Sunday, 2 November 2014

"Scroungers" or "Hard Working Families"?

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
2nd November 2014 11.00
Living Wage Sunday

Matthew 23:1-12  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,  2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;  3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.  6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,  7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.  8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.  9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-- the one in heaven.  10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.  11 The greatest among you will be your servant.  12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Micah 3:5-12  Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths.  6 Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them;  7 the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.  8 But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.  9 Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity,  10 who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!  11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us."  12 Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

The people once described by Napoleon
            as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ are now, it seems,
divided into ‘scroungers’ and ‘hard working families’.

You’re either contributing to society,
            or taking from it.
If you’ve got a job, and you pay your taxes,
            then you have earned your right to be part of our society,
            and to access the benefits of our common wealth.
If, however, you’ve not got a job,
            and especially if you’re in receipt of some support from the state,
            you are a ‘scrounger’, and you have no moral right
            to access the benefits that are sustaining you.

I think that this is an invidious narrative,
            but it is one with huge popular appeal;
particularly among those who work hard, pay their taxes,
            and resent funding the lifestyle choices of the ‘scroungers’.

Earlier this year, the Chancellor George Osborne said:

“Where I have had the opportunity I have focussed the effort on those on low and middle incomes… That's my priority, that's where my tax-cutting priorities lie because I want to help those hard-working families."[1]

And the Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“welfare is there to help people who work hard and should not be there as a sort of life choice… That is why we need to make work pay and cut the welfare bill - cutting this bill will enable us to cut taxes for hard-pressed households.”[2]

But it’s not just from the Conservative side of the house
            that such rhetoric comes…

In his conference speech this year, Labour leader Ed Milliband asked:

“Can anyone build a better future for the working people of Britain?”.

before offering the following answer:

“I am not talking about a better future for the powerful and the privileged. Those who do well whatever the weather. I’m talking about families like yours treading water, working harder and harder just to stay afloat. For Labour, this election is about you.”[3]

Both sides of the political fence have bought into the narrative
            that we’re all either scroungers, or workers.
And both sides recognize the political capital that is to be gained
            from reducing the national burden of the benefit system,
            in order to correspondingly reduce the taxation burden
                        borne by hard-working floating voters.

As Jesus might have put it, in one of his more cynical moments,
            “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,
                        and lay them on the shoulders of others;
            but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”

And so we find ourselves at our Gospel reading for this morning.

Come back with me, for a few minutes, to the world of first century Judea,
            as we start to unpick Jesus’ damning indictment
                        of the religious and political leaders of his own day,
            before coming back to our own world,
                        to consider how his critique might speak
                        to our contemporary situation.

The first thing to say, is that our passage from Matthew 23,
            which we had read to us earlier in the service,
cannot be read in isolation from something that Jesus says
            a few chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew 11:28-30   "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

We often encounter this saying as a comfort for troubled souls;
            I’m sure you know the kind of thing,
            you’ve heard it in sermons before:

            Are you weary? Weighed down by the trials of life?
            Are you finding the burden of your troubles too hard to bear?
                        Then come to Jesus, like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s famous novel,
                                    and lay down your heavy burden at the cross;
                        because Jesus is gentle, humble, meek and mild;
                                    rest in him and your soul will be restored.
                        His yoke is easy, and his burden is light…

Except, this was not really the point
            of what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11,
and it certainly wasn’t what he was talking about
            when he spoke of burdens too heavy to bear
            in our reading for this morning from chapter 23.

The burden that Jesus had in mind,
            was not the sense of soul-weariness
                        that afflicts us all from time to time.
            Nor was it the burden of persistent sin,
                        damaging and destructive though that can be.

Rather, Jesus was talking about burdensome systems of oppression,
            that had kept people enslaved and ensnared,
                        to the service of the unjust regime
                        that held political and religious power.

The Judea of the first century
            was an occupied country.
The Romans held ultimate political power,
            but it was exercised locally through a permitted network
            of puppet kings and religious leaders.

This devolved system of governance had local responsibility
            for administering taxation, legislation, and social care.
And as long as the Roman Empire received what it required,
            the details of how the rest played out at a local level
            was something for the indigenous rulers to sort out.

