Some years ago, a senior colleague in ministry was appreciating a communion liturgy I carefully prepared with a progressive and universal character. However, he shocked me with his question: ‘But why have you got that word ‘Christ’ in there?’ Perhaps he thought Jesus understood as Christ had lost its meaning.
His question prompted me to further focus my language on the name and character of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth and on his interactions with a wide variety of people. Some of these characters are at the center of our table group discussions this morning.
A set text for today gives a good starting point: “We are now children of God, but we do not know what we shall be! But when he is manifested to us, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-7). It’s time to think what we see in Jesus.
Jesus was sometimes like a soap box orator. He attracted people who were marginalised by religion, or inspired by his integrity, and people with broken bodies or broken hearts needing to mend.
Nicodemus was an educated and open minded Pharisee, a member of the Jewish establishment. He so wanted to see Jesus, he met him after dark. He learnt that he had to be born again. When we truly see Jesus, we know life can’t go on comfortably. We have to change.
Zacchaeus was a Jew alienated from religion and from his neighbours who paid him their taxes for Rome plus extra as his income! To see Jesus, he climbed a tree behind the crowd. What a shock when Jesus not only noticed him but invited himself for lunch with Zacchaeus. His whole life was changed. When we truly meet Jesus, we know we are valued, our ethical concern is deepened and our moral character made strong, and our relationships can be restored.
Many sick people place great faith in the healing power of Jesus but so often he said, “Your faith has made you well.” When in our brokenness we truly see Jesus, we learn that we have within ourselves all the resources we need to find abundant life.
The Samaritan woman was up for a feisty theological argument until she discovered that Jesus had prophetic insight about her life. The wisdom and teaching authority of Jesus may still amaze us and motivate us to speak of him to others.
The centurion hard at work with his hammer and cruel nails, crucifying the criminals, a man familiar with death, accustomed to cruelty. Something about the way Jesus died touched the centurion, and he remarked: ‘Truly this was the son of God”. When we see the calm self-giving life and death of Jesus, we learn that death no longer has power over us. We may receive death as a gift.
Three days later, assuming Jesus to be dead, Mary came to the garden tomb to embalm his body but was shocked to see the stone rolled away and the body gone. When she realised that it was not the gardener but Jesus calling her name, she exclaimed ‘My Teacher’. She wanted to cling to him, but Jesus sent her off to tell the disciples. When we see Jesus, we know he is not one for us to cling to as an idol or to worship but a man whose self-giving Way we will follow in our own lives.
Peter was mostly bold, but after Jesus was taken prisoner, he was no longer willing to claim him as Messiah. Thomas was a good skeptic and showed his doubt in a different way, unwilling to take for granted what others were saying. Eight days after Easter in the upper room Thomas saw Jesus and exclaimed “my Lord and my God”. Whether their stories are history or metaphor, still the sacrificial life-giving of Jesus powerfully invites our allegiance to follow Jesus’ Way of life.