I’m reading Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Consider Jesus, for Lent. In chapter 4 Johnson says that Jesus didn’t merely speak about the coming of the Reign of God (or the coming of God’s Kingdom). “In his own practical ways he enacted it.” She then raises the question, “What kind of behavior was characteristic of Jesus?” She focuses on five characteristics.
1. Jesus called disciples to follow him. Women and men responded to this call, leaving their homes, work, and villages. They formed a community of brothers and sisters, traveling with him, being taught by him, and even being sent on mission by him. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, “this band of followers formed the nucleus of the church.”
2. Jesus showed partisanship for the marginalized people of his day. He associated with sinners, he healed the sick, he focused on the poor, he exorcised demons. Over and over again he reached out to people “considered of no account.”
3. Jesus shared companionship with people–with his disciples and with the wider circle of individuals who were drawn to him. Religious art tends to focus on the Last Supper. But many times in the Gospels Jesus is shown eating with people. In the Middle East, sharing the table with others created a bond of kinship. No doubt, the wine ran freely at these meals with Jesus, for Jesus’ enemies accused him of being a drunkard. Says Johnson, Jesus “was perceived as someone who made merry, and his meals were considered a bit uproarious.” She refers to what the great Belgian theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, said. At these meals, being sad and being in Jesus’ presence “was an existential impossibility.” As you get into Jesus’ circle, “the joy breaks out.”
4. Jesus is both faithful and free when it comes to the Torah. Jesus was an observant Jew. He observed Jewish customs and prayed Jewish prayers. But there were occasions when he broke the Torah, thus giving grave scandal to some. But in each instance, he set aside the law because a person’s well-being was at stake. When Jesus was facing sickness and suffering in an individual, for example, he set aside the law and cured on the Sabbath. When he was condemned for doing this, he reminded his accusers that the greatest law was love (Mt. 22:37-39). Johnson concludes, “Loving this way, Jesus himself creates a liberating life-style and shows a wonderful freedom to do good.” (I really like that last sentence!)
5. Jesus’ whole ministry was rooted in prayer. In addition to the prescribed Jewish prayers, Jesus “prayed with personal initiative.” He went off by himself at night to pray. From time to time he called his disciples to move away from the crowds and take time to reflect. From the way Jesus speaks about God, it is obvious he has a “special and personal experience of God as intimate, close, and tremendously compassionate over suffering and sin.” Johnson concludes this section with these words: “God Abba was the passion of his life.”
How do we measure up to Jesus’ characteristic ways of behaving? Here are a few questions for each of the five characteristics:
1. When have I experienced Jesus calling to me to do something… to help someone… to get involved in an issue of our day… to change my behavior… to change my attitude… to extend or seek forgiveness?
2. Who are some of the people in today’s world who are “considered of no account”? How am I attentive to them?
3. Is “table fellowship” a part of my life, my faith? Does joy characterize the way I practice my faith?
4. In regard to the way I practice my faith, am I both faithful and free—like Jesus?
5. When do I ever experience God as intimate, as close?
PS: Once again I sent this reflection out on Sunday, March 27, about 3:00 pm. I hope my subscribers received it on Monday.
One thing we hope for during Lent is a change of heart. Here’s a simple song “Change My Heart, O God,” sung by the “Marantha” singers. Its central image is of God as the Potter and we as the clay. Since most of us probably have had little experience fashioning clay pots, I chose this version of the song set against the background of a man creating a clay pot. I find this ancient art fascinating. The video gives me a greater appreciation of clay pots—as well as a greater appreciation of God at work forming me—using the people and circumstances of my daily life as well as our current historic times… As I watched this video, I thought of the Allstate Insurance slogan: “You’re in good hands…” WE ARE in good hands… God’s hands…
For those who wish, this second video shows a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl, Amelia, in a bomb shelter in Kyiv where she sings “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen. Amelia is now with her grandmother in Poland. The second video shows her singing the National Anthem of Ukraine at a fund-raiser for refugees in Poland.
Amelia singing the Ukrainian National Anthem at a fund raiser in Poland:
I welcome your responses to today’s reflection. Have any of you ever made something out of clay? If so, would you be willing to share your experience with us? Otherwise, please comment on anything that stood out for you in today’s reflection or anything you’d like to add. Thank you!