During the media frenzy over the crisis in the Uniting Church, my wife and I went to the movies. We saw "Brassed Off". This is a Yorkshire term which has an Australian colloquial equivalent I do not use but which expresses how people feel sometimes about the bureaucracies of both governments and the church. In this case the Yorkshire miners are brassed off with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who in the mid 1980's was pushing an economic rationalist policy that saw the closure of 184 coal mines because coal was a redundant fossil fuel.
The coal mine in Dibley was being closed after 110 years, and with it the Dibley Colliery Brass Band. The film, by Mark Herman, is about class struggle between the mining union and mine management, the impact that redundancy makes on a working man's family, and the loss of morale among the members of the brass band who had hoped for years to get to the finals in the Royal Albert Hall. The film has some poor stereotypes. Childhood sweethearts are in conflict because he is a miner and she works for the management. The bandmaster Danny, is dying of black-lung disease but revives in hospital as the band plays "Danny Boy" outside his window. The dis-spirited and poorly performing band is revived by the arrival of a young flugelhorn player, who becomes the only woman in the band. The band, inspired even though the pit is closed, goes on to the Royal Albert Hall and wins the championship. I can't stand fairy-tale endings when the structural problems are not altered and where it is so predictable! But there is a powerful moment in the life of the bandmaster's son, Phil who cannot take any more and who breaks down at church.
Phil's dad is dying. Phil is deeply in debt from the 1985 strike. The repossession people have just taken his furniture. His wife has left him, taking his kids. He is trying to earn some money by playing a clown at children's parties and at a Roman Catholic Church's children's harvest festival.
Seeing the kids in church is just too much and Phil breaks down. He shouts obscenities and storms towards the church door. He stops, still in his clown outfit, in front of a statue of Jesus. It is a typical Catholic statue, with Jesus having an open bleeding heart, thorns on his head, arms outstretched with nail wounds in his hands. Phil shouts at the statue: "What are you looking at? My job's gone. The pit's closed. My wife's left. The kids are gone. My furniture is repossessed. My dad is dying. And Margaret Bloody Thatcher is healthy and well and enjoying life! Where's the justice?" And he slams the door.
The camera pauses on the statue. Jesus stands with bleeding heart, arms outstretched with the nailholes in His hands and thorns upon His head. Where's the justice? Pilate is washing His hands. Herod is eating roast for lunch. Caiaphas is putting on his robes. And Jesus, the best man to have ever lived is crucified! Where's the justice? There is no justice for the poor, the coloured, the disabled, the righteous, for many women, the aged, unemployed, the insignificant miners and carpenters of this world. They are the marginalised people, pushed around, pushed to the rim of society, the despised and rejected of men. Many scholars see Jesus as marginalised, yet One who brings the good news of God, but who is Himself the Good news. To some scholars Jesus is the marginalised Messiah.
1. THE MESSIAH.
The word "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew mashiah, "The Lord's Anointed". The Messiah was the expected king of David's line who would deliver Israel from foreign bondage and restore her glories. The Greek translation, christos, became the title of Jesus. During the Roman oppression the Jews' expected a political liberator. This "son of David" messiah, was overshadowed by a mystical character called the "Son of Man". This Messiah would descend to save his people. Both these concepts are given to Jesus in the New Testament.
To this day Orthodox Jews await the coming of the messiah. At every Passover, the fifth cup of wine poured is left untouched for Elijah who may come and announce the coming of the Messiah. As scripture is read, someone opens the door to see if Elijah is waiting outside to come in. In the early 1990's 200,000 Ultra Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim thought their Rabbi was the Messiah. They built an expensive home for him in Jerusalem although he stayed in New York. Melbourne financier Joe Gutnik helped fund an expensive campaign to proclaim Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as the Messiah.
Yellow billboards and bumper stickers in New York and Israel announced "Prepare for the Coming of the Messiah" and a full page advertisement in the New York Times heralded "The Time For Your Redemption Has Arrived!" Other Rabbis had claimed he was a false Messiah and said "It is crazy to force the Messiah to come by selling him like Coca-Cola with jingles, stickers and billboards!" But on 27th June 1994, he died aged 92.
At the time of Jesus, two ideas were predominant. The first was that the Messiah would come from the house of David and establish the Kingdom of God. It would be an earthly kingdom where the Messiah would gather the chosen people and from Jerusalem establish a world kingdom of peace. Jesus disappointed them. He did not let himself be made a political Messiah. But his opponents used the political misinterpretation to destroy him. Jesus was condemned and executed by the Romans as a Jewish rebel against Roman sovereignty. The inscription on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews," cited political insurrection of a Jewish messianic king against the Roman government as the official reason for his execution.
