The first weeks of September are filled with the flurry of Fall start up. Families are frazzled with all the meet the teacher nights, registrations for this that and the other. It’s exhausting! My initial pastoral response to this is to want to create calm sacred space in Sunday worship as a mini-respite, or as a counterweight to the frenetic rush in lives beyond our wood and stone.
BUT!!!! With the Lectionary dumping us without warning into the middle of Matthew, fat chance! We are confronted for four weeks straight with an uncompromising, sharp-tongued Jesus we barely recognize.
Following the state murder of John the Baptist in chapter 14, Matthew’s Jesus returns with a shadow looming over him, a tightness of jaw, a steely-glint in his eye, and a fierce determination for truth-telling on his tongue. And his truth-telling stings, taunts, shocks, causes consternation, and outright rebellion from those closest to him. Peter accuses him of getting the Dream of God upside down, for which Peter is vilified as the tempter of Satan. A crowd, begging for healing for a man captive to seizures (chapter 17) is taunted by Jesus as a “godless generation.” From the mouth of Matthew’s Jesus come taunts, insults, and stern teachings we really wish he hadn’t said.
For the month of September, I’m going to wrestle with these texts, because as a faith community in the Christian tradition, the Scriptures are our script, our ‘holy words’ to live by. And when they are hard words, we really need to know what to do with them.
In the first sermon in this series (which you can find on the CPU website, at this link: ……) I explore the options we have in response to words we wish weren’t there: a) the scholastic shuffle – where we can demythologize, historicize and criticize any ‘sacredness’ or ‘liveliness’ out of them b) pick and choose only the ones we want – effectively making Jesus in our image, rather than hearing the challenge to be formed as God’s people in Jesus’ likeness. c) Dump the lot; stop reading Scripture altogether, dump the babies, Faith, Discipleship, Religion out with the scriptural bathwater or d) Wrestle the text, refusing to let it go until it blesses us. (This is a reference to the story of Jacob wrestling the holy creature all night by the river Jabbok, see Genesis 32, when Jacob refused to let the stranger go til he received a blessing.
We’re in for a lot of wrestling as we take on these things we wish Jesus hadn’t said:
“Get thee behind me Satan!”
[When a brother or sister refuses to be reconciled with you]… let them be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector”
“So to will God your Father refuse to forgive you if you do not forgive them from your heart.”
The list could go on, and on. Perhaps you want to add your top “things I wish Jesus hadn’t said.” You can do that in the comment box below.
It’s my hope that by wrestling these texts until they bless us, we’ll get to know Jesus a little better. I hope we’ll discover his biting humour, his capacity to grab our attention by saying outrageous things, and to leave us stumped for days with his upside down, inside out, impossible but possible vision of God’s Dream. I hope our image of Jesus will grow, expand, become more three dimensional, more capable of being a true “Way” for us to follow in our workaday world.
And I also hope we’ll discover the liveliness of Scripture, found to be all the more lively when we step onto the mat and wrestle with its texts.