Thursday, July 23, 2020

More or less

The Gospel reading set for holy Communion today is Matthew 13:10-17. An excerpt:

‘[Jesus] answered [his disciples], ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [the crowds] it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’ (vv. 11, 12)

The key question facing God’s people in every time and place is, will your values and your corresponding actions be shaped by God’s values and corresponding actions; or will they be shaped by the values and corresponding actions of the world around you, such that you are indistinguishable from anyone else?

‘For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’ The world applies this principle to money, and to power. The world—which, in biblical language does not refer to a neutral description of how things are, let alone a positive description of how things ought to be, but rather a description of how things are in rebellion against God’s character of justice, mercy, and loving-kindness, expressed in particular concern for the most vulnerable in society. The world is built on hierarchies—race, and ethnicity; gender, and sexuality; economics, and (narrowly-defined) education—designed to keep some people consolidating power at the top, at the expense of those further down, whose very existence threatens the status quo. And so, we are encouraged to see those ‘below’ us, rather than those ‘above’ us, wherever we are located, as the threat to our existence. Such hierarchies are thoroughly normalised—the way the world is.

But when Jesus says, ‘For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ he is referring to ‘the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’. That is to say, the more you take hold of the kingdom of heaven, the more it takes hold of you. What, then, are its secrets?

Well, within the Gospel According to Matthew, those secrets are laid out in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), beginning with the Beatitudes that proclaim that it is those people whom we have been unconsciously educated to view as cursed and abandoned by God, to whom God is in fact closest. In Jesus’ insistence on love of enemies, riding ourselves of judgementalism, and in everything doing to others as you would have them do to you, the Sermon reveals another secret, the rejection of othering, of building and policing and perpetuating hierarchies that position us as superior to others. In his invitation and challenge to reject anxiety about food and clothing, another secret, utter dependence on God. As the gospel continues to unfold, Jesus reveals that those who would strive to enjoy life according to the world’s values will ultimately lose a meaningful life, while those who risk all on him will find what they long for (10:39). Highly educated powerful men are in the dark, while infants are let-in on the secret (11:25-27). And in his parables, seeds die in the ground, yeast loses itself in leavening bread, people sell all they possess in order to take hold of the greater prize, a net only serves its purpose when thrown into the sea (Matthew 13). And all of this is heading towards Jesus, naked and beaten, hung out to die on an executioner’s scaffold…before being raised by God and given all authority on earth and in heaven.

And the key question facing God’s people in every time and place remains, will your values and your corresponding actions be shaped by God’s values and corresponding actions; or will they be shaped by the values and corresponding actions of the world around you, such that you are indistinguishable from anyone else?

Again, and again, throughout scripture we are first warned and then shown that our decision has consequences.


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