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The Real War on Christmas

 

There is a Buddhist saying, “If you meet Buddha, kill him.” Weird? Clearly, the saying is meant to warn against idols, against illusions, against deceptions. We are easily deceived, easily fall into our own wishful thinking and illusions, and easily can turn everything and everyone into an idol.

Every year, we kill the Christ child – not because we are Buddhists, but because we fail to understand how easily we fall to idolatry, illusion and deception. The market kills Christ every year, turning us into partying consumers. We lose all sense of balance – and no wonder the holiday season creates some of the worst depression and stress in the year!

Herod tried to kill the Christ child and he ended up killing uncounted innocent babies instead. That’s how much he felt threatened by the presence of the child born in Bethlehem. Today’s consumer madness does its own damage, to adults and children alike. I’m not being a scrooge. I love Christmas as much as anyone. I love the carols, the Christmas cards, the lights, the trees, the festive decorations of the stores. And I love the gifts that we exchange. But the joy seems to have gone out of so much of the Christmas traditions. Why? Because we have lost the sense of balance.

Christmas is just one more indicator that we as a society have lost the sense of balance, moderation, and common sense. There IS a war on Christmas – but it’s not the war pronounced by one TV news network and some politicians and evangelical preachers. The war on Christmas arises from deep within us and our loss of meaning. When Christmas is only about saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, when it’s about public displays of Christmas trees – it’s clear how trivial Christmas has become in the minds of those who talk about a war on Christmas.

No, the real war on Christmas began 2,000 years ago in Judea, and it continues today. It’s not about public displays of Christmas trees and nativity scenes. It’s not about how we greet each other. Merry Christmas becomes just another superficial greeting that some Christians even use as a weapon against non-Christians. That’s pretty sick, in my opinion, to turn a greeting of goodwill and joy into a weapon of one-upmanship against people who don’t celebrate Christmas. Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire, and Herod sought to destroy him. Jesus is a threat to today’s powers and principalities, both political and economic. Hence the real war on Christmas is being waged precisely by those who speak of a “War on Christmas”! The best way to eliminate the threat of Jesus is to domesticate him and turn his birth into a commercial bonanza. The Bible itself is a threat to the commercial interests that govern our world. Solution? Turn it all into self-serving and self-promoting slogans and simplistic theologies. Turn the Bible into a gospel of wealth, and it’s in the pocket of the commercial interests.

Instead of shoving our commercial version of Christmas down the throats of non-Christians, why not show them the love of the Christ child instead of the hatred of Herod? There is a longing in the hearts of all people, a longing for authentic, meaningful existence. How do we meet that longing? Isn’t it also the longing deep inside us? A longing for communion, fellowship with each other and with God?

Before we can recognise the longing that is inside other people we have to recognise it in ourselves and respond to it, instead of covering it up with trinkets, partying and escapist entertainment.

I don’t agree with everything in our Orthodox tradition, but one of the things that I have admired about our tradition is the way Christmas used to be celebrated in Orthodox societies. Christmas was a purely religious celebration. The gifts and the partying came after Christmas, during the so-called 12 days of Christmas, Το Δωδεκαήμερο. The Catholic and Anglican traditions also have the idea of the twelve days of Christmas – hence the popular song/carol. But the Orthodox society that I remember has fallen into the same commercialism that we experience. The temptation of superficiality is just too strong for all societies.

This Sunday, because it falls on December 31st, is a bit confusing in the church calendar. Is it the Sunday After Christmas or the Sunday Before Theophany? Different calendars choose one or the other. The Greek Archdiocese has chosen to designate it as the Sunday Before Theophany. I have included both Gospel readings today. The Matthew reading is for the Sunday After Christmas and it tells us of Herod’s killing spree. The Mark reading is in anticipation of next weekend’s celebration of Epiphany/Theophany. Nice to read both as I did today. Because after Herod’s evil actions and the escape of the Christ child with his parents, we hear the good news – the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. After darkness comes the light, the way forward.

