Messages of Hope

Month: March 2016

Published / by Sandy

Jesus is risen! Hallelujah!

Jesus’ risen life means that ‘today we find ourselves in a world where the inevitable no longer seems sure, and we wonder what else is made possible because of the resurrection: what walls will be broken and what darkness will be destroyed; what death will be shown for what it is – the possibility for love to come again’. (Cheryl Lawrie)

In that tomb, it was love that released Jesus from the bonds of death. God’s love that released the possibility of new life when all looked bleak and hopeless.

We have heard the story of Jesus told by the generations of our spiritual ancestors – of a betrayal, an arrest, a man condemned to death, and his crucifixion on a cross, and finally laid to rest in a tomb – abandoned, alone. Hate, suspicion, cruelty, and fear, had put him there. All the common elements of our human condition, seen in countless conflicts through human history. Our time is just as cruel and violent, filled with suspicion and hate.

We have been shocked by the attacks on innocent people in Brussels, as we have been shocked by other such acts of terror. Even so, since 2000, only 2.6% of deaths from terrorism have occurred in the West. Many, many more acts of terror happen, largely unreported in mainstream media. Each attack brings fear and death to innocent people – regardless of ethnicity and religious convictions. Which is why we see millions fleeing from danger, simply seeking safety.

Jesus’ death on a cross was a political act designed to bring terror to the civilians in the Roman Empire. Sadly, the religious authorities colluded with political might to execute Jesus. He was guilty only of ‘crimes of compassion’, as he sought to embody God’s love and offer God’s mercy and forgiveness. His state sanctioned death by execution on a cross was because his message of love and justice, and his advocacy for the poor and the marginalised, was a threat to those who held power. Brute force sought to defeat love.

In that tomb, it was love that released Jesus from the bonds of death. God’s love that released the possibility of new life when all looked bleak and hopeless.

We long to see this love released in our global community – in the actions and words of our political as well as religious leaders, in the actions of those placed in positions of trust, with those who hold power, and with those who make decisions that affect the lives of others. And we long to see that love released between neighbours, regardless of ethnicity or religious convictions.

It is heartening to see ordinary people embracing love not hate. 10,000 American Jews have signed a petition condemning Donald Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims. To Donald Trump they say, ’When we say ‘never again’, it’s not just about Jews, it’s about everyone. There’s no place for your rhetoric in the 21st century’.

It is heartening to see the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau welcome thousands of Syrian refugees to his country – people who have been forced to flee their homeland due to war and conflict. We wait in anticipation to see a similar commitment from Australia come to fruition. Just 29 have been settled in Australia from the 12,000 Syrians that Australia committed to settle, though the Immigration Minister has just spent $6.2 million on a film to deter refugees from travelling to Australia!

It is heartening to hear the story from Germany of Syrian asylum seekers who rescued a leading political candidate for a far right party, after the man had crashed his car into a tree. The two Syrians pulled the seriously injured man from the wreckage and administered first aid before an ambulance arrived at the scene. Love overcoming fear and suspicion and difference. The Good Samaritan story re-told for the 21st century.

The Australian cartoonist Leunig speaks of love and fear –
There are only two feelings: Love and fear.
There are only two languages: Love and fear.
There are only two activities: Love and fear.
There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.
Love and fear. Love and fear.

Those who perpetrate acts of violence are committed to generating fear and hatred. Those who follow the Jesus way, those who are ambassadors for Christ, are those who cradle and release God’s love in a world longing to be freed from all that binds, that divides, that excludes. This day, resurrection beckons us again to open ourselves more fully to God’s transforming love. It invites us to invest our lives in love, generosity, kindness, justice and peace.

R. Buckminster Fuller said, ‘It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry’. How we live together, at peace with each other, and with the earth.

And that’s what we see in Jesus’ life – an invitation to live life, and life it in all its fullness. Not just for you, or for me, but for the common good and welfare of all. In revealing the breadth and depth of God’s love for us, the invitation is there for us to open ourselves to God’s love that transforms our lives, and the way we live together. Our faith in God is personal but never private. It must always be revealed in the way we treat one another.

