Sunday 28th March 2021
It is said that the quality of a country’s civil life may be measured by its treatment of its needy people and minorities. (I don’t know who is responsible for that saying.)
It does seem to me that if only the wealthy flourish – then we should not be surprised if revolution is not far away (so this is an opposite).
In Australia, I believe we are reasonably conscious of the needy and we might broadly think about who they are – those suffering physically or mentally. Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers – those in our prisons, religious minorities, LGBT people, the elderly, the unborn, vulnerable women and children. Just to name a few.
We could ask how do our health systems, criminal justice systems, government services, church agencies and community services work for people with these and many other needs. Do all feel they belong -that this society treats them with dignity. Are we moving in the right direction?
When Mark wrote his gospel clearly Christians were facing persecution and there would be worse to come. The way he tells us about the life of Jesus reflects his concern for those living on the fringe.
Jesus is portrayed as the man of action – on the move teaching, preaching, healing, feeding the multitude, etc. But once he is handed over to the authorities – he is almost silent. Just three times he speaks from that moment – twice to identify himself to the chief priests and Pilate and then from the cross where he quotes a Psalm
“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”
Was Mark trying to reassure his audience that Jesus, their Lord and his, had been through the same travail and torture and persecution that they were facing.
On Palm Sunday, it doesn’t at first feel like that. The entry into Jerusalem is a triumphal act. Israel longed for the day when the new Kind David the new Messiah would ride into the capital in regal victory. There were some echoes of this as Jesus and that little group of followers came into Jerusalem. I love the way Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice visualized it in the rock Opera ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’:
“Hosanna, hey sanna, sanna, sanna ho”
But there was no accompanying army, no weapons and no white horse (a mighty charger) for the king – but rather a donkey, a symbol of peace and a beast of burden. Cloaks and branches strewn in respect and honour along the way.
The disciples were still learning about Jesus’ central teachings but soon Peter would be wielding a sword in defence of Jesus. James and John were no doubt still arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom! Judas, we know, would soon yield to the ultimate temptation and betray Jesus for a handful of money.
But Mark’s telling of Jesus’ last hours must have helped make a huge difference. Those early disciples, we learn in the Book of Acts, devoted themselves to prayer and service. Despite the odds and in the face of immense power, they look after the needy. James tells us and his readers that –
“True religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
In Acts Chapter 6 we read that the disciples responding to overwhelming needs in their community found seven people who would focus on serving those in need. This was the beginning of that band or ordained people we know by the Greek word for Service – Diakonos or to Anglicise it ‘Deacons’.
We know this did not fix everything. There were, without doubt, all kinds of issues that couldn’t be fixed. These too are mentioned elsewhere in Acts. But the overwhelming message was clear – the early Christians and the early Church was known as “The Way’. It may well have seemed to them that their efforts were a drop in the ocean, but their legacy would be profound.
We don’t usually face that same level of persecution for our faith, more likely we face apathy and ignorance – that leads to distrust. The Church in Australia today, as the body of Christ, faces many challenges. Perhaps looking at the story Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Mark’s telling of the Passion – we might find renewed confidence to be faithful to be authentic – telling Jesus’ story by looking after and caring seriously for those in need.
Being a civil society is also about being a godly people and leading others. I can’t think of a better prayer for us to think about this week than this by Bishop, or Saint, Richard of Chichester:
“Most merciful redeemer, friend and brother
May I know you more clearly
Love you more dearly
And follow you more nearly day by day. Amen.”
Archdeacon Ray McInnes