s048g11 Sunday 15 10/7/2011
'they have shut their eyes' Matthew 13.15
It always strikes me that there is an inevitability about Jesus’ words which follow on from Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah assures us that the Lord’s words will not return to God empty; the word shall accomplish that for which it was sent. And Jesus picture of the seeds that are planted, growth comes even in the most impropitious of circumstances, and even the reasons for it not maturing are anticipated rather than fretted over. And St Paul’s words in Romans 8 are encouraging to all. Yet for all this inevitability and grace, the promises seem yet to be fulfilled.
Central to this lack of fulfilment is the wilful turning away, and the wilful turning away of those who would be most expected to welcome it, the orthodox and the devout. Those who would be expected to be the last to accept the word of God, the poor and the outcast – are the first to do so.
And here is both the conundrum and the solution, for it is precisely the inclusion of the poor and outcast and their acceptance of it that causes the orthodox to turn away – to pretend that they do not hear and see what is going on. Yet this wilful deafness and blindness does not in any way diminish the continuing inclusion and welcome God has for the poor and the outcast, it serves to make plain the eternal message that all are included.
So instead of acknowledging the inclusivity of the Lord and proclaiming it, as in the words of Psalm 40: ‘I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation' (Psalm 40:9-10) .. as one would expect of the devout and the orthodox, they refused to hear the good news, to see the signs that Jesus did, and proclaim them that others might enjoy their inclusion also.
And this is a constant theme right throughout the Bible. The whole point of the story of the prophet Jonah is orthodox religion’s reticence to allow that God cared for the people of Nineveh. Jonah went in the completely opposite direction and had to be brought back. And when the people of Nineveh repented (much to Jonah’s horror) he goes off, sulks and pleads for death! There are, sadly, people who call themselves ‘christians’ who want the story to be about the miracle of Jonah’s deliverance from the stomach of the great fish, and how God particularly cares for gullible people like themselves and condemns those who think. They make themselves deaf and blind to the good news that God cares for people who think.
Likewise St Paul repeats the story of his conversion again and again, not to magnify himself, but to repeat the mantra that to challenge, marginalise or alienate others is to persecute the Lord, yet how often do enthusiastic ‘christians’ see their God-given task as challenging, marginalizing and alienating others. They wilfully make themselves blind and deaf to the good news that God cares for others. St Paul says again and again that the real work of God is the acceptance and inclusion of others.
So people are included, even though they may not understand their inclusion; they are included even though they falter under persecution; they are included even when the cares of the world cause them to seemingly turn away.
Those who are not included are those who will not allow that others are included; those who have deliberately been deaf to the good news and deliberately blind to the signs that Jesus did, for ‘with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.’ Matthew 7.1 It is precisely the orthodox and the devout who are the ones who think that they understand and deny the inclusion of those who are not theologically literate like them. It is precisely the orthodox and the devout that persecute the poor and the outcast as they had Jesus killed. It is precisely the orthodox and the devout who make the lives of the poor and outcast a misery (or try to do so). But, in fact, this is perhaps a wrong perception, for the rich are not especially happy. I recall the story Bilbo the Hobbit. The whole book is a parable of the contentment of poverty and the discontent and anxiety of riches; and this is as true when applied to those with religious riches that so often make them discontented and anxious about their own salvation, as well as critical of the contentment of the theologically illiterate. The ‘god’ of the orthodox and the devout has turned into a demon made in their own image and they become a snare to themselves in an effort to ensnare others. From Jesus’ rejection by those with whom he had worshipped in the synagogue all his life in Nazareth, his acceptance by the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners, to the trumped up charge of blasphemy leveled against him. The orthodox and the devout refused to name the real reason for their opposition – they refused to hear and see – that it was good news that Jesus was a friend of people other than themselves.
The yields, 'in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty' are not therefore people becoming orthodox or devout, but the ones who realise that they are accepted and included. As they realise their own acceptance, they travel through life accepting and including others, and so are successful. The orthodox and the devout inherently cannot have such successes because they refuse to venture far out of their holy huddle!
For the kingdom is not something into which we are promoted when we die, but a quality of life in the here and now. There is no point whatsoever spending lives of misery, to ourselves and towards others, thinking that this is what God wants, so that we can be rewarded in the next life. Jesus' parable of the rich person in his castle and the poor man at his gate is surely not about getting into heaven, but making this life happy for all, to notice and care for the poor on our own doorsteps.
And my final comment is how the orthodox and devout have no perception of the hurts they cause so many other people. The efforts of the orthodox and the devout to get ordinary people to distrust in their own inclusion makes them the evil one, makes them the source of trouble and persecution, they are the thorns which choke the word of acceptance and inclusion. But they go blithely on, blind also to the harm they do and deaf to the cries of those they hurt.