The Moderator, Dr Deidre Palmer, in her Easter message, says: When suffering and trauma are fresh, as they are now in the wake of the attacks in Brussels, it can be difficult to believe in a message of love, hope and peace. And yet today, in Jesus, people experience God’s message of hope that we can live differently. Love can shape our relationships. Equality, justice and peace can be the foundation of our societies. We can be reconciled to God and to each other. Healing and new beginnings are possible.

As we celebrate Easter, may you dare to hope, as we recall once more Christ’s message of love and peace for all the world. May it be so. Amen.

The Passing Parades…

Published / by Andrew

There is always a passing parade inviting us to join. Like it or not, we are enmeshed in the world where we find ourselves, and we cannot stand on the side lines of life. As they say: not to decide is to decide. We are marching in someone’s parade. Our greatest danger is to be unconscious of this, unaware that somebody’s drum is setting our direction.

The challenge is to choose what is important. Which parade do I follow? Does it matter if I eat meat, or wear the same jeans as everyone else? How often do I change my phone? Which suburb will I live in? Where will I work?

Even these questions betray the pressures of society to conform, and the blinkers society offers us. Why did I not ask which religion I will follow, or how much of my income I will give away, or if I will work for the poor, or for justice? For some folk, the only questions are if there will be food to eat. My neighbour told us that before escaping to Australia, he never knew how many members of the family would come home alive at the end of each day.

The choice of which parade we follow has always been with us. It always has ethical implications.

In the case of Palm Sunday, some commentators think it likely there were even two parades that day!

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30. It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most sacred week of the Jewish year… One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class…  On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire… Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology. (Marcus Borg, John Crossan The First Week, Day One.)

At the time there was no separation of state and religion. Imperial power was intertwined with imperial religion. The Emperor was God. Although we seek to separate religion and state, the deeper truth is that all  our systems are religious; they reflect the values of our society, and society will fight as hard as any religion to defend what it holds sacred.

Rome’s parade came on a warhorse, with marching soldiers: it was about power and victory. It was the parade which said we are in charge because we have won. We are the conquerors. The power is ours. We own you.

So Rome’s parade was about maintaining the economic and religious status quo— Rome’s status quo. A first step in our being conscious of who we are, and of what seeks to influence and enlist us is to observe the status quo and ask who it benefits.

Jesus’ competing parade was just as political as Rome’s. The story has him coming down from the Mount of Olives, which the prophet Zechariah (in Chapter 14) had imagined to be the place where the Lord would stand when Israel was delivered from foreign oppression. But Jesus rode into the city on a donkey rather than a war horse. Equally well known at the time was the notion that the king who came in peace would ride a donkey

Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9)

People who spread their cloaks spread them for this king, not the king of violence. (Compare the passage to 2 Kings 9, where the cloaks are spread after the anointing of Jehu and he begins his coup.)

Jesus’ theology, in a single sentence, was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind…” And there was a qualifier: “and [you shall love] your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10) This is the basis of the Kingdom of God. In this same passage in Luke he also tells the story commonly called the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour, it says, is everybody, even our enemy.

Palm Sunday with its competing parades, is perhaps the starkest presentation of the Christian Gospel, for to love you as I love myself, is to seek no privilege you cannot also have. There is no more challenging way of living. All our questions above about food, clothing, and lifestyle are open again. If we will not answer them to benefit our neighbour as well as ourselves, we have joined another parade.

– – –

The Reading for Palm Sunday in the Year of Luke

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’34They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying,

‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ 40 He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

The Love of Mary

Published / by Andrew

The Gospel of John is not newspaper narrative. It is full of metaphor and symbol designed to open the reader to deeper meaning. In Chapter 3, for example, John’s Jesus says, “I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus is the foil which points us beyond the literal. “4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’…. 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”

We meet another such call to spiritual depth, and its foil of shallow life, in the John 12 reading set for this week. The text looks forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and is followed in Chapter 13 by the unmistakeable challenge to costly discipleship. It is set in the context of a meal where the hostess, Mary, publicly

took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (12:3)

The original story has a woman anoint Jesus’ head, which is politically provocative; kings were anointed. (Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13) Luke knows the tradition which had a woman anointing Jesus’ feet, but makes her “a woman of the city, a sinner,” which can be used to excuse her excessive devotion. (Luke 7:36-50)  But John makes this anointing the act of Mary the sister of Lazarus, who is beyond reproach. Her actions are unmistakeably erotic.

