Monday 23 November 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (34/50) – His Dramatic Actions: Jesus – Dangerous Revolutionary or Maverick Showman?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirty-fourth of the fifty emails, this one written by Helen Parry.

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, ‘Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?’… Jesus said to him… ‘so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’
Matthew 17:24-27

What was Jesus? Dangerous revolutionary or maverick showman? Neither… Or was he both?

Dangerous revolutionaries are defined by the number of their trained followers (Jesus had twelve), their weaponry (the disciples had two swords) and their subversive rhetoric (in spite of all expectations, Jesus never advocated rebellion). Nevertheless, as those twelve became hundreds, they ‘turned the world upside down’. How? Not by violence but by the subversive power of Jesus’ teaching, and his sacrificial love.

Maverick showmen are characterised by unpredictability and an eye to their audience. Jesus constantly broke the mould of convention, wrong-footing not only his critics but sometimes also his disciples. Healing and casting out demons might have been expected from someone who was gradually revealing himself as ‘more than a prophet’. But turning water into wine? Feeding 5,000 people from five barley loaves and two fishes? Planting a four-drachma coin in the mouth of a fish?

Each of these three miracles demonstrates Jesus’ authority over the material world, his unorthodox way of paying his tax showing that he is lord even of money. The water into wine miracle is described as a sign, through which Jesus revealed his glory (John 2:11). There is thus a sense in which Jesus might be called a showman. Although seemingly impromptu, his miracles point to his identity as the Son of God.

Others of his dramatic actions, however, had nothing miraculous about them. Outraged by the antics of the money changers in the temple courts he overthrew their tables, scattering money and animals. Whether this happened on two separate occasions or on one, it was a provocative public display of his authority.

At the other end of the spectrum, we sit as flies on the wall while Jesus, their ‘Lord and Master’ stripped off and washed his disciples’ feet. And then, in the privacy of that upper room, he took bread and wine and passed them round, as lasting symbols of his body and blood.

Always one step ahead of us – this is our Lord.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. In spite of his unpredictability, there is a coherence and consistency in Jesus’ actions. What does my behaviour reveal about me, and about the Lord I claim to follow?

2. Jesus was a colourful character – certainly not simply ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’. How is this an encouragement to us creatively to express our personalities, rather than conforming to an imagined norm of what a Christian ought to look like?

3. Looking at the contexts in which Jesus performed these actions, we see his sensitiveness to human need, and his understanding of his culture and of the human heart. Pray that you, and members of your church, may have a similar awareness of the world, and the people, around us.

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