Scripture references: Jesus is the Messiah, Matthew 16:13-20; Peter’s betrayal, Luke 22:31-34; 54-62.
After Jesus was arrested Peter followed behind to where he was put on trial. Three times he said he did not know Jesus.
It wasn’t Jesus that I didn’t know –
it was Peter!
I knew he was the Messiah,
I knew he was the Son of God.
I thought I was someone special,
someone who would always be there.
I let him down,
I let him die
without his friend.
Let us pray for all who are unfaithful to their friends that they – that we – may have the strength to stand up for those we love and the courage to apologise and rebuild our friendships.
Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.
Jesus was not just a good man who founded a great religion. He is the Son of God, sent on a mission to transform the world by changing individual lives. Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if this wonderful life hadn’t appeared.
For two thousand years, followers of the loving Christ have carried his compassion and care to peoples everywhere. Nations have been won through his love. The majority of hospitals and other ministries of compassion around the globe have been launched in his name. Where there has been devastation through natural disasters, wars, or famine, people filled with God’s love have run to alleviate human suffering via the Red Cross, World Vision, and thousands of other agencies. Where would our world be without the love of Christ as expressed through his people?
What is our relationship with our world – with government, foreign policy, political parties..? Christianity is concerned not only with religion but with all human relationships between persons and groups – large or small. It is as much concerned with war, peace, poverty and race issues as it is with holy living [preacher stick to your pulpit]. It is concerned because these are the relationships that shape our lives; our way of living together and accepting our common destiny.
In Apostolic times the writers believed that history had more or less come to an end with Christ, and the Second Coming was imminent. This was no time to worry about politics and economics. They were to preach about the world that was on its way. They knew that Jesus had resisted all attempts to align him with the Zealots, who wanted to establish God’s kingdom through war and aggression. Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force.
Putting Jesus on a divine pedestal leaves no room for a radically new way of being human.
Why are we preoccupied with the divinity of Jesus? Presumably we believe this enhances our faith. But is this what Jesus wanted to bring? Was the salvation of the immortal soul his prime concern? The Synoptics, Matthew Mark and Luke, interpret Jesus as a divine figure – corresponding to their contemporary expectation of a divine liberator from Roman oppression. But what was in Jesus’ mind? He certainly promised liberation and new life; was this freedom the expected liberation, or was it a great deal more than that?
I was asked on numerous occasions do I believe in the divinity of Jesus – but never once: do I believe in his humanity. Jesus was offering a radically new way of being human – one totally disconnected from a way dominated by the thirst for power. We know from the Gospels that the disciples had problems with this – preoccupation with messiah-ship became a series of obstacles to seeing what Jesus was really about. Ignorance of the great human story meant they were unable to see the human face of God revealed in that story, reaching its apex in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Relishing and appreciating the full story, and appreciating God’s creativity at its core gives us a more credible and authentic appreciation of Jesus’ divinity – insisting that we attend much more to the new way of being human that this inaugurated, of which Jesus is the first disciple. We condemn Jesus to divine captivity – so divinely holy and remote – that his new way of being human is seriously compromised. Our preoccupation with his divinity is a distraction from knowing the real Jesus.
We picture Jesus as a loyal and faithful Jew, whereas the sources suggest something different; and the following of Christ was seen as fidelity to divine rules and laws. The Jesus story came to be known as a set of facts around which his life was written. Yet this shape doesn’t figure strongly in his life and mission – his stories testify to this: he defied convention, social and religious – and flaunted the hopes of the establishment by calling for equality based on inclusiveness.
It’s the old plainchant antiphon that becomes an earworm: ‘Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus ibi est’ – Where Charity and Love prevail, there God is ever found’ – sung on Maundy Thursday when the priest washes peoples’ feet. I wonder what version of the hymn reached William Blake for him to write this meditation upon it: The Divine Image. Which includes ‘heathen, Turk or Jew’, as we can see.
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
In the hands of the wicked
We stripped him of his garments, then commenced the gruesome business of nailing the poor fellow to his cross. At this time a wonderful event happened for me because the guards drew lots for Jesus’ garments and the tunic he was wearing was woven in one piece and I won this. I was overjoyed because I was not usually lucky at draws and I treasured this fine garment. I would probably sell it before it was stolen and it could go towards the land I would buy on my retirement.
Several other amazing things came to pass. One of the thieves crucified with Jesus began to curse him, but the other thief praised him and said he surely was the Son of God. Thereupon, Jesus turned to this fellow and blessed him and promised he would be with him in paradise that very day. The next remarkable event was that Jesus’ mother came to the foot of the cross with John who was one of his followers, and Jesus said in a clear voice, ‘Woman behold your son’, and to John he said, ‘behold your mother’. He obviously did this to ensure his mother would be protected and part of a family.
There was a loud clap of thunder and as I looked up at Jesus I knew he had passed away.
I just felt terribly sad. Then one of the other guards, Longinus, took his javelin and pierced Jesus’ side and we were all amazed to see blood and a stream of water pour forth. Then there were more thunder claps and the Centurion’s horse reared up and the Centurion was thrown down at the foot of the Cross. He looked up and said in a low voice, ‘Surely this man, Jesus, whom we have so abused this day is the Son of the living God.’
As Jesus was taken down from the cross by his followers I was thinking, ‘Supposing he is the son of God? What will God do to me? Surely I and all his persecutors will be destroyed although I had not wanted to be any part of this final journey and I would have let him go. I believe he was a good man.
‘Maybe he will save us for he was reported to have said to his disciples, “I did not come on earth to judge but to save.”
Strasbourg; Our Lady & English Martyrs, Cambridge; Dryburgh. The Cross is the tree of triumph and reconciliation.
Today is the feast of Basil the Great (330-379) and his friend, Gregory Nazianzus (329-390), known as ‘the Theologian’. Together with Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa, they are remembered as the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil was one of ten children born into a wealthy Christian family whose commitment to their faith had been tested by persecution: a maternal grandfather had suffered martyrdom, while their paternal grandparents had their property confiscated and fled to the forested mountains of Pontus where they lived for seven years by hunting and fishing. Basil and Gregory Nazianzus met as students in Athens and remained lifelong friends. They had contrasting temperaments. Basil was the extravert man of action, an able leader, administrator and ecclesiastical politician whose preferred form of religious life was communal, while Gregory was a sensitive introvert, poet and man of letters who disliked publicity and loved solitude. Both were major players in the development and consolidation of Trinitarian doctrine and the victory of Nicene orthodoxy, which affirmed the divinity of the Son, over Arianism, which denied it. It is to Gregory that we owe the maxim, ‘What has not been assumed, has not been redeemed’ (Letter 101).