Jesus On… Humanity

Notes from a sermon preached on the 28.10.09

Mother Terasa once said about the poor she was caring for,

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

She also once said,

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

Here’s another quote, this time by one of the most influential theologians of the Reformation, Martin Luther,

“It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Rejected in this connection are the Pelagians and others who deny that original sin is sin, for they hold that natural man is made righteous by his own powers, thus disparaging the sufferings and merit of Christ.”

Many of you will know the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The main character in the book is Dr. Jekyll, a friendly, helpful and happy gentleman in a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Alongside Jekyll there is Mr Hyde, a wild violent monster of a man. As the story develops it becomes clear that Hyde is in fact the same man as Jekyll, he is Jekyll’s evil side, brought out by a self concocted potion.

The church seems to have a Jekyll and Hyde attitude towards today’s topic – us. Or rather, we seem to see ourselves as either a Jekyll or a Hyde.

One of the sections of the Bible I keep coming back to when I’m thinking about the big themes of life is Genesis 1-3. Somehow its simple and captivating storyline captures so much of what it means to be human and why the world is the way it is.

If you remember back to the first week I talked about what theology is and that we all have a theology – a framework through which we understand God. This framework informs how we read the Bible and hopefully our reading of the Bible informs our theology.

These three chapters provide a great example of this. Depending on how you see humans affects which of these chapters you may focus on.

On the one you have story of Creation in Genesis 1. God makes the world, and at every step he looks back at what he has made and declares that it is good. The pinnacle of his creation is humanity itself, and again it is good. More than that, they are made in the image of God – they are created to reflect the character of their Creator. Genesis 2 expands this picture of who we were made to be. This story shows us God forming Adam, the first man, and breathing his life into him. This tells us that we are special to God – everything else he spoke into existence, but we have the breath of God in him. Adam and Eve, his God made partner, are then sent to work for God in Eden. Genesis 3 implies that as they worked in the Garden, God would often come and walk with them, that they would chat and spend time together. This is a wonderful picture of the goodness and specialness of humanity – Dr. Jekyll if you like.

But then you have Genesis 3. You probably know the story. God has told them that they can east from any plant bar one, and yet, tempted by the Serpent, Adam and Eve eat from it. Nothing is the same again. They realise that they are naked – their innocence is lost. Their trust of each other and of God is lost, relationships are broken. The world itself is changed – they are sent banished from the Garden and fin that work is no longer pure pleasure, but difficult toil. Like Pandora’s box, now the first sin is out, others follow – it seems that their descendents cannot stop themselves from doing wrong – before long we have greed, suspicion, murder, lies and all sorts of immorality. Something is broken in people and they can’t put it right. Even the greatest of figures – the Moses’ and Davids of this world – can’t help but fall into sin. This is a pattern that continues through time – look at the frontpages of the tabloids, they don’t read that differently today. Humanity has become Mr Hyde.

Jekyll, humanity created good and in God’s image, and Hyde, humanity fallen and corrupt. How we balance these two aspects dramatically effects how we see God and each people. If you think those around you are Hyde’s you’re going to treat them in a completely different way than if you see them as Jekyll’s. You would also imagine that God will view us quite differently too.

So what does Jesus have to say?

………

Screaming broke the sound of intent listening in the Temple Courts. A rabble of devout Pharisees and Rabbis dragged in a distraught woman and threw her onto the ground at the floor in front of Jesus. ‘Here, Jesus. We’ve caught this woman red-handed in bed with another man. We all know adultery is wrong. What should we do?

Weighing up the situation, Jesus turned from them, picked up a stone and hefted at her…

One of the most disturbing things I have ever read is the Sermon on the Mount, the collection of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5-7. We can try and put these statements down as hyperbole on the part of Jesus, or pretend they’re not there, but they are:

Mt. 5:20 ‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’

Mt. 5:22 ‘But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Mt. 5:27-30 ‘”You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.’

