Minister’s Reflection – March 7, 2019
Rev. Dave Crawford
“Revisiting Jesus in Lent”
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
– Matthew 10:34-39
Firstly, can I remind you of one important fact – we are not literalists! By “we” I mean we in the United Church of Canada, generally speaking, as well as our sisters and brothers in the Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian traditions, many in Roman Catholicism as well. We are not bound by an approach to Scripture requiring belief that every word of the Bible are God’s words. It may be more accurate to say that while we both celebrate and grapple with different parts of the Bible, as we remember its varied historical contexts and how it has come down to us over the ages, we strive to perceive, with the Spirit’s guidance we hope, the truth of God’s grace and love pervading the Bible. Not necessarily God’s words but to some degree, some faith-inspiring, empowering degree, most definitely God’s eternal Word offered to humanity as gift, as a slightly-cracked-open door into the essence or heart of God, a revelatory glimpse of glory.
Secondly, having now commented on some of the ways we may appropriate Scripture from our modern perspective, I would still make the claim that we’re not exempt from dealing head on with passages such as the one I’ve quoted above. Indeed, this seemingly offensive, overly harsh mini-sermon from Jesus may strike us as odd, strange, possibly (we may imagine) not really from Jesus. New testament scholars would argue the opposite. Its very sharpness, its distinctive rigidity and offensive demands suggest that these words are very likely among those in the New Testament virtually indisputably of Jesus. My perspective is that they are inspiring, challenging, strangely comforting words, especially during Lent.
What Jesus is doing here is going way over the top to make a key point to his listeners: seekers, the curious, would be followers. He’s using hyperbole, exaggerating to grab their attention, and it works! “I have come to change things and to change them dramatically”, he seems to be saying. “I’m not foolin around here. I’m talking about transformation, revolution, a whole new way of looking at God, of looking at your neighbor, of looking at the world, and if you want to even begin thinking you might want to be a follower of my Way, my movement, well then, you better be ready for a revolution in your own life, a complete reordering of priorities. You haven’t seen the likes of me before. I’m not a politician, I’m not into platitudes and cliches. I am the Anointed, chosen, divinely appointed Revealer of God’s Love and its implications. You wanna get on board? It’s gonna cost you!”
For better or worse, that’s a sort of paraphrase. I hope it helps make sense of a difficult passage. I hope it provokes you, propels you deeper you into Lenten reflection. I hope it draws you closer to the One whose Passion is God’s promise for humanity, for now and for eternity.
Does Jesus have a problem with families? Some latent resentment over a dysfunctional upbringing? Issues with familial relations? Anger problems? Of course not. He does however, expect certain things, certain attitudes, certain commitments, from his disciples, from us, and he’ll use any means, including hyperbole, to get our attention, to challenge us, to transform us into the Christians he hopes we’ll become.
Grace and Peace as we begin the journey of Lent!
“This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.”
― Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, 1886-1968, Swiss Church leader; often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century; with Bonhoeffer and other pastor-theologians actively opposed Nazism in Germany.