The thoughts of a retired priest in Jerusalem in about 33AD
This sermon was preached on Holy Wednesday 2011 (20/4/11)
I remember that day well and I’ve often wondered what happened to the boy. Now I know. He’s back again. Once more he’s in the temple, questioning and challenging elders, scribes and Pharisees, attracting attention, amazement and speculation. But without the same universal approval.
He was only twelve when I first saw him. We knew from his accent that he was from the north but we assumed his parents were still in the city after the Passover. It never occurred to us that he’d stayed behind and they were frantically searching for him.
We were spellbound. Boys of that age can usually recite scripture, they know the commandments and something of the history of our people. But this boy was different. He knew so much more. Even more astounding was the passion, the eagerness and the depth of his interest.
This was not a boy who wanted to be a rabbi or a great scholar. This was a boy who had absorbed knowledge of God into his very being and who reached out for more as if his life depended on it.
Twenty years or so have gone by since I first saw Jesus of Nazereth. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. But if I concentrate hard and watch someone’s face I can usually tell what they’re saying.
The face of Jesus is fascinating. Just as his words and the tone of his voice convey all kinds of emotions, so his eyes and the lines etched on his face tell a story.
He is no stranger to loss and grief. His sadness often shows in his eyes and sometimes his voice is full of yearning, a longing for something he feels is slipping out of his reach. A sense of “soon it will be too late”.
And yet, he has hope and joy deep within him. Somehow there comes from him an aura of certainty that in the end all shall be well. He’s often angry too: angry at those of us with responsibilities of leadership and teaching. I’m ashamed because, if I look at myself with honesty, I can see I’ve been guilty of some of the pride and hypocrisy he so despises.
He may be angry but he’s also compassionate. I’ve seen him with people who are ill, needy or in any way vulnerable. He loves them. And it takes a special sort of love to reach out to touch the untouchables and to speak with anyone no matter what their background or status or what the rest of us will think.
I haven’t known what to make of Jesus of Nazareth. His magnetic personality and outspoken words have both drawn and repelled me.
Until today. Today changes things forever and there’s no going back.
They tried to trick him again with another question. “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Another trap: yes, we’re allowed to discuss the relevant importance of the commandments but in principle they’re equally binding. Jesus had to be careful how he answered.
There was the silence and stillness of waiting and the quickening of my heartbeat thumping through me.
Then he spoke:
“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it:
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets.”
And for me all doubt fell away and my heart calmed again to beat a new rhythm of life.
I saw again the twelve year old boy who had absorbed knowledge of God into his very being. And the man he had grown to be. A man of authority in whom all God’s commandments were lived out, not as if they were rules to follow but as if they were written on his heart, creating a new way of living.
A man who could give to anyone who had the courage to ask
this new way of living.
I know now what to make of Jesus of Nazareth.
He is the Son of God, the chosen one, Messiah.
And he’s in grave danger. He’s walking the road of so many prophets. Like them he will be rejected by those who should know him. Like them he will be brought down and killed by his own people. There is great determination to get rid of him.
Without realizing it I’d moved closer to where Jesus was standing and now our eyes met. He held my gaze.
He knew what I had seen and now believed.
He knew the warning I wanted to give him.
He knew the danger.
I knew he would continue to walk that path anyway.
Silently, but unmistakably, he offered me a choice which wasn’t really a choice at all.
“Choose me” he said
“choose me, choose life and follow me.”