The unbinding of hair is reserved only for a husband. In our own culture, caressing another’s feet … is not generally done outside the bedroom. Thus, the familiarity of Mary’s action is astounding, embarrassing, and uncomfortable for those witnessing (or reading about) such intimacy.

Mary is shameless as she steps far outside the bounds of convention, teetering on the edge of scandal.  Mary’s actions are laced with a wanton tenderness found between married couples, not an unmarried man and woman. Even for Jesus, who regularly stepped outside the social mores binding women of his time …  the fact that he allows her to perform this display of tender love is also astonishing. (Chana Tetzlaff)

The foil to Mary is Judas, who is repelled by the intimacy of Mary’s actions. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” he cries, which is a seemingly worthy response. But Jesus takes Mary’s part and condemns society with has statement, “You will always have the poor with you.”

Judas is repelled by the intimacy of Mary’s actions. In John these actions symbolise an intimacy with Spirit, a total giving of oneself to God as one gives in sexual intimacy. Judas recoils from spiritual renewal and intimacy, and hides his fear with the emotional blackmail of “the poor.” John emphasises this. “He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.”

The words of hope in all this? There is something beyond money. There is an intimacy with God which is lavish and extravagant, and which is resurrecting.

And the poor? Perhaps Sydney Carter’s song provides direction.

“The poor of the world are my body,” he said,
“to the end of the world they shall be.
The bread and the blanket you give to the poor
you’ll know you have given to me.” he said,
“You’ll know you have given to me.”

“My body will hang from the cross of the world
“Tomorrow,” he said, “and today.
And Martha and Mary will find me again
and wash all the sorrow away,” he said,
“And wash all the sorrow away.”

Andrew

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sibling rivalry

Published / by Andrew

The reading set for this week is known almost universally as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But because of its context in Luke 15, should it be called something else? Jesus is answering complaints from the good religious people of his time about his association with “sinners.” Sinners was not only a religious term, but also a measure of social acceptability. In his answer he tells the story of a lost sheep and a lost coin. So his third story, which we call the Prodigal, might actually be the story of a lost son.

This observation raises an immediate question: which son is lost? There are two sons, but only one is able to enter the house of his father. The other, estranged from his father, refuses to come in. And it’s not the prodigal son; it’s the “good” son who won’t come home!

In this post I explore the parable from the point of view of the good son, and from my own life experience. I am using work collected by Paul Nuechterlein, predominately in this article , and the indented paragraphs are from him, unless otherwise attributed.

There is another common interpretation which we could question.

The parable does leave an open ending: will the elder brother be reconciled and join the party or not? Will the Father’s efforts at reconciliation prove successful or not? The dominant Protestant reading of the parable appears to answer in the negative — that some will always refuse to put their faith in grace alone and so will be punished forever in hell. Eternal estrangement is the end of the story….

Yet the story does not say this.

The father’s invitation remains an open invitation to join the party of reconciliation. Jesus leaves it as an open invitation for all of us elder sons who come along in history that we, too, might join in the party of reconciliation.

•••

There are two groups of people who listen to Jesus tell this story. Nuechterlein describes them as

the religious folks who are, overall, obedient to society’s rules and seen as successful; and … those on the margins, the poor, captive, and oppressed, the sinners and tax collectors.

Do you see that religion is linked to societal success in these groups? The poor, even if not wicked, are classed with the sinners, simply by virtue of being poor. I do not think much has changed, even now. People used to say cleanliness is next to godliness, but even cleanliness costs money, just as it once cost money to be properly religious and not a sinner!

We define sinfulness along socio-economic lines in complete contradiction of the bible. Paul, for example, reels off a terrible list of sins at the end of Romans 1 and then reels in his nodding Christian readers by saying,

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2You say, ‘We know that God’s judgement on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’ 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgement of God?  … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 2:1-3; 3:23)

Jesus could have said to the Pharisees and scribes, “But you are sinners, too! You are no better, except for the fact that society lets you enter the temple to worship.” In this chapter of Luke, it is society who has defined the sinners, not God.

