The reading is from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:
CHURCH OF SCOTLAND MODERATOR JOHN CHALMERS SPEAKS UP FOR PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS
Matthew 17:10-13 ©
As they came down from the mountain the disciples put this question to Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say then that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True;’ he replied ‘Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.’ The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.
The Jewish expectation of the return of Elijah continued into modern times; in Jeiwsh folk-tales he is depicted as returning incognito to the surprise of believers. The precise expectation of which Jesus speaks is that Elijah will return to prepare the way for the Messiah.
The gospels are agreed that Jesus a) accepted the title of Messiah and b) saw John the Baptist as his Elijah.
The historical reality may have been a little more complex. There is some evidence that there was a John the Baptist movement which challenged the emerging Jesus movement in the Jewish diaspora. There were disciples of John the Baptist as far away from Palestine as Ephesus. The first Christians may have formed a story which put these leaders in chronological and theological order, making a convenient identification of John with Elijah as the forerunner of Jesus Messiah.
From other information in the Jewish historian Josephus the story of John as a prophet killed by Herod is confirmed. There may have been Jews who saw John as a Messiah and a suffering Messiah at that. That would have been serious competition for the Jesus movement.
So much for historical speculation. It seems very likely however that Jesus would have spoken about his fellow prophet, and in particular, about his suffering and death. The strand of tradition in the gospels of Jesus’ praise for John and his understanding of him as a model of prophetic suffering, is, in my view, likely to be historical. The suffering and apparent failure of great leaders is an abiding theme in biblical history, distinguishing it from the kind of history common in the ancient and modern worlds as written by the winners. The bible is deeply sceptical about the capacity of good people to defeat evil in this “present age”. It is very aware of the power of the “evil urge” in the lives of its heroes, and of its power over the committed lives of God’s prophets. For the Bible, suffering and failure come to be seen as marks of those genuinely called by God as leaders.
Of course for Christians this sort of theology arises from the crucifixion of Jesus Messiah, but it was part of the Jewish tradition they inherited. As such it may very well have influenced Jesus’ thinking about his own destiny. It should mean that the Christian Church will never try to impose or defend its Way by violence, will have no part in Jihad or Crusade and will be ready to suffer rather than depart from this calling. It has not always been true to this calling which has never been more relevant than today. In a world torn apart by religious violence the example of Jesus who identified with his martyred and non-violent colleague remains distinctive and beneficial.
Again in this context I want to mention the suffering of Christian believers in Pakistan, who have been routinely persecuted under the Pakistan Islamic blasphemy law, which is so incompetently phrased that it provides cover for unscrupulous or prejudiced people to get rid of anyone they dislike. Islamic leaders in the UK, who have rightly stood up for their religious rights here, should be ready to denounce what’s happening in Pakistan as a disgrace to Islam. Another two Christian people were murdered in Pakistan this week. I hope readers of this blog who are more adept in social media than I am, might mention this issue on their own web-pages. Background information can be found at: