service every week. I hope that I bring some of that journey to this service in a meaningful way for each of you to take a piece and reflect upon in your own lives.
The key depends on our life circumstances and just how close to the rubber hitting the road that our life actually brings us to these examples Jesus is giving.
Jesus did not only talk to his disciples about the scriptures and teach them academically how to understand them, as the Pharisees did. As the scriptures say today: “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.””
No doubt this was a difficult teaching. Israel today is still busy trying to carve out its own place on the planet through the blood of its neighbours.
Non-Christians, and Christians alike, around the world engage in all manner of activities that continue to keep the oppressors happy, at the expense of the poor and weak. Much of the world has still not grasped the fundamental principles behind the self-sacrificial love of God as demonstrated by Jesus.
As the first hearers of this challenging and divisive teaching, is it any wonder the disciples struggled to understand?
Jesus did not only teach by exposition of the scriptures, as he also observed their conversations and personal development, he drew their attention to those issues that showed clearly they had not understood and integrated their new learning.
As the Gospel states he asked them: “What were you arguing about on the way?” Their argument is so typically human. As a parent I have asked that question many times of my children! Even amongst adults, and clearly amongst Nations, the number of times issues and arguments revolve around ego and individual agenda’s for power and position and the amount of resources put literally and figuratively to the battlefront to decide, is frankly not just scary but deeply disturbing!
Jesus does not answer them on an intellectual and academic level, although his response certainly requires some serious thought and process to grasp.
Jesus takes the disciples, and us, to the core of human behaviour and experience, and teaches them at the point of emotional understanding.
He stands a child in their midst. However the focus needs not to rest on the child, even though Jesus has placed this child firmly in the centre of the dialogue. The focus is resting on how the disciples perceived this child, and themselves in relation to the child, within the world that they lived.
This is perhaps the hardest part for us to relate to.
We can possibly understand the sense of wonder and interest that a child’s view of the world can be, but that may be reading into the text what is not actually there. Children in the 21st Century have their own United Nations Charter for the Rights of the Child. For those children lucky enough to live in a developed nation, there are professionals at every point in a child’s life employed with the sole purpose of trying to ensure they are looked after well.
Entire Government bodies, non-Government organizations and millions of voluntary hours are dedicated to improving the lot of children across the globe, and in our own neighbourhoods. So we cannot really grasp how a child of 1st Century Palestine was viewed.
We can perhaps understand how vulnerable and dependant this child was.
When you think on this vulnerable child, who was not valued at all as our children are, where do you stand? What are your thoughts and feelings?
[Now this next part will be difficult to do straight away, unless you get someone else to read it for you. Just the same attempt it the best way you can, and perhaps take this idea into your next prayer time.] Close your eyes and imagine that you are this child, standing nearby in the shade of a tree, listening to Jesus and his disciples. What attracts your attention? How do you feel?
Look into Jesus eyes and feel his warmth and acceptance as he comes over to you and holds you. Listen to the words of the story that are now about YOU.
“Then Jesus took a little child and put [you] among the disciples; and taking [you] in his arms, he says to them: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Look around at the disciples as they look at you. What do you see in their eyes and faces? How are you feeling now? How will you remember this experience and what you are learning about yourself and Jesus?
Now let Jesus take you quietly out of that circle and sit you back safely in the shade nearby. Look again at Jesus and ask him what would he like you to do differently in your life, because you have this new knowledge and experience. What does Jesus give you so you will remember and be able to do whatever you have learnt from him today? Hold it, look at it carefully, and slip it into a special place that you will remember and keep it safe.
Breathe in and out slowly, three times.
Now slowly open your eyes and look around where you are now.
Many years ago I was on a spiritual retreat and we were asked to do a similar exercise.
The images that came to me in that time, still inform my ministry today.
If you have the time and desire, please share your experience through the comments on this blog,
or privately by email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> if you prefer.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I pray that you have a deeper appreciation of how significant even the smallest act of love can be, and how important it is to allow this to motivate and animate all that you do.
You may also find this link to George Michael’s song “Jesus to a child” another helpful way to meditate on the love of God at work in you.
In the strong name of Jesus… Amen.