For the average person, in an average Jerusalem street,
            the “hardworking first century family man”,
                        just “trying to make ends meet”,
            the system was a burden from dawn till dusk.

Taxes were exorbitant,
            and the system for their collection was rife with corruption.
The political leaders were out-of-touch,
            and motivated primarily by self-interest and self-aggrandizement.
And the religious leaders were utterly compromised,
            and thoroughly enmeshed in the preservation
                        and legitimation of the status quo.

The Judean equivalent of the man on the Clapham omnibus
            was over taxed, under paid, and put-upon at every turn.

By the same token,
            those in need society’s help,
            the widows, the orphans, the extreme poor, and the disabled,
were having their legally enshrined right to support
            cut back at every opportunity.

Isaiah may have told the people of Israel that they should
            “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
            defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17  

But the reality of Israel at the time of Jesus
            was a long way from this ideal.
Beggars lined the streets,
            women were vulnerable and defenceless,
            and the sick were pushed to the margins of society and beyond.

So, when Jesus says,
            ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens’
he is speaking to those who are put-upon and done-unto
            by an economically oppressive and destructive system,
            borne out of a combination of Roman Imperialism
                        and unethical localised administration.

The yoke that Jesus invites people to throw off
            is the yoke of the oppressor,
            it is the yoke of tyranny.

And his invitation to take up an alternative yoke,
            is an invitation to start living by a different set of rules,
it is a call to start living
            as citizens of a different empire,
            as those who belong to different kingdom.

Once again, Jesus sounds like a dangerous revolutionary,
            and his words of challenge no longer sound so warm and comforting.
This is no gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
            comforting the tired and weary with platitudes and clichés.
Rather, this is Jesus the radical,
            calling the oppressed to a new world order,
and challenging the self-interested powers-that-be
            by unmasking their hypocrisy
            and exposing their indifference to the plight of the poor.

The empire to which Jesus calls people
            is a kingdom of mercy, justice, and compassion.
It is a new world-order where those who wearily toil
            are liberated from the burdens that tyrannize them.

It is a vision of the world where justice is fairly administered
            for both the rich and the poor alike (Lev. 19.15; Deut 1.17),
and where each member of society is of equal value
            in the eyes of the law, as well as in the eyes of the Lord.

This is the empire of God,
            and Jesus invites people to start to experience it in the here-and-now.
Not as some longed for future,
            or as some vision for the afterlife,
but as a reality that transforms human society
            as the values of eternity break into the present.

It is in the light of this vision, first spelled out in chapter 11,
            that Jesus turns his attention in chapter 23
            to one of the main stumbling blocks to the realisation of the new world.
And so the religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees,
            become his particular target.

The thing that seems to particularly offend Jesus
            about the scribes and the Pharisees
            is that they ought to know better.

They, after all, are the custodians of the laws of Moses.
            They are those who have read Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
                        and have taken upon themselves the task
                        of applying the ancient laws to the first century world.

The scribes and the Pharisees know the commands
            to exercise fair and impartial judgment,
they know the commands to care for the weak and the vulnerable,
            they know the commands to exercise taxation with probity.
They know this stuff, and they teach it easily enough;
            but, says Jesus, they don’t live it out.
It is not real in their lives, and so they are hypocrites.

They should be at the forefront
            of challenging the oppressive practices of the Roman Imperial system.
But instead they have become complicit in its abuses,
            and are profiteering from its corruption.

Instead of lifting the yoke of oppression from the shoulders of the poor,
            they are tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear,
            and laying them on the shoulders of others,
while they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

They have betrayed the vision of the prophets
            and have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.[4]

They have accepted the bribe
            that the empire offers to all who might challenge it,
and have exchanged their call to transform the world
            for the more immediate lure of power, status, and wealth.

And, I have to ask,
            are we any different?

The followers of Christ down the centuries
            have demonstrated a ready capacity to align themselves
            with promises of power, wealth, and status.

We have silenced ourselves, and shut ourselves up,
            all in the cause of self-preservation and self-interest.
Time and again we have lost the vision of the prophets
            for a world transformed and a world renewed,
because we have set our sights on the things of this world,
            and not on the revelation of the new world that is breaking in upon us.

But the call and critique of Jesus echoes down the centuries to us, today,
            challenging us to consider our relationship to power, wealth, and status,
and asking us to look long and hard at the complicities we bear
            in the treatment of the poor, the vulnerable, and the disabled.

