Sunday Night Live sermons

Sunday, 3rd August, 1997 - The Wandering Preacher.

In the quest to discover the historical Jesus, many search for a simple answer. One says Jesus was a wandering preacher. This describes Jesus as one who taught on the walk, like the peripatetic philosophers of ancient Greece, who walked the Royal Stoa in Athens, trailing students behind. Or like a medical specialist who walks the rounds of a hospital leading a group of inquiring students. Jesus left his home in Nazareth and the security of employment as carpenter to become a travelling preacher without guaranteed income. He has been followed by many like the ten thousand itinerant evangelists I lectured in the World Congresses on Itinerant Evangelism in Amsterdam in the 1980's.

Once Jesus warned his followers: Matthew 8:20 "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Jesus and His disciples lived upon the generosity of those who believed His message. He received hospitality from people like Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus into his home as did Zacchaeus the tax collector in Jericho, and Mary the mother of John Mark in Jerusalem. Generous people healed by His ministry also helped. Luke 8:1-3 "Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means."


As a wandering preacher, Jesus taught His disciples to live simply: Mark 6:8-11 "These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them." The Greek cynics carried a bag and food and taught only in towns. Jesus was differentiating between Himself and His disciples and Greek cynics by instructing them to carry neither bag nor food and to go to the villages in the country. The description "wandering preacher" has deep insights into the character of Jesus and His mission. John Dominic Crossan, in his book "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography" shows society at the time of Jesus was influenced greatly by Roman society.

Most Australians are middle class. This middle class was the result of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, and in the time of Jesus, there were only two classes, a very small, wealthy elite, and a very large peasant class with little resources at all. No-one moved from peasant class to elite class. But by a system of patronage the wealthy bestowed favours, employment, protection and food upon their peasants. It was their duty to show patronage to the poor, like doctors used to give free service to the poor in public hospitals, and the rich who felt it was their duty to send gifts to Missions who cared for the poor. Throughout Galilean society there were many pyramids of power, each headed by a powerful patron, similar to the God-fathers in the Mafia, or the Lords in Medieval England.

People who are named "Patron" of the arts or some society are expected to use their influence. A patron saint is supposed to provide care. Patrons would provide money, opportunity, work, protection and in return would receive recognition, obedience and service without question. The peasant was happy to be retained by the patron, and the patron was pleased to have the appreciation of the peasant. But as Crossan says, it "confirmed dependency, maintained hierarchy, sustained oppression and stabilised domination." p96

The small elite class helped each other without payment, simply building a series of obligations that would be repaid one day. So even in my youth, a doctor would never charge a clergyman or lawyer. The doctor knew that one day he would receive favours from the clergyman or lawyer without pay. This system is known as cronyism or using the "old boys net-work". It is probably most alive in society today among business and professional women who promote each other in a girls network.

There was no social contact between the elite and the peasant class. The patron enjoyed having the poor at his gate to greet him when he went out each morning and he would throw a few coins to them. It was a sign of importance to have a crowd of peasants follow on a social visit. Roman literature records peasants being invited to a rich man's house for their grovelling appreciation. They were thrown scraps of food as they stood at the table's end. In the same way, English society would sweep through mental asylums of a Sunday to look at the pathetic creatures lying in filth upon straw and then leave a basket of food or a donation for the institution.

Occasionally, a peasant with skill in healing would attract people who would follow him, support him, bring others to him. So a new little pyramid would grow, and he became the patron of a new group of clients. His family would attract more clients and grow wealthy and socially elite. This new patron had to stay in the village and the people gather round him so his family would grow in wealth and status.

We saw last week Jesus was radically egalitarian in His habits. He broke social customs by eating with anybody. He invited the poor, the sick, the homeless to sit at table with him. He observed no class distinction. He touched the leprous and the diseased. He treated women with equality and respect. He asked His followers to meet together round a table with a simple meal of bread and wine where everyone was welcome. He was a radical egalitarian.

