Monday, March 5, 2007

Jesus preaching in the street.

Our Gospel reading this Sunday was not a neat and tidy sermon given from a pulpit to a regularly gathered worshiping community. Jesus was preaching in the streets and thousands came to listen to him teaching out in the open. The crowd was made up of those who wanted him dead and those who believed he spoke the word of God.

They came to Jesus with a question that's never been answered to anyone's satisfaction outside of the cross. Why does suffering have to happen? The people in Jesus time didn't generally ask him a theoretical question. They particularly asked about the suffering that one group of people had to endure at the hands of their Roman overlord. They asked Jesus about the Galileans who suffered at the hands of Pilate. We ask similar questions too about disasters, peace, war, and justice. Jesus responded to them with another question. He asked them not only about the Galileans but about 18 others killed when the Tower of Siloam crashed down and crushed them.

We look for a cause of such tragedies. We look for some sinner to blame when everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Congress holds hearings. Special prosecutors investigate finding out who did what. We look for a sinner to blame, who brought down God's wrath on themselves and others. But a truth revealed in the cross is that suffering isn't always punishment for sin. Mary Hinkle Shore has a fantastic quote from Fred Craddock in her Pilgrim Preaching Blog regarding this exact point.

Don't lose site of the Cross:

Today's story makes sense when we see it in the context both of Jesus healing and preaching ministry and in the light of him dying and rising.

Jesus ministry, this one particular day, started out as he caste out a daemon from a man who was held mute by the power of the daemon. The crowd was amazed to hear this man speak for the first time after Jesus set him free. The crowd grew around Jesus. Pharisees nearby watched Jesus. They were students of the ancient religious law who believed that careful observation of the law proved their devotion and worthiness to God. Several Pharisees mixed in with the crowd and one invited Jesus to dine with him. Jesus accepted and went into the home of a Pharisee to eat. Jesus offended one of the Pharisees who ate with him. He didn't wash properly before eating according to the rules of the law. Jesus, knowing their offense, challenged them. He said that they cleaned the outside of the cup, but not the inside. He said that they were like unmarked open graves laying in wait to trap people. He said that their laws were burdens that were to great for the people to carry and these men who kept the rules did nothing to lift off their burdens.

In Luke 11:59 we read that Jesus had gone outside of the home of a Pharisee after eating. He encountered a growing crowd. Luke 12:1 tells us that Jesus was addressing a crowd numbering in the thousands. The group was so large that people trampled on one another trying to get close enough to listen to Jesus. Some in the crowd were clearly hostile. Some of the Pharisees lay waiting to trap Jesus in his words, ready to tear him down for blasphemy. They stung from his words. Others were there to listen to him teach. I think of the crowd as painfully divided that day. Some came with an answer for Jesus and others came to him with questions that have no easy answers.

Jesus made no attempt to cater to his critics. He confronted them directly, challenging them to listen, and respond not from a position of earthly honor, but from a position of humility before God. He offered no easy comfortable Word from God that afternoon. Instead he called them to look at the world and to see what God was doing in the middle of the ugliest and most painful realities.

In Jesus' time people were asking questions, just like we do, about the bad things that happen in the world. They asked about the Galileans who suffered at the hands of Pilate. We ask similar questions too about those who suffer in our time. We can make litanies of the disasters, wars, and injustices of our time and Jesus might respond by showing us even more suffering and injustice. The challenge for the church is not to list the evil and the suffering. Anybody can do that. Jesus' own example was not to list the problems. It was to heal and to restore. The world we live in is have; its a world that God created and called good, even very good, back in Genesis.

Justice isn't straightforward in this world and it never has been. The people asked Jesus about the violence that they lived with everyday. He spoke with them about the tragedies that they all knew. The response to the brokenness of this world isn't always clear. Suffering is real; just as the love of God revealed in Jesus is real. We can list all the shameful troubles that remain unresolved or we can step in and wade deeper into the challenging waters. We are called to minister in a world that has scars from sin, sickness, and disaster and not in a perfect world that never existed.

1 comment:

David said...

Excellent post. As people of God we cannot lose sight of the cross. To be engaged in ministry means that we too must be willing to go (be with those who struggle)and suffer (care for them in their sorrows without regard to our own plight). Thsi is the way of Christ, the way of the cross.