At the start of every year we read this opening of Mark’s gospel. Every new year is an opening to a fresh start. Regardless of what we’ve turned Christmas into, the start of the new year invites us to love his appearing. And perhaps with every new year, we can desire to recover something of the missing spirit of Christmas. Or do we forget by the time we get to December? Perhaps this is something I should return to next year, not after Christmas but before! My bad. Perhaps I’ll have more wisdom next year. CHRIST IS BORN!


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A Vulnerable God

 

Christmas is the celebration of God’s vulnerability. It was the birth of a vulnerable baby that constituted God’s great plan for the redemption of human beings. So don’t turn God into a macho god, a warrior god, an imperial god!

Immanuel = “God with us” in Hebrew. Jesus is a wonderful name, it has been the name by which we’ve known him for 2,000 years. But Immanuel is the name by which the prophet spoke of his coming. And prophets looked deep into reality, deep under what was visible. Immanuel reveals more about Jesus than the name Jesus.

Immanuel, God with us – with us in our weaknesses, in our vulnerability, in our contingency.

God became vulnerable. Why are we so hesitant to show ourselves as vulnerable. Why do we always have to put on a strong face? Why is the American ideal that of the rugged individualist? Why is it part of our language to say, “me against the world”? Why pretend to be stronger than I am?

I’m usually grateful that we don’t have a magnificent cathedral. I’m grateful that our church is in this corner, hemmed in by other buildings, with inadequate parking. I’m glad we did not escape to the suburbs, where we don’t have to deal with “certain kinds of people”! What do huge, ornate churches have to do with the child that was born in a manger, or even a cave, as is usually depicted in our icons?

Let’s call him Immanuel, God with us. Let that name bring us into intimate relationship with him. When we call him Immanuel we remember that he was born to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer everything that life can throw at us with us. The God with us is a close God; he is our refuge, our wisdom, our helper, our shepherd, our love.

He was born in a time of tyranny, a time of imperial domination and subjugation. He was born to an enslaved people, a people who had known and lived under slavery for so much of their history. He came to be their comforter, to suffer with them. And that’s how he comes to us today, because we are no different than the people of 2,000 years ago. We also live under tyranny – the tyranny of despair, of materialism, of competition, of suspicion, the tyranny of loneliness, of jealousy. And he comes to give us hope, to show us the true value of things, to show us co-existence and trust, to be our companion.

He comes as our liberator from all those things that oppress us. And that is why he is Immanuel, God with us. He is not remote. Though we represent him as Pantokrator in the ceilings or domes of our churches, that’s to miss the meaning of Immanuel, God with us. He did not come as Pantokrator; he came as a child, born in a nation that was under the heel of the Roman pantokrator. He came not to compete with Rome, but to expose the weakness and futility of all empires, ancient and modern. He was a direct threat to the Roman Empire and to all empires that oppress. But his threat was much greater and deeper than any military threat.

He lit a flame of hope and goodness and peace and love. A flame that directly went against the values of empire. He came to a people who had seen their own flames of hope and faith extinguished by one empire after another. Perhaps it is meaningful that the Jewish feast of Chanukah falls around the same time as Christmas. I love the song Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing during the holiday season, “Light One Candle”:

Light one candle for the Maccabee children

With thanks that their light didn’t die

Light one candle for the pain they endured

When their right to exist was denied.

Light one candle for the strength that we need

To never become our own foe

And light one candle for those who are suffering

Pain we learned so long ago.

Light one candle for all we believe in

That anger not tear us apart

And light one candle to find us together

With peace as the song in our hearts.

Don’t let the light go out

It’s lasted for so many years

Don’t let the light go out

Let it shine through our love and our tears.

We have come this far always believing

That justice would somehow prevail

This is the burden, this is the promise

This is why we will not fail.

Don’t let the light go out

It’s lasted for so many years

Don’t let the light go out

Let it shine through our love and our tears

Don’t let the light go out

Don’t let the light go out

Don’t let the light go out!