The second awaited a heavenly messiah. Pious groups, like the Essenes and the Qumran community on the Dead Sea yearned, not for an earthly Messiah but a heavenly One, who would bring not an earthly but a heavenly kingdom. They believed the power of God alone could create the new era. There would first be intense woes and a frightful judgment upon the godless, the pagans, and Satan and his demonic powers. Then the Messiah would come, not as an earthly king, but as a heavenly figure, as the Son of God, who would descend into the world of the Evil One and there gather his own to lead them back into the realm of light. He would take dominion over the world and, after overcoming all earthly and supernatural powers, lay the entire cosmos at the feet of God. Then the Messiah, Son of man, would rule over the resurrected faithful. He proclaimed the glad news that the long promised Kingdom was already dawning, bringing believers together into a new community, the church.
2. THE MARGINALISED MESSIAH.
But Jesus had a surprise! The coming Son of Man, the heavenly conquering hero, with all the marks of divine power and glory, would be marginalised to the fringes of society. He would be the Suffering Servant of God as prophecised in Isaiah 53. He would return in glory as the consummator of the Kingdom. But only after He was taken and abused and put to death. As the first preacher of the Gospel, Peter, put it: Acts 2:22-24 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to hold him."
The best and most believable recent books in The Quest for the Historical Jesus have been the trilogy by John P. Meier in 1991: "A MARGINAL JEW: RETHINKING THE HISTORICAL JESUS". John Meier says he called Jesus a marginalised Jew because Jesus in Galilee was only a blip on the radar screen of the Romans. Jesus was also pushed to the margins of society by the religious bureaucrats who crucified Him outside the city wall. By giving up His settled trade in the carpenter's shop in Nazareth, and becoming a wandering preacher with no where to lay His head and no possessions except His cloke which served as a coat by day and a blanket by night, Jesus allowed Himself to be rejected by His own family and village people.
Jesus also tackled the religious establishment by making the laws of Moses tougher and the standard of morality among His followers harder and higher. He was marginalised because His teachings and His close association with the poor, the rejected and the leprous, put Him offside with everyone from the Pharisees to the Romans. He did become the central character of the centuries, but then, Jesus was the marginalised Messiah.
Meier says that even in His death, we see the authentic Jesus, for "a Jesus whose words and deeds would not alienate people, especially powerful people, is not the historical Jesus." (p127) We see that coming through even in a simple healing that took place in a Synagogue: Mk 3:1-6 "Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." 4 Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."
And they did. As Peter said: 23 "This man Jesus was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead."
The marginalised Jew became, through the Cross and Resurrection, the Messiah of all. He will one day return to establish God's Kingdom and reign on earth as in heaven. Then those of us who have suffered rejection and marginalisation will be at the centre of all things with Him who reigns Lord of all.
Jesus stands patiently before us, with arms outstretched. The crown of thorns, the bleeding heart, the nail-prints in the hands are all evidence that He also was despised and rejected of men. There is no justice for the marginalised in this life, but the marginalised Messiah makes sure that in the timing of God, God's justice will prevail.
In the meantime, Jesus Christ has announced God's Kingdom. He has declared that people of faith and trust can enter this Kingdom of God regardless of their background or lack of personal qualities. His first sermon started: Mk 1:15 "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" That applies still for us today. The time is now. The Kingdom of God is near. What we must do is to repent of our sin, quietly, personally to God Himself in a prayer of confession. You simply say "God I am a sinner. I repent of my sin. Give me strength to live a new life in Christ's power."
Then you believe the Good News. This Good news is that Christ has died to take away your sin. God raised Him from the dead so that you may share His new life that lasts into eternity. There is no justice here on earth, but in heaven, all is well. All you need do to enter God's kingdom is to repent of your sin and believe the Good News! It is as simple and as difficult as that. Repent and believe!
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
A MARGINAL JEW: RETHINKING THE HISTORICAL JESUS J.P.Meier Doubleday
3 VOLS 1991
JESUS UNDER SIEGE G Boyd Victor 1995
JESUS IN AN AGE OF CONTROVERSY D Grootuis Harvest 1996
THE JESUS QUEST B Witherington IVP 1995
IS THE NEW TESTAMENT RELIABLE P Barnett IVP 1986
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