And so it goes…

This does not paint a pretty picture does it? If we read these statements honestly, then we all know that we are in dire straits. I was tempted to make some joke about breaking each of these before the morning is out most days – I’ve done it before – but what Jesus is saying is that this is no joking matter. Our lives continue that pattern of hurt and destruction that Adam and Eve started. We are unable to stop ourselves, and if Jesus is telling the truth, like them we too are under judgement because of it.

Theologians talk about this condition as being ‘original sin’ the idea that we continue the pattern of Adam and Eve’s behaviour, or that somehow their sinfulness is passed down to us. Another famous theologian put it like this:

“Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it–such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings–he accordingly calls “fruits of sin” (Gal 5:19-21), although they are also commonly called “sins” in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.”

………

Screaming broke the sound of intent listening in the Temple Courts. A rabble of devout Pharisees and Rabbis dragged in a distraught woman and threw her onto the ground at the floor in front of Jesus. ‘Here, Jesus. We’ve caught this woman red-handed in bed with another man. We all know adultery is wrong. What should we do?

Weighing up the situation, Jesus turned from them, bent down and started to scrawl in the dust with his finger.

‘Jesus, answer us. You’re a Rabbi. What should we do?’ the mob demanded once more.

‘The one of you that has not sinned should pick up the first stone’, came back the sad reply. Silence. One by one they began to leave, the oldest first. Jesus then looked at the woman with undemanding love and said, ‘ignore what they say, you’re a free woman, follow your heart…’

Going back to the Sermon on the Mount with its stringent demands, it has always struck me as a paradox how it begins. Jesus looks at the crowd, the rejects of his time, a huddle of rejects and sinners, and starts with the words, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. Poor in spirit? What does that mean? Lacking in prayer life? Far from God? Unable to do what God calls for? Its hardly a term of congratulations is it!

Unless I’ve totally missed the point, Jesus seems to be saying to this group of people that despite their poor picture of God, lack of faith and lives that fail to impress, that God has chosen them! They are indeed lucky!

And so we have a Jekyll and Hyde situation again. On the one hand Jesus condemns us to being Hydes – by the standards he sets we are all condemned, and yet in the same breath he seems to suggest that we are also Jekylls, chosen by God because of or despite our spiritual poverty. What does this mean? How can this be?

………

Screaming broke the sound of intent listening in the Temple Courts. A rabble of devout Pharisees and Rabbis dragged in a distraught woman and threw her onto the ground at the floor in front of Jesus. ‘Here, Jesus. We’ve caught this woman red-handed in bed with another man. We all know adultery is wrong. What should we do?

Weighing up the situation, Jesus turned from them, bent down and started to scrawl in the dust with his finger.

‘Jesus, answer us. You’re a Rabbi. What should we do?’ the mob demanded once more.

‘The one of you that has not sinned should pick up the first stone’, came back the sad reply. Silence. One by one they began to leave, the oldest first. Jesus then looked at the woman …but not with undemanding love, but unconditional love. ‘Has no one condemned you? Neither do I. Go away – but sin no more…’

You see, it isn’t a case of one or the other, it can be both. Jesus isn’t recoiled by our corruptness. He still sees us with eyes of love – he can see God’s image in us, distorted maybe, but still there. He also isn’t naïve. He sees the sin and distains it. The story of Jekyll and Hyde is at heart not a horror story, but a tragedy. The tragedy is that they are the same man. Hyde is capable of love as he is really Jekyll. The tragedy is that Jekyll is incapable of rescuing himself and Hyde doesn’t want to.

And this is why Jesus, God’s Son, became one of us. As God looks at us, he can see the tragedy of the human condition – despair at what we have become and what we could be. The great news is that whilst we can’t do anything about it, like poor Jekyll, Jesus can. Jesus’ mission was one of restoring God’s creation, rescuing it from its fallenness. This is at the heart of what he means when he talks to Nicodemus who has asked what he must do to receive eternal life, and says you must be born again – in other words, made new through him.

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