Call upon Immanuel and don’t let the light go out in your own hearts and lives. May Christmas be more than just a family day of joy and sharing. May it be the day that reminds us that God shared his own life with us. Don’t let that knowledge, that light in your souls, ever go out!


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An Ill-Mannered Jesus

 

More than 200 newspapers carry the advice column of Judith Martin, better known as Miss Manners. I was curious to see if Miss Manners could help Jesus with some dinner etiquette, so I did aa quick Google search. In August of this year, someone asked Miss Manners for advice:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I find myself stunned at most people’s table manners. For example: breaking bread/rolls and buttering each bite, using a thumb to push food onto a fork, using a place spoon for soup, cutting up an entire entree salad at once, serving coffee after dessert, leaving napkins on the table at end of a meal, passing salt and pepper together, etc.

I never say anything, but just wonder if the etiquette rules I was taught, and followed in a very upper-level hospitality position, have been canceled.

GENTLE READER: It is never a good idea to monitor other people’s table manners, and not only because you are apt to spill something all over yourself while you do so.

Miss Manners notices that you are already agitated, because you have mixed up what should and what should not be done, and thrown in some general rules.

Just to clarify:

Bread and rolls should be broken into small pieces and buttered individually; thumbs should not be used as pushers; the so-called place spoon is a medium-sized oval spoon that can be used (as the teaspoon should not be) for soup or dessert; napkins should be put to the left of the plate at the end of the meal, and salt and pepper should be passed together.

That people violate these and other basic rules does not mean that they have been canceled. So no, the Etiquette Council did not say, “Oh, go ahead, plough in with your hands, who cares?”

But it did resolve to refrain from watching.

So Miss Manners advises not to watch what other people do at a dinner – but there are rules for dinner etiquette.

By Miss Manners’ standards, Jesus showed very poor manners when he was invited to a dinner (Luke 14:7-24). When the parable of the banquet (verses 16-24) is heard without its context of Jesus being a guest at a dinner, it can lead to some very misleading interpretations. Let’s see the context of the parable in Luke 14.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. (Not actually a parable, but advice!) “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

(And he offered advice to the host!)

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

(And only then does he tell the parable of the banquet!)

When the parable is read without its context it has often been turned into an allegory, where the invited guests represent the Jews and the lame and the poor represent the Gentiles who are brought in by God to replace Israel. That’s the danger of reading the parable without its context – and the context is an actual dinner to which Jesus has been invited!

When the context is taken into consideration, the parable becomes an expression of the great reversal that Jesus brought into human consciousness and human relations. This was a theme very dear to Luke when he wrote his Gospel. It starts in chapter 1, with Mary’s Magnificat (to call it by its Latin designation).

Part of it reads as follows:

He has shown strength with his arm,

he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,

he has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and exalted those of low degree;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent empty away.

We sing this every Sunday morning in the Orthodox Church as part of Matins (Orthros). But have you ever noticed those words? Or do they perhaps make you blush with embarrassment? As in: Really Lord? When did all this happen? When did you bring down the mighty and send them away hungry? The reality of the world seems to be the exact opposite of what Mary magnified the Lord about!

Was Mary naive when she spoke these words, when she sang them in her heart? Was Jesus naive when he said the meek shall inherit the earth? Is the NT out of touch with reality after all? No, Jesus knew what he was saying. Mary was well aware of the ways of the world when she sang that the Lord has brought down the rich and powerful and left them empty and hungry. She knew that’s not the way of the world. The rich are not brought down or sent away hungry; they are only getting richer and more powerful, often with the help of politicians.  But Mary knew what new values the child that would be born of her would bring into the world.

And that child grew to be a man. And that man spoke as the Word of God – the incarnate Logos, by whom and through whom everything was created. And that man Jesus spoke to the host and the guests at the dinner where he was an outsider guest, and told them how it should be among human beings. The parable of the banquet is not so much about heaven as it is about the earthly existence that represents the values of God’s kingdom.

