on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r060.htm
s060g11 Sunday 27 2/10/2011
‘they realised that he was speaking about them ..’ Matthew
This is a parable about the maltreatment of those God sends to those
who believe that they are entitled, elected, and so much superior to
others. Those who believe that they are entitled,
elected and so much superior to others - beat, kill and stone those
whom God sends to them. They even kill the son and heir.
And the chief priests and the Pharisees realise that Jesus is
speaking about them, and what do they want to do in response? - they
want to arrest Jesus. They fulfil Jesus own words!
So for all the Old Testament (and of course the New as well) speaks
to us about loving God and neighbour, the sense of entitlement,
election and superiority over others that religion often brings
(‘christianity’ as much as any other) actually means that the very
people who consider themselves models of devotion and orthodoxy are
actually the most vicious – towards those God sends and towards
those around them!
This is what the parable means!
I am reminded of the old Simon and Garfunkel song ‘Sounds of
Silence’: ‘and the words of the prophets are written on the subway
walls and tenement halls’. The words of the prophets are
not to be found amongst the devout and the orthodox.
But I wonder if the perception that the chief priests and the
Pharisees had, that Jesus was confronting them personally and
individually, was and is correct. I have reflected
before that the perception that Cain had that God preferred his
brother Abel’s offering rather than his own was correct.
I do know that the Bible tells us this, but, after that fateful bite
of the apple, we cannot be sure that any of our own perceptions,
about God or about others, are correct. I often reflect,
Jesus went to eat at the houses of both Simon the leper and Simon
Jesus tells stories and invites those who heard him to think about
their own responses. They are stories where the
appropriate response doesn’t require a theological degree to find,
the hearers don’t need to be able to instantly quote chapter and
verse of an appropriate scripture to give the correct answer, nor
does it need any real special spiritual qualifications to
discern. So Jesus invites all people, not just the
theologically elite, to think.
And it is primarily an invitation to think - rather than to
comply. Those who were models of devotion and orthodoxy
were experts in complying with past decrees. Jesus
invites us into the present, to not hide behind past utterances and
authorities, and invites us into relationship with those around us,
rather than relationship with the dead and buried to the exclusion
of those around us. And so he confronts religion which
separates us from the present, and from those around us now.
In essence, I am saying that Jesus confronts, not the chief priests
and the Pharisees, but the religion that they have faithfully been
taught, learned and practiced, over many years. In a
sense they had learned their religion too well so that they couldn’t
see beyond it. It was their very religion that blinded
them to the needs as well as the gifts of those God had put around
them – and of course ‘christianity’ can do this as much as any other
Of course there were (and are) very good reasons for individuals to
prefer a religion which separates them from others. The
rich and the powerful may well prefer a religion which enables them
to not see the needs of those around them, but all too often the
Church can say this of the monetary rich – i.e. others – and fail to
see that they (the church) deny dignity to others who need
it. We parade our moral superiority. As I
have often commented, many parts of the church continue to deny
appropriate contraception to millions and so condemn those millions
to lives of continuing poverty, illness and premature death, all the
while complaining about rich people and nations not being charitable
to the starving.
I confess I have always been uncomfortable with Synod motions
directed at governments and how they ought to be running the state
or the country. There seems to be some wilful blindness
to the deficiencies in the church here. While we are
criticising others we do not need to look at our own
selves. When I hear about dysfunctional secular
parliaments and governments, I am not sure that the church
committees I’ve been on are any better, even with their supposedly
more homogenous constituency and skilful weeding out of dissenters.
Jesus came, not to confront the rich and the powerful, the movers
and shakers and the politicians. Indeed I don’t think he
came to confront anyone. But it was the religious who
were scandalised that Jesus didn’t affirm their moral and religious
authority over everyone who weren’t part of their holy huddle.
The last chapters of each of the gospels describes the conflict
Jesus had with the devout and the orthodox because Jesus associated
with people other than them, and how Jesus was killed for this.
In many ways it is the politicians as well as the poor who are
living in the present and trying to exist as amicably as possible in
often trying circumstances. Neither need the churches
constant disapprobation. The politicians and the poor
are not able to restrict their constituencies to a homogenous group
like the church attempts to do. It was quasi-religious figures
like Hitler who attempted to do this, and we know how many were
exterminated in the process. Jews, gays, the disabled.
Indeed of course, the ideal of a homogenous church of like-minded
worshippers is, when one actually thinks about it in these terms, a
fantasy. As I have often observed, it is the conceit of
a minister or priest, if he or she thinks that their parishioners
believe in precisely the same terms as him or her. Even
after a lifetime of preaching, people will always have their own
‘take’ on the faith. Sometimes it seems as if the church
spends so much energy proclaiming orthodoxy that they fail to
appreciate the riches of spirituality, hidden away, unperceived,
unexpressed, un-nurtured in folk who are just striving to live from
day to day. I think of the spirituality of the surfer
and the motorcyclist.
This viciousness of the entitled, elected and the superior, seems
unconscious, inadvertent, unwitting, yet others are indeed
hurt. As the psalmist says: ‘Who can discern unwitting
sins? O cleanse me from my secret faults.’ (Psalm 19.12)
And it is interesting, again we can so personalise this, yet if we
take St Paul as an example, here he was on that road to Damascus,
thoroughly convinced that what he was doing, persecuting people who
were different, was what God wanted. He had no idea that
he was committing a sin or that he was evil, or indeed that he was
doing something that reflected own his own will. But he
was stopped in his tracks because others were indeed being hurt, and
hurt (supposedly) in the name of God. With God, no one
One of the less frequently recognized perceptions in the Bible is
the need to make sure that the offerings we make to God are our
own. The prophet Nathan had to confront King David with
his sin and he uses the story of the rich man who takes his poor
neighbour’s lamb to fulfil his religious duty to feed his unexpected
Some members of the Church spend their lives suggesting that the
world would be a better place if others made the proper sacrifices
rather than the ones they want to make. Others have to
sacrifice their spirituality in favour of an ‘orthodox’
one. How many long standing parishioners think that this
is their church and that others have to live up to their
expectations if they want to stay?
Everyone has a right to live and to be a part of the world and a
part of God’s church. Jesus comes to say to those who
want it all for themselves, because somehow they are special in the
eyes of God, that God actually wants them to share it with others.
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