Here is the real significance of Jesus the wandering preacher. For He was a radical itinerant. Crossan says: "We are told in Mark 6:4 that Jesus' own family did not believe in him, and yet according to Galatians 1:18-19, when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, say around 38AD, he found James the brother of Jesus already there along with Peter, What happened in between? How did James get from disbelief to belief, and from Nazareth to Jerusalem? My proposal is that the family believed quite fully in Jesus' power and importance, message and mission, but not at all in the way he was carrying it out. What Jesus should have done, as any Mediterranean family knew, was settle down at his home in Nazareth and establish there a healing cult.

He would be its patron, the family would be its brokers, and as his reputation went out along the peasant grapevine, the sick would come as clients to be healed. That would have made sense to everyone, would have been good for everyone - for Jesus, for his family, and for little Nazareth itself. But instead Jesus kept to the road, brought healing to those who needed it, and started off anew every day. That was no way to run a healing ministry and no way to treat your family, especially within the world of Mediterranean values. Of course his family believed in him, but rather in the way he should behave than in the way he was behaving."

As a wandering preacher Jesus rejected the social divisions, not only at the table, but in society. His spoke of the Kingdom of God as a new society of men and women, slave and free, peasant and patron, who would sit and eat together, serving one another, where the patron would become a slave and wash the feet of the others. This was a powerful, radical equality. It undermined society. The privileged and powerful elite rejected it. They had to get rid of Jesus the radical wandering preacher.


It is possible as scholars in "The Jesus Seminar" have done, to over-emphasise the role of Jesus as a social revolutionary. While Jesus refused to act as a patron and keep people in dependency, and while He demonstrates such radical social customs and such radical itinerancy, there is no evidence whatever of Jesus speaking against village patrons, landowners, or social power brokers. All of his confrontations were with religious leaders, not community leaders. But was Jesus just avoiding being a village patron?

Such an argument overlooks one fundamental aspect of the mission and purpose of Jesus. Jesus had a missionary strategy. He taught and sent His disciples, not to avoid building a power-base in Nazareth, but to preach, teach and heal in every community so that people might repent and believe the Gospel. So when the disciples were sent out in twos Mark says: Mark 6:12-13 "They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them."

Luke records it Luke 9:2-6"He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: "Take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic." 6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere." At the end of His life, Jesus commanded His disciples: Matt 28:18-20 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Mark records Mark 16:15 "Later Jesus said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." John remembers: Jn 20:21 "Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." Luke recounts: Acts 1:8 "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Nothing was more important than this missionary command. It is a command that Jesus has never revoked for His followers.

Jesus wants us to go to every village and town, community and city and preach the Gospel, calling people to repent of sin and turn to God. Jesus travelled to preach faith and repentance. He was not avoiding becoming a village patron. That was the result of His itinerancy but not its reason. He wants people everywhere to respond to the Gospel. A wandering preacher - Yes! - so everyone can hear the good news and respond to God's love.

What have we learned from Jesus the wandering preacher? We, His followers at Wesley Mission, do not patronise people. We do not give the poor charity, but a chance as well as sustenance. We do not keep people dependent, but help people be independent. We practise equality and make space for all at the Lord's Table. We accept all people as they are, the rich, the poor; the able, the disabled; the aggressive and the passive; the hetero-sexual and the homosexual; the sinner and the saint without regard for race or economic standing or social class. All of welcome here in Jesus name!

But we expect, in the spirit of Jesus that people will change, that they will make the most of themselves, that they will cease to live their old lives, and live by the grace of God new lives in Christ. We expect the thief will be converted and steal no more. We expect the alcoholic to find the power of the Holy Spirit to free him from his drug addiction. We expect the lesbian to be freed from the prison of habit and genetic disposition and find a life of holiness and new desire. What about you? Have you responded to the Gospel, repented of your sin and found this new life in Christ Jesus who came to save you from your sin?

Gordon Moyes



THE HISTORICAL JESUS John Dominic Crossan Harper, 1991


THE ESSENTIAL JESUS J D Crossan, Harper, 1994

HONEST TO JESUS, Robert Funk, Harper, 1996

THE REAL JESUS, Luke Timothy Johnson Harper, 1996

THE JESUS QUEST Ben Witherington Ill IVP, 1995

Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes

Send this article to a friend!

Return to sermons home page