Look around. Are the proud and mighty brought down from their seats of power? Are the rich going hungry? Are the poor well fed? If the answer is NO – and it it is – then the kingdom of God is not among us. Does the church reflect the values of the kingdom and the great reversal that Jesus taught? The answer is again NO. Do individual Christians reflect the great reversal in how we live our lives and who we honour and who we vote for? Do we reflect the values of the kingdom in how we accept those who are different from us? That’s what today’s parable is about. So don’t dream of heaven if you can’t dream God’s dream for life here on earth.


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Cruciform Love

A few weeks ago I had told of a woman we met in October at the island of Hydra in Greece. She had just returned from Latin America and vowed never to return. She was turned off by the proliferation of crucifixes. Everywhere she went in Latin America there were crucifixes, and she wanted no further experience of those depressing sights. She much preferred the images of Buddha in East Asian countries.

The crucified Christ is scandalous to many people. Saint Paul indeed calls the cross a scandal (σκάνδαλον) to Jews and foolishness (μωρίαν) to Gentiles. Skandalon and foolishness, but despite all that, “we proclaim Christ crucified … Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The theologian Hans Kung, in his bestselling book of over forty years ago, On Being a Christian, stated the foundational truth of Christianity:

Paul succeeded more clearly than anyone in expressing what is the ultimately distinguishing feature of Christianity….as opposed to the ancient world religions and the modern humanisms …[It] is quite literally according to Paul “this Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ crucified.”… It is not indeed as risen, exalted, living, divine, but as crucified, that this Jesus Christ is distinguished unmistakably from the many risen, exalted, living gods and deified founders of religion, from the Caesars, geniuses, and heroes of world history.

But this foundational, distinctive truth of Christianity is not about bleeding crucifixes in Catholic or Orthodox churches, nor is it about superficial sermons about “the blood of Christ” that saves the comfortable evangelicals who crowd the entertainment centers that pretend to be churches. Paul went on, in his great letter to the Corinthian Christians: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Nothing, except Jesus Christ crucified! That’s all that Paul wanted the Corinthians to hear from him. Yes, he gave them all sorts of teachings about personal behavior, about order in the church. He even wrote a whole section of his letter about the resurrection of Christ and its meaning for all Christians (chapter 15). Nevertheless, he wanted to preach nothing among them except Jesus Christ and him crucified. This was the heart of his teaching. But it was not about crucifixes or about sermons to comfortable, suburban Christians.

Have the same mind that was also in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be grasped (ἁρπαγμὸν),
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

“Have the same mind,” Paul tells the Christians in the northern Greek city of Philippi. In other words, exhibit the same cruciform love that Jesus showed by taking on our nature and accepting death on the cross. For whom, did Jesus die? For us, his brothers and sisters, since he became as one of us. “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” Paul wrote to the Philippians immediately before the remarkable passage quoted above. This is an invitation to cruciform living. It’s not about hanging crucifixes in churches or around our necks. But neither is it about sermons to “me”-Christians. Jesus did not die on the cross to create a me-centered people. His death on the cross is about creating a new humanity, a new human community – exemplified by the church, but only if and when that “church” lives in accordance with the cruciform love of God in Christ.

Τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν, he wrote to the Philippians (2:5). It’s all in the plural: [You – plural] have this mind in, or among, you (plural). ἐν ὑμῖν can be translated as “in you” or “among you” – both in the plural – but more likely as “among you”, as this fits better with the communal advice that Paul is giving to the Christians in Philippi. His concern was to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), the church – but not just the church with the name “church”, but the church that lives by and reflects the power of the cross of Jesus Christ: εἰ γὰρ σύμφυτοι γεγόναμεν τῷ ὁμοιώματι τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως ἐσόμεθα· “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). The Greek adjective σύμφυτοι goes all the way back to Aeschylus in Greek literature and can be translated in many ways, including the one quoted here, “united” – but also, “planted together”, “joined”, “grown into union”, “identified”, “incorporate”….. ὁμοίωμα [in the dative, ὁμοιώματι, here] is translated “like his”, but more literally, “in the likeness”. So a more literal translation of Romans 6:5 would go like this: “For if we have become joined in the likeness of his death, so also we shall be to his resurrection.” This passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is read at every baptism, but people are more interested to watch the baby than to listen to words of such profound, transformational meaning.