The people of our country cannot simply be split
            into “hard working families” and “scroungers”,
            to “givers” and “takers”,
and to do so is to imbibe a narrative of domination
            where the poor are squeezed,
                        the vulnerable are oppressed,
                                    and the weak are heavy-laden.

The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us all to engage society
            in ways that are transformative, and not entrenched.
It calls us to see Christ in the face of the stranger,
            and to see God-given humanity of each created person.

There may be no such thing as the undeserving poor,
            but any of us who look at our own wealth
                        and tell ourselves that we deserve it,
            may well find that we are closer to the Pharisees and the scribes
                        than we are comfortable admitting.

This coming week is Living Wage week,
            and there will be a lot of publicity
                        about the importance of paying people an hourly rate
                                    that is sufficient, not only for subsistence living,
                                    (which is the premise of the minimum wage(,
                        but a rate that is capable of lifting people out of poverty.

The Living Wage foundation believe
            that work should be the surest way out of poverty.
Work should not be a burden on the shoulders of the poor,
            but a means of grace and dignity.[5]

As a church, we are part of the Citizens UK movement,
            which aligns us with other community groups,
            ranging from churches, to schools,
                        to synagogues, to hospitals, to mosques.[6]

And in this way, we are directly involved
            in the process of community-organising to effect change
            in some key and vital areas in both London and the wider UK.

So, through the London Citizens group,
            we are aligned with campaigns relating to, amongst other things,
            the governance of the UK,
                        improved social care,
            child health,
                        affordable housing,
            treatment of asylum seekers,
                        employment and training opportunities,
            credit unions,
                        and the living wage.

If this kind of direct involvement in the transformation of society,
            at a non-party-political level
is something that you are interested in,
            please do speak to me, or Dawn, or Ruth,
and we will talk with you about how you can get more involved
            on behalf of Bloomsbury.

This, it seems to me,
            is where the rubber starts to hit the road
in terms of our faith taking shape in our society,
            to transform the world in the name of our saviour Christ Jesus.





[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/georgeosborne/10602842/George-Osborne-Low-paid-first-in-line-for-tax-cuts.html
[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9975274/Benefits-are-not-a-life-choice-says-David-Cameron.html
[3] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/ed-miliband-s-speech-labour-conference-full-text
[4] Genesis 25.29-34
[5] http://www.livingwage.org.uk/
[6] http://www.citizensuk.org/

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Whose Son?

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
Sunday 26th October 2014 11.00am


Matthew 22.34-46
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,  35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"  37 He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'  38 This is the greatest and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'  40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." 

41  Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:  42 "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David."  43 He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,  44 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet" '?  45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?"  46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Leviticus 19.1-2, 15-18  
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:  2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.  16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The people of my country have been awaiting his return for a thousand years.

All the prophecies and legends are clear that he is coming back;
            every child learns the stories of his great deeds at their mother’s knee,
                        how his kingly rule united the country,
                        how he brought peace and prosperity to the people,
                        and how he will come again to aid us in the hour of our greatest need.
He’s coming again, we all know it,
            the question is when, and why is it taking so long?
Albion has suffered many trials,
            and still King Arthur has not returned.

The Jews are not the only nation to have a messiah mythology,
            and the archetype of a absent-but-returning hero,
                        of one who has now gone, but will come again,
            runs deep within the psyche of many people-groups and religions.

From the Graeco-Roman gods of Dionysus and Mithras,
            to the Redivivus belief that the emperor Nero
                        would return from the grave to re-take Rome,
            to the English Arthurian legends of the middle ages,
                        to the heroes of the ancient Welsh Mabinogion,
            to Gandalf returning from the fires of Mount Doom
                        to the death and return of Superman;
the trope of a hero who dies, or goes away,
            only to return victoriously, in the nick of time, to save the day,
            is one which we find repeated through many cultural incarnations.

For the Jews, the figure they were waiting for
            was called ‘the Messiah’ in Hebrew, or ‘the Christ’ in Greek.

