Religion Not so meek Martin Sullivan
There has always been a popular notion abroad that Christ's unwillingness to retaliate in kind has turned Him and His followers into a feeble useless opposition. The air of such pure idealism is too rarefied for the ordinary man. This is a view which based upon a scattered biblical text or two is thoroughly misleading. Many people received short shrift at Christ's hands and realised that He was tough, practical and very demanding. Mealy-mouthed religiosity sickened Him. The record of His teaching and His encounter with people seeking his advice reveal some formidable challenges which have to be faced if people are to take Him seriously. I propose' to glance at some of them.
A wealthy young man burst in upon Him with that combination of patronising insolence which often4 goes with money and began, "Good Master." He got no further. "Don't try that approach on Me," was the reply. "What do you want?" Somewhat mortified, he indicated that he was not satisfied with his way of life and desired something more. He was told not to be romantic, to go on worshipping God and behaving himself. It was then that the boy really began to declare himself. He was prepared to follow that advice, indeed if he might be allowed to say so he had been on that course from childhood. But something was lacking. What was it? "Sell all you have and give the proceeds away.' A cosy religious chat had turned nasty. He went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. Another enthusiast was even more roughly handled. He said he
was ready to come at once and join up with Christ's itinerant band, but he begged for a slight reprieve because he had to go home and bury his father, a touching request, which seemed perfectly reasonable. He was given a shocking answer, "Let the dead bury their dead." But this was not a callous and unfeeling rejoinder. It was a realistic one. Jesus was dealing with that kind of procrastination which finally spells abandonment, and He knew it and the boy knew it. Incidentally we know it also.
Some of the famous 'woe' passages addressed to Pharisees, scribes and lawyers are so angrY, even almost vicious, that Christians find it hard to believe that they came from Christ's lips. If we are unable to take these words as,3, literal transcription of what He said they remain as a severe condemnation of those sins to which religious piety is specially subject. It is clear that He is not interested in tithing or in fasting, nor in negative, declarations about what we have not done, but rather in judgment and mercy. It is obvious He will not be bluffed. To plead our virtues and to tick off our good deeds gets us nowhere with Him. That is why He said that despised publicans wti,,°, were quislings and harlots WI" enter the Kingdom of Heaven before the rigidly righteous. He gives parties for prodigals. He knows man's weaknesses. S° He tells us that if the eye offends us we should pluck it out. He is advocating a Kingdom of one-eYe° men, but telling us about lust, voyeurism, covetousness, jealous)? and mean-spiritedness. So it is with the hand and the foot, as symbols of the abuse of power and instruments of hatred. He takes all the double talk out of sublimation. He does nl/t advocate repression or suppres' sion, but rather a kind of surge/ which paradoxically leaves the limbs and organs intact. Don't 100!t, at a woman to lust after her, and the pornographic torments you' don't read it or view it. He told us to turn the other cheek. When someone slapped Hall, at His trial He did not Himself one this command but uttered a dignl" fied remonstrance. And when He
was warned to flee because that effete puppet King Herod had designs on His life, He stood ground and sent a message, "Te"
that fox," He said, "that sly precis" tor, that I intend to go on with MY
job which is My way of withstand"
ing and opposing him to the death, and when I die it will be al fulfilment of My mission, whinn strangely enough will entail nts salvation as well." Don't underesp; mate the meekness and mildness 01 Jesus.
Martin Sullivan is Dean of St Paul's