An example from our time: drug induced psychosis and drug fuelled violence are major issues for our local hospital. In our society, such drug dependency has been criminalised. The churches often see it as sinful. But one of my acquaintances who has never been drunk, as far as I know, has also “never been seen” without a glass of wine at hand after 5pm. This person deals with their life trauma and stress with a legalised drug, safe in an upper middle class house. Could it be mere luck that their life trauma can be deadened with alcohol alone? And in my fortunate life, I can deal with— or is it avoid— my trauma and wounding with “obsessive and excessive riding of pushbikes”— my doctor has a way with words, over-hard work, and an excess of coffee.

All three of us are estranged from God in some way. All three of us need healing. All three of us self-medicate. But society determines which ones of us are sinful, whilst being blind to the addiction of the others. Those who control society, we who are rich, get to define those who are not. We define them as “sinful” or as failures, rather than as estranged from us or, even, as victims of the system which benefits us.

God in Jesus Christ is inviting me to the heavenly party going on because of the work of reconciliation begun in Jesus Christ. But first I need to be able to see my estranged siblings. Mimetic Theory teaches us that our most common blindness precisely involves our not being able to see our victims as anything else than unrelated others. We fail to see them as siblings, as fellow human beings, and so we fail to see them as estranged. And, most tragically, we fail to answer the call to be reconciled. If Jesus’ heavenly Father is trying to get us to see them as brothers or sisters, our response is so often like the elder brother’s: “this son of yours,” never “this brother of mine.”

As one of the winners in society, and as a member of the church, I am an older brother by definition. Will I respond to the people around me as sister and brother of mine, or reject them as someone else’s problem? Often we barely even allow that they are daughters and sons of God!

The first gift in this story is that the Divine does not judge us as society judges us, or as we judge ourselves. God simply loves us. Rob Bell says the “younger son comes to see himself as bad, undeserving of any love from his father. But the older son’s problem is that he thinks he does deserve” his father’s love. (Quoted by Nuechterlein) That’s why he’s so angry. He’s worked over-hard and thinks he deserves more. He’s blind to what the father says: “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours!”

He’s blind and enraged because, instead of taking his bearings from his father’s love, he is defining himself by his brother.  Andrew Marr says

When the older brother keeps his distance, the father runs out to him with the same solicitude he showed the returning younger son. The elder son’s disingenuous accusation of not being allowed to celebrate is shown up for what it is. Apparently, the elder son never thought to celebrate with his friends until his father threw a party for that son of his. What the elder son has done is put himself into competition with his younger brother, when there is no need for competition. This sort of mimetic rivalry creates a stumbling block in the way of forgiveness. It remains to be seen whether or not the younger brother will forgive the elder for his unforgiving attitude.

It worries me that so often we (and I) have believed the older brother’s claims about the father’s lack of love! What does our common assumption that the older brother is being truthful say to us? Or have we not noticed how often we “gild the lily” when complaining about our siblings? Is there something here that betrays that we don’t believe in the love of the father!?

The story is not only gift. It is a repeat of the first story of culture— from the biblical perspective— and can be read as a chilling warning of a future of estrangement.

In captivity, the Israelites were confronted with the Babylonian myths of origin. Underlying these is the notion that violence simply is. It is a part of the constitution of the world.

In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world … order is established by means of disorder … Evil precedes good. … Marduk and his father, Ea, … execute [a captive god], and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods …  Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. (Walter Wink The Myth of Redemptive Violence)

The early chapters of Genesis seem to have been written in opposition to this myth.

The biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this. The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple’s sin and the connivance of the serpent (Genesis 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution. (Ibid)

And, as we see only too clearly in a nuclear age, and in the heat of the acquisitive violence that threatens our climate and biosphere, violence requires a solution or we may not survive it.

When the first couple leave the Garden of Eden and enter “the real world,” they have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain is angry that God does not accept his sacrifice, but does accept the sacrifice of his younger brother. In response, out in the field, he kills the brother of whom he is jealous. In literary terms, this is the beginning of human culture. And “many years later” out in the field beside his father’s house the elder son is being given a choice: be reconciled, or be like Cain. Sibling rivalry goes the heart of who we are. The estrangement of Adam and Eve from God is mirrored in Cain’s estrangement from God. And at the heart of it is violence, our violence.

