This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
A MILLION AND A HALF MUSLIMS GO ON HAJJ
New English Translation (NET)
24 “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor a slave greater than his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more will they defame the members of his household!
26 “Do not be afraid of them, for nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. 31 So do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.
The reader of this passage may feel bounced from one topic to another without connections. Here’s my version of it.
Jesus is saying, ” Disciples are meant to be like their teachers; like them, not more privileged than them. So if you become like me, you’ll be abused like me. But don’t be afraid and hide the gospel away, for this is a time when God’s truth should be publicly declared. Even the quiet teachings I give you in the circle of disciples are meant for everyone. Don’t be afraid of people who can at worst damage your bodies; but be very afraid of the Devil who can put you body and soul in Hell. The same God who attends to each sparrow will look after you. If pretend you don’t recognise me in public I may not recognise you when everything is made public before God.”
Martin Luther formulated the doctrine of the two kingdoms; the bodily kingdom ruled by the secular ruler on God’s behalf; and the spiritual kingdom ruled by Christ alone. For Jesus, there was never this distinction. God’s rule is meant for human beings, full stop. None of his teachings are meant only for his circle of disciples, but are given to them so that they can announce them and practise them in public. The modern distinction between private and public morality would have seemed strange to Jesus. For him as for the Hebrew prophets, what is right is also just. What is true of God’s relationship to me is also true of his relationship to the whole of society. Faith for Jesus is not sectarian, cherished in dark corners like the religion of the Dead Sea communities. The rule of God as announced by Jesus and his disciples is meant for princes as well as peasants.
In democratic societies that means churches must be prepared to argue their faith in the public sphere and not retreat into holy huddles where everyone sings form the same hymn sheet. Whether the issue is the scientific challenge to belief or the practical denial of Christian justice by right-wing thugs in government, believers are not to be afraid. The truth of God is just as much for scientists and right-wing thugs as it is for committed disciples, and it has to be exposed to examination and contradiction. In a time when church membership is declining, the temptation to retreat into the comfortable certainties of evangelical or catholic tradition, singing the saccharine songs of the saved or the comely cantatas of the cathedral, can be very strong, but should be resisted. Those who blank Jesus in the public street may find their names are absent when the roll is called up yonder.