The church is here to be for others – not for our own selfish spiritual needs. Jesus never attended to “spiritual needs”! He never knew the term, nor did the New Testament writers. Jesus told us to live for others, just as he lived for us; we are the “others” that he had in mind when he ascended the cross, when he brought into the world and poured out the cruciform love of God in Christ. May we become a church of cruciform love. May we become the church for others. Because we also are “others” who have been brought into the embrace of Christ. Paul reminds us that we also were “without Christ, aliens … and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). We are in this together, σύμφυτοι in the cruciform love of Christ.

Addendum: I should point out that the initial incentive for this post came from the book by Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross, published by Eerdmans in 2001. I have only now started to read this book, but the term “cruciform love” is used by the author.


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Powers and Principalities Then and Now

 

Jesus encountered constant opposition and criticism for breaking sabbath rules and the taboos of society. In the healing of the woman in Luke 10:10-17, the synagogue leader could not tolerate Jesus healing on the sabbath. He was following the biblical rules that clearly prohibited work on the sabbath. Jesus responded that healing was not a work but a grace. If it was permissible to untie animals and let them drink, certainly it should be permissible to untie a woman from her bondage. The leader could not see that mercy might be more important than rigid rules or that God might work in new ways that open wide the flow of grace. Jesus was opening wide the curtain to reveal the truth about God.

Jesus actually broke more than the Sabbath rule by touching her! Both her illness and her gender forbade such an act. By touching her, Jesus himself became unclean according to the rules that governed people’s lives. Imagine that! But Jesus was only concerned to restore her identity as a “daughter of Abraham”. He brought her from the margins back into the center of the community, and he did it on the Sabbath. The choice was between law and grace, between rules and healing, between tradition and newness. What if God is working in new ways?

Note however that Jesus did not call this an act of healing; rather, he spoke of being in bondage and being set free. The language of being in bondage and being set free is the language of the exodus. One of the main reasons that keeping Sabbath is so important for Jews is that it serves as a reminder that God has brought them out of bondage. Jesus is reminding his listeners that Sabbath keeping is freedom to be God’s people, just as when they were set free from slavery in Egypt.

But what does it mean for Christians? We were not set free from slavery in Egypt. We are not under obligation to keep the Sabbath. Tell that to people who want to install the Ten Commandments in public buildings! Note especially Exodus 20:2 & 8.

But are we free? We are not in bondage in Egypt or to Satan. But are we in bondage nevertheless?

Ephesians 4:11-13:

Put on the whole armour (πανοπλίαν) of God,

that you may be able to stand firm

against the stratagems of the devil (μεθοδείας τοῦ διαβόλου). 

For we are not contending against flesh and blood,

but against the principalities (ἀρχάς),

against the powers (ἐξουσίας),

against the cosmic masters of this darkness (κοσμοκράτορας τοῦ σκότους),

against the spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenly places (τὰ πνευματικὰ τῆς πονηρίας ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις).

Therefore buckle on the whole armour of God

that you may be able to offer resistance in the evil day

and be prepared in every respect to stand firm.

Statue of Artemis of Ephesus

Christians in Ephesus would have been under pressure to worship the emperor at the newly constructed temple of Domitian. Ephesus was also a thriving commercial city and the cultic center of goddess Artemis. They’re a little closer to us than the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. They could understand the language Paul uses of powers and principalities.

Temple of Artemis of Ephesus

William Stringfellow spoke of the time when he lectured on the biblical idea of “powers and principalities” to divinity students at Harvard. They found the terminology outdated; their theology was too sophisticated to accept such mythological language. But when he addressed students in the business school, who had done time serving at the church of realism, they recognised the language immediately.

Paul’s language is not outdated, it is very modern. It is the language of money, sex, fashion, sports, politics, consumerism, and religion. It is language that exposes our bondage to the powers: racism and segregation, organized crime and corruption in high places, addiction, depersonalization and loss of identity, economic and political authoritarianism, pornography, the celebrity culture of glamorized Bad Girls and Boys, and genocide.