Originally, for the Jews, the Messiah was a word that had been used to describe
            someone who was anointed with oil to perform their role;
            either as a Priest, or as a King (Lev. 4.3, 5).[1]
So, King Saul is ‘anointed’ by the prophet Samuel as the first king of Israel (1 Sam 10.1),
            and David, who succeeded him, is similarly ‘anointed’.
In many ways, as time went on,
            David became the quintessential ‘anointed one’ in the Old Testament,
                        and a couple of places even record promises by God
                        to secure David’s kingship forever (2 Sam 7.12-13, Ps. 89).
His kingship acquired mythic status,
            not dissimilar to that of King Arthur in the culture of the British Isles.

In the Judaism of the few hundred years leading up to the time of Jesus,
            the term ‘Messiah’ developed further,
                        and came to play an important function in the Jewish imagination.
Though variety exists,
            messianic expectations from this period
                        are typically of a coming Davidic military leader,
            who will free the Jewish people from foreign occupation,
                        and restore Israel’s borders to the extent
                                    that the David stories claimed for them.
                                    (e.g. Psalms of Solomon 17)

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from about the time of Jesus,
            reveal an interesting expectation of not one, but two Jewish Messiahs;
            one militaristic, and the other priestly.

And Jesus certainly wasn’t the only important historical figure
            to be named the Messiah.

For example, it was also a term that was applied
            to the non-Israelite King Cyrus of Persia (Isa 45.1),
            who brought an end to the Babylonian exile of the Jews in the sixth century BC,
And much closer to the time of Jesus,
            ‘Messiah’ was used of the leader of the Bar Kokhba Revolt
            which took place in the second century BC.

All of this lies behind the gospel writers’ invitation
            to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, or the Messiah.

It seems that questions over whether Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah
            had been asked of him during his lifetime,
with, for example, John the Baptist asking Jesus
            if he was ‘the one who is to come’
            or whether John and his followers should wait for another? (Luke 7.20).

However, a related question, to sit alongside that of whether Jesus is the Messiah,
            was the question of, what kind of Messiah is he?
Is he a priestly Messiah, or a militaristic Messiah,
            Will he restore the temple, or the monarchy?
Whose messiah will he be?
            The messiah of the religious radicals?
            Or the messiah of the political radicals?

And it is these questions that underlie the exchange
            that Jesus has with the Pharisees
            in our reading today from Matthew’s gospel.

The Pharisees have heard that Jesus has managed to out-smart the Sadducees,
            and they decide that it’s now their turn again to play ‘Ridicule the Rabbi’.
So they wheel in their specialist lawyer,
            to ask Jesus a tried-and-tested no-win question
            with the intent of trapping him whatever his answer.

‘Tell us, teacher’, they say, ‘which commandment is the greatest?’

The idea is that whichever command Jesus picked,
            would get him into trouble.
If, for example, he picked ‘having no other gods before the Lord’,
            they would accuse him of moral laxity
            because he was relegating the command about adultery.
However, if he picked ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’,
            he’d be accused of idolatry because he’d ignore the first command!
And so on – the perfect no-win question
            to derail the cock-sure carpenter from Nazareth.

But, as with the Pharisees previous trap,
            the one about paying taxes to the emperor, which we heard about last week,
Jesus shrugs off their trap with ease;
            giving them an answer that covers all the bases:
            ‘Love God, and Love Neighbour’, he says.
Both commands, but neither ‘commandments’.

Jesus takes the popular Shema command from Deuteronomy (6.4-5)
            and combines it with a lesser-known injunction
                        to love of neighbour from Leviticus (19.18)

The Pharisees would have been right in there
            with the ‘Love of God’ part of Jesus’ answer,
but by adding to it the love of one’s neighbour, as an equal command,
            Jesus highlighted to the Pharisees
            the weakness inherent in their own super-religious ideology.

So far, so clever.
            Well done Jesus!
Not only has he, once again, dodged the trap that has been set for him,
            but he has also managed to prick the pomposity of the Pharisees,
            unmasking their potential for heartless religious conservatism.

However, this is not just a story
            about Jesus beating the Pharisees at their own game.
Because the story continues,
            with Jesus taking the opportunity to push the Pharisees a bit further
            by setting them a riddle of his own.

‘Tell me,’ he says, ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’

This is a classic riddle, one with a seemingly obvious answer,
            which will turn out to be unsustainable.

