Easter Without Hindsight: What made Jeshua stand out? He made people feel special …
I had a phone call last night from someone who has followed the of the Lent journey from the start. The thing that stood out for her, apparently, was the way that Jeshua made people feel special.
I started the series with the idea of looking at how different groups of the people who lived with Jeshua (and, in some cases, watched him die) saw him given they didn’t know how the story would end. Knowing what people thought they were looking at helps us to understand what Jeshua thought of himself and better informs how each of us sees him. I didn’t notice, until it was pointed out to me last night, quite how that made people react to him the way they did.
There were those who only saw him (or were unable, maybe, to see him any other way) in the light of their own cultural assumptions. Perhaps they were the ones, like Caiaphas and Pilate, who were perhaps trying to do all the right things for all the right reasons and ended up killing an innocent man. Reagan’s suggestion for the most dangerous nine words in English spring to mind: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Then there were those who had some kind of personal interaction with Jeshua and often managed to overcome their culture-shock. My friend last night gave Zaccheus as an example of one whom Jeshua made feel special. All the good things (starting with his deciding to turn away from his corrupt life) mentioned in the gospel afterwards resulted from this personal reaction to Jeshua.
I wonder how that observation might be reflected in the 21st Century churches? To what extent do we also view Jesus through our own religious and cultural assumptions? Like the Jews around Jeshua, how many of us view him as our churches have (often unconsciously) taught us to. I remember how many people were shocked, a few years ago, to see Mary and Jesus, on Christmas postage stamps, depicted in a traditional Indian form. Jesus was no longer the long-haired, blue-eyed blonde with a California sun tan that they were used to. Mary suddenly wasn’t Julie Andrews in a blue nun’s habit.
Conversely I am also struck by how many people have a faith that is often radically different from their church upbringing because of a personal encounter with Jesus. I myself was born into a Roman Catholic family and I only discovered this in 2004 when a Catholic relative asked me why I had become an Anglican priest. I grew up in Anglican churches full of ornate religion and by the age of ten the church had thoroughly inoculated me against Christianity. I wouldn’t even have wasted my time on a senseless question like: “Does God exist?”
Then by chance (or maybe ‘God-incidence’) I met people (a plug here for Min-y-don, in Wales) who knew Jesus and didn’t seem to have much religion. Suddenly I could see God! Then I discovered that God had built the entire Hebrew faith, culminating with Jesus, just for people like me. Guess how special I felt then?
It didn’t stop, and hasn’t stopped, all kinds of grief pouring into my life ever since but now I can’t lose my faith. When most of his disciples left him after he fed the 5,000 and said he was the Bread of Life (John 6:66) Jesus asked the Twelve whether they were going too. “Where would we go?’ replied Peter. “You have the words of eternal life.” Like Peter, I can’t go either. I know too much. Its too special.
As I sit in the ‘dunnunto’ (where the pew-fodder who are ‘done unto’ in Church sit) this Easter perhaps I’ll remember that Jesus never seemed to invite people to come to special church services, or to join special clubs. Instead he left his theology in a meal his disciples could share with others for all ages. He spent his time making those around him ( and often the last people who would be comfortable hanging out with religious folk) feel special about themselves.