This is a grim connection. Cain lamented that he would be a target for revenge, so God said, “Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.” (Genesis 4:15) But, as we have learned, the mark of Cain was prophetic rather than protective; violence has bred violence.

The parable of the lost son, this story of estranged brothers, addresses the basic issues of rivalry and violence which have been with us as long as we have been human, and which may yet destroy us. In this context the presence of Jesus among us is not so much about forgiveness, which is how we have traditionally heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but about reconciliation so that we may have life.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2)

Notice that in this text both groups are reconciled to God, as well as each other. Brian McLaren says of the elder brother,

You can’t maintain hostility against “the other” without also withdrawing from the father who loves both you and the other as beloved children. If you maintain hostility against the other, you stop acting like a son in the same family. You leave your true identity as a son and start playing the part of a slave.

At school I became the one who was other. In one sense there was no malice intended. We were just kids being kids, taking on the roles and acting out the same scapegoating of the other which society taught us. But with older eyes I am astounded at how our violence split unerringly along the lines of class and other rivalries. There were the well-off farm kids vs. the poor workers kids, and the rest of us vs. the gaol warders’ kids. Many years later, as an uncle was talking about the “butcher’s picnic” that was the football match between two local towns, I found that my father’s great rivals on the field had been the fathers of the kids who didn’t like me.

My way out of all this was to be good, and, since I was clever, to do well at school. If I kept in good with teachers, and good with my parents, I would have protectors, and life would be bearable. Of course, good meant middle class morals and ideals, and it meant the definition of those who were different as… sinful, even if we didn’t quite say so. And being clever was another way of delineating myself over against those who abused me. To my father’s credit— and to my later benefit— he lived to a very different standard, but I soaked up the dominant ethos of the district like dry sand. So I was right into what Nuechterlein calls

… human forms of obedience, based on being over against the disobedient who are the scapegoated victims of sacrificial culture.

It would never have occurred to me that

God’s way of obedience [to which we are called] … is for the sake of the siblings perceived as disobedient by the human way of thinking.

We would help those in need, but my help or sympathy was always to the in-some-way-undeserving rather than being compassion which sought to be reconciled. Few of the basic rivalries and injustices of the local community were changed.

Nuechterlein quotes James Alison, Raising Abel, p. 35.

According to this parable the mercy of God is shown not to the group, but to the lost member, to the outsider. I ask you to consider quite how extraordinary this change of perception with respect to who God is turns out to be: mercy has been changed from something which covers up violence to something which unmasks it completely. For God there are no ‘outsiders’, which means to say that any mechanism for the creation of ‘outsiders’ is automatically and simply a mechanism of human violence, and that’s that.

Life blossomed for me when I went to university, but not because I changed. I merely found more people like me. And then, life began to sour again after uni, as I found that being good does not work. Being good gets you into trouble, or makes you a slave. So, like the older brother, I discovered rage; deep fury at the injustice of life, which, really, meant deep fury that I was still not accepted. I was still estranged. I was not one of the winners. I was not good enough.

But I was just clever enough to finally realise my rage was only quantitatively different from those who killed their families, or who beat up bystanders outside pubs. The problem is not goodness. The problem is not self-control. The problem is estrangement.

Nuechterlein says in another article

Jesus didn’t just call these folks brothers and sisters, he lived in solidarity with them — the poor and oppressed, the imprisoned and persecuted. Jesus — the perfectly obedient elder brother — accepted being declared a disobedient younger brother, even to the point of hanging on a tree and appearing accursed by God. [cf Deut 21:22-23] And though he knew it would not be easy, he called his disciples to follow him and do the incredibly hard work of reconciling people of this world, of being peacemakers.

The solidarity he describes is the beginning of reconciliation. I remain astonished at how much a very little attempt at solidarity has changed me. It drains the rage. It reconciles; I have friendships with people I might once have despised, and with whom I would have felt friendship was impossible— people who now inspire me!

Nuechterlein asks

… will we accept the challenge, or does it seem too hard? Does it seem all burden and no grace?…  grace is the invitation to follow as a disciple of Jesus in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking. Any grace that doesn’t include that challenging call is “cheap grace.” The grace of discipleship, in short, is both the invitation and the challenge together.

That’s the second gift of the parable: “the invitation to follow as a disciple of Jesus in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking” is the gift that reconciles us to both God and each other.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.