The clue to this being a riddle is in the phrase, ‘what do you think…’,
            which is something we’ve heard from the lips of Jesus before
                        as he has asked a variety of difficult questions
                        to stimulate thought from both disciples and opponents alike.
                                    (17.25, 18.12, 21.28).
            But most recently, it is the phrase that the Pharisees have used
                        when asking Jesus their previous question about paying taxes.[2]
            ‘What do you think,’ they asked Jesus,
                        ‘is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ (22.17)

‘So’, says Jesus back to them, ‘what do you think… whose son is the Messiah?’
            And the Pharisees, after a few moments of careful thought,
            supply what they believe to be the safe and scriptural answer:
                        ‘He’s the son of David’.

He’s not the son of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth,
            he’s not the son of Kokhba,[3]
            he’s not the son of righteousness,[4]
he’s the son of David.

However, in giving this answer,
            the Pharisees have been forced into revealing their hand,
because it turns out that what you hope for, tells a lot about what you believe in,
            and the Pharisees were hoping for a Davidic Messiah,
                        a military messiah,
                        a messiah who would overthrow the oppressors,
                        and restore the nation to its former glory.

The answer they give to this seemingly innocent question from Jesus,
            is far more revealing of the Pharisees’ deeper motives
            than they realise.

So Jesus decides to push it a bit,
            and takes his riddle to the next level:

‘Right then,’ he says, ‘so the Messiah is David’s son, is he?’
            ‘So how then is it that, in one of the worship psalms written by David himself,
                        he calls the messiah his “Lord”?’

The logic is simple:
            If David calls the Messiah ‘Lord’,
            how can the Messiah be his son?

At this point the Pharisees back off,
            but not simply because they’ve been caught out on a technicality
                        in some obscure game of Hebrew Bible proof-texting.
            Rather, they back off
                        because the whole basis of their belief in a Davidic Messiah
                                    as a military, politically centrist, nationalistic hero
                        has just been unmasked and exposed to ridicule.

They have just discovered
            that what you hope for, reveals a lot about what you believe in.
And Jesus, in subverting the neat logic of their hoped-for Davidic Messiah,
            has also subverted the cold logic of their militaristic, nationalistic God.

This, it turns out, is not simply a story
            about how Jesus is cleverer than the Pharisees.
Rather, it’s a debate about the nature of faith itself,
            and it raises fundamental questions about what is meant by salvation.

Is our hoped-for salvation
            simply synonymous with divine vindication of our shared ideology?
Is salvation to be understood in terms of victory for ‘me and mine’?
            With ‘them and theirs’ of, at best, secondary concern?

You see, the answer we might give to the question
            of what kind of Messiah we hope for,
will tell us a lot
            about the God we believe in.

And Jesus, it seems, is challenging in no uncertain terms,
            any kind of belief in a Messiah that is understood
            as a politicised, nationalistic, tribal, partisan, Davidic hero.

And yet, the people of God, both in the first century,
            and in the twenty-first century,
            and in all the centuries in between,
have found it all-too-easy
            to become trapped in a belief system
            that is predicated upon a Davidic ideology.

Any attempt to equate national identity with the people of God
            represents an expression of Davidic messianic ideology.

From the Christianisation of the Roman empire under Constantine,
            to the development of Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire,
            to the alliances of the middle ages between Church and Monarch,
            to the contemporary tabloid-esque assertion
                        that ‘we are, after all, supposed to be a Christian country!’
            to the anointing of the Monarch in Westminster Abbey
                        by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury…

We have repeatedly, through Christian history,
            revealed that what we long for is a Davidic Messiah.
The people of Christ have joined their voices with those of the Pharisees,
            in answering that the Messiah is the son of David.

But this is not how Jesus describes himself.

Every time, in the gospels, that Jesus is called ‘Son of David’,
            it is someone else using the language.
He never calls himself the ‘son of David’,
            and in fact, when he does use the term, here in Matthew,
                        and in the parallel passage in Mark’s gospel,
            he does so to undermine its use of him.

Jesus does not, it seems, see himself as a Son of David,
            he is not the Davidic Messiah.
He is not the answer to the put-upon-people-of-God’s desire
            to have their powerlessness reversed,
and he is not the ‘just cause’ in whose name
            armies might march to overthrow the evils of the ‘other’.

