Sunday, 4 March 2012

A passion for Justice

What was Christ’s passion? I don’t mean the travails of Holy Week which are normally called his passion from the Latin for suffering as in Mel Gibson’s film the “passion of the Christ”, I mean what was Jesus’ passion, his overriding all consuming obsession that led him on the path to his execution.
It becomes clearer and clearer as you read the gospel and learn more about the context of 1st century Palestine that Jesus’ overriding passion was for Justice for the poor and oppressed of the land. The Temple collaborators with Rome were corrupt and as far as Jesus was concerned was finished as a means of true communion with God. They exploited the poor and reduced the peasant farmers, who constituted the bulk of Jesus’ support to tenants or day labourers after confiscating their land when they defaulted on their debts.
The Temple, in Jesus’ estimation, no longer bore fruit for God and was therefore rendered irrelevant. This stands as a stark warning to the churches of every age.
Jesus set himself the task of opposing and exposing to public ridicule the depths to which the Temple had sunk and it was this deliberate stance that led inevitably to his death. The few corrupt wealthy land owning families that ran the Temple knew exactly who Jesus’ rage was aimed at – he called the Temple at one point a “Den of robbers” fleecing the poor for their own enrichment – and the shorthand phrase for describing the whole rotten system was the “elders, the chief priests and the scribes”.
Peter knowing all too well where this deliberate confrontation with the authorities would end tries to obstruct Jesus, wishing in a very human manner, that this man who he admired so much and followed so faithfully should not be harmed or even killed, by putting his head above the parapet like this.
For his trouble Jesus calls Peter “Satan” – appropriate because before medieval Christianity invented the strange figure of the man in red with horns and a tail, the stem of the word Satan in Hebrew  means to obstruct or oppose. Jesus knew that if he were to follow God he had to expose and oppose the Temple and their collaboration with their Roman masters no matter where that led. What the Temple had become was not God’s way – Jesus was in fact modelling God’s way.
Jesus reportedly says that anyone who wants to follow him must also “take up their cross” and follow me. The cross had a very specific meaning in Jesus’ day. It didn’t mean generalised suffering then – in those days it was a punishment reserved for sedition – those who opposed Imperial authority and Imperial theology.
In their context, “to take up your cross”, means to oppose injustice and stand up for the rights of the poor and marginalised of society against powerful vested interests no matter who they are.
That was Jesus’ passion that led to his death. His passion for Justice. And Justice is begotten by Love. The passion for Justice emanated from a love of all mankind. It has its roots in a belief that we are all created equal – all made in the image and likeness of God – and therefore all deserve a fair share of the fruits of the earth.
As Paul interprets the story of Abraham in Romans, faith, which in ancient times meant “trust” and not believing in creedal statements – he argues that we should trust in God’s grace, which is indiscriminate and unearned. And given to all.
Jesus’ eventual death followed on from his putting in practice his belief that Justice was of God and that this sense of Justice naturally emanated from a belief that God’s character is essentially love which is indiscriminate, unmerited and eternal.
To rest in God, being itself, to trust that there is a depth to life, that holds and sustains ourselves and everything that exists is the source of the strength of Character that drove Jesus to do what he did. Everything he did with his life he did out of a close and personal sense of relationship with the sacred. The source of Jesus’ courage and verse is to be our source also. Therein lies the importance of worship like this morning. This morning’s service is designed to be an encounter with the sacred, an encounter that might beget trust, that may then beget courage and strength to live out of that trust and make a stand for love and everything that flows from that love like Justice and forgiveness, peace and unity. 

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