Paul even exposes powers in the heavenly places – a passage that caused much trouble for the early Fathers of the church. In our more cynical age, it is less difficult to imagine evil in the heavily places – or the places that we think are heavenly!

Paul does not call us to make war on the devil or any of the powers – but to be prepared to defend ourselves – through prayer, faith, thoughtful living, through knowledge of scripture, and above all, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches.


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Blind Spots

 

Chapter numbers were introduced into the Gospels about a thousand years after they were written. So I like to think of Luke 17:20-19:10 as comprising one unit in the Gospel of Luke, and ignore the division into chapters. This section is the culmination of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem and his fateful encounter with the powers and principalities opposed to the rule of God. And indeed, this section of Luke’s Gospel is precisely concerned with the rule of God – conventionally called the “kingdom of God.”

At the end of what is called chapter 17 in our Bibles (Luke 17:20-37), Jesus is questioned about the coming of the kingdom. He goes on to describe “the days of the Son of Man” – what most of us refer to as the second coming. But that’s not the coming of the kingdom! Jesus says, the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed – the kingdom of God is among/in the midst of us!

He then goes on to describe various situations that are related to the presence of the kingdom – chapter 18 in our Bibles.

Luke 18:1-8 The parable of the persistent widow, who continues to pester a judge to give her justice. So also God will give justice to his people. “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” One of the most heart-rending questions Jesus ever asked! And he asked this not about people in general, but about those who presume to be his followers and who call themselves “Christians”.

Luke 18:9-14 The parable of the pharisee and the tax collector…we read this in one of the Sundays before Lent begins.

Luke 18:15-17 “Let the children come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18:18-30 The incident of the rich ruler, who turns away from Jesus after he hears what Jesus asks of him.

Luke 18:35-43 Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar. Mark’s version identifies the blind man as Bartimaeus – son of Timaeus. A Gentile? His father had a Greek name. I think of Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. A gentile? A Hellenist Jew? Perhaps the reason why the crowd was trying to silence him? Yet this gentile or hellenist Jews called out, Jesus, son of David!

Regardless of ethnic identity, this man recognised Jesus in messianic terms – son of David! He shouted out, and shouted out even more as the crowd tried to silence him. He would not allow any obstacle to stand between him and the presence of God’s kingdom in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Luke 19:1-10 Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus – a Gospel passage we read every year in January or early February as part of our preparation for Great Lent.

From this unit in Luke’s Gospel we learn some things about who belong to the the kingdom of God:

Those who can receive it with the simplicity and purity of children.

Those who recognise their sinfulness and repent of it.

Those who are persistent – like the widow and the blind beggar – and don’t allow obstacles in their way.

On the other hand, the kingdom does not belong to:

Those like the pharisee who are deceived by their own good deeds and who think they have God all figured out.

Those like the rich ruler who turn away from Jesus the minute they hear something they don’t like, when they hear something that challenges a blind spot.

We all have our blind spots. Most Christians are against abortion, but many have no problem with capital punishment or pushing for war or a nuclear strike. They’re against killing babies in the womb, but have no problem killing babies, children and adults. And there are Christians who oppose war and capital punishment, but have no problem with abortion! Blind spots galore. What about Christians who say character is important in government, yet have no problem voting for someone in Alabama accused of sexual harassment? Or support a congressman also accused of sexual harassment because he was a civil rights hero? And there are blind spots closer to home, closer to our own personal lives.

Be careful with blind spots. They can become so powerful and controlling that we end up turning away from Jesus and the kingdom of God. But if we stay, if we continue calling out, the kingdom will fill our hearts and minds and heal us of our spiritual blindness and moral double-talk. Because the kingdom is among us, in our midst! Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God. Let us glorify  and thank God that we are here today. We haven’t given up. Here, in the Liturgy, we trust that salvation will become real in our lives – not as something future, but as something that transforms us here!