Rather, Jesus uses a different title for himself:
            Consistently through the Gospels,
                        Jesus describes himself not as the ‘son of David’
                        but as the ‘son of man’.

The pursuit of a Davidic ideology has taken the people of God
            into conflict, division, and violence.
It is a failed ideology based on nationalism and power-politics,
            and it is not the path that Christ sets his face to.

He does not go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans,
            leading the longed-for rebel-army to victory over the oppressors
            and establishing the kingdom of Davidic justice and peace on earth.

Rather, he breaks out of the Davidic ideology,
            by identifying himself not as the son of David,
but as the son of man from the Jewish apocalyptic tradition.

The Messiah Jesus is the son of man,
            he is the son of the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel,
            he is a child of the margins,
                        not of the centre,
            he is the offspring of the oppressed,
                        not the progeny of power.
            He is the scion of the kingdom of heaven,
                        not the spawn of the kingdom of David.

And as such he challenges those of us who bear his name,
            and in whose lives his spirit is active,
to turn our backs on our dreams of a Davidic messiah.

He challenges us to give up our dreams of power,
            and our hopes for vindication for our deeply held convictions.
He calls us to step away from our ideologies
            of militarism, nationalism, and imperialism.
He calls us to abandon the cause of the ‘Christian Country’
            and to look instead for the in-breaking kingdom of heaven,
                        which knows no national borders,
                        and transcends all political creeds.
He calls us to relinquish our dogmas of certainty,
            and to embrace the quest for questions

He calls us to love the Lord our God,
            with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind,
And also to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

The ‘love of God’, on its own, gives birth too easily
            to a tribal understanding of faith,
where we are defined in opposition to those who love God differently to us,
            or those love a different God to us.

The ‘love of God’ on its own, all too easily makes Pharisees of us all,
            as the quest for the Davidic messiah takes shape in our midst
            and we seek to ‘take the world’ for the God we believe in.

The ‘love of God’ on its own, all too easily justifies a desire to win the world for Christ,
            it justifies the Cross of St George on the Shield of the Crusader,
            and it justifies the all-too-frequent equation
                        of earthly territory, with the kingdom of heaven.

The current crisis in Iraq and Syria is predicated upon an ‘us and them’ dogma,
            where two sides, each believing that they are right, and that the other is evil,
            are fighting for territory, resources, and ideological superiority,
                        all in the name of God.

Both sides believe that the end justifies the means.

            And so Islamic State fighters are prepared to perpetrate terrible acts of brutality
                                    on innocent aid workers and local populations alike,
                        because they believe that this furthers their divinely sanctioned objective.

            But we in the West are prepared to live with the unfortunate phenomenon
                                    which we call ‘collateral damage’
                        because we believe that we are in the right
                                    and that the enemy must be stopped.

This is where Davidic messianism take us.
            This is where devotion to our God, and our God alone, takes us.

And so Jesus says to the Davidic Pharisees,
            that they need to learn to love their neighbour as they love themselves.

And who is my neighbour?
            Well, that’s another story for another day…

But what if my neighbour in this global village of ours doesn’t look like me,
            or believe like me, or speak like me.
What if my neighbour in this great city of ours
            is an immigrant family from another part of the world,
                        ‘coming over here…’
(Actually, my neighbour is an immigrant family,
            they’re from India, and they’re really nice,
            but you know what I mean!)

The rise of xenophobic, anti-immigration, racist politics
            in the so-called Christian countries of the western world,
is another function of our embracing of a Davidic ideology,
            that sees us-and-ours as more important than them-and-theirs.

And it’s got to stop, and it’s got to stop with us.
            because if it doesn’t stop with us, it’s not going to stop.

It is directly challenged by Jesus, the son of Man,
            who calls us all to love God,
                        with all of our hearts, and all of our souls, and all of our minds.
But not just to love God, and not just to love ourselves,
            but to love our neighbour as ourselves.



[1] See ‘Christ’ in Beavis, Mary Ann, and Michael Gilmour, eds. Dictionary of the Bible and Western Culture: A Handbook for Students. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012, p.87.
[2] See Tom Thatcher, Jesus the Riddler, 2006.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_bar_Kokhba
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teacher_of_Righteousness