Monday, 21 March 2016

Facing up to toxic feelings

From Monday to Friday this week, readings from the Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah accompany the Gospel stories of leading up to the Passion of Jesus. These poems were an important part of his spiritual inheritance. It is unclear whether the subject of the poems is meant to be an individual whom God appoints as his envoy, his Messiah; or whether it refers collectively to the whole people of Israel; or to the remnant of the people of Israel surviving the Babylonian exile, returning to their homeland. 

Jesus takes the message of the poems to heart personally in his understanding of prophetic ministry to which he believes the Father calls him. He realises that it can lead to a cruel fate with undeserved suffering, that must be endured patiently, as part of God's plan to redeem the world from sin. He doesn't broadcast this, but does share it with this disciples as he prepares to make his last journey to Jerusalem.

'He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day".' (Luke 9:22)

There is a certain lack of clarity about whether Jesus did regard himself as God's Messiah. He doesn't proclaim himself publicly to be Messiah as such, and if people acclaim him as Messiah in response to a healing, he tells them to keep quiet about it. When asked under interrogation about allegations of messiahship, his response is ambiguous. 

Jesus prefers to speak of himself as Son of (the) Man, a phrase with overtones of 'everyman' about it. It can, however, also refer to a heavenly archetype of the human being, sometimes this is equated with the concept of Messiah, though not exclusively. There are occasions, such as the story of his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:25-26), when he speaks of himself as Messiah, on a one to one basis, and to someone whose status would lead to her evidence being considered unreliable. 

Jesus' self understanding is in many ways presented in the Gospels as a tantalising mystery. This is deliberate. The evangelists aims to let the hearer or reader decide who Jesus is on the evidence provided.  As John states in the final verse of his Gospel

'Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (=Messiah), the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.' (John 21:31)

Isaiah 42:1-7, today's, reading speaks of the character, qualities and divine vocation of this servant, called to reveal true justice - quietly, steadfastly, courageously, gently. By this most gentle means, without violence, will sight, healing, freedom from captivity will bring light to the nations of the world. 

The Gospel passage from John 12 again recounts the anointing of Jesus by Mary, sister of Lazarus whom he raised to life from the grave. Her act of loving gratitude is interpreted by Jesus as an unknowingly prescient anticipation of his coming death and burial. The traitor Judas is portrayed as expressing resentment at the waste of a valued resource. His personal dishonesty is denounced by the evangelist. All part of setting the scene for Jesus' betrayal.

Resentment harboured by friends and enemies alike contributes to fate of Jesus. It is a stark reminder of the need to search our hearts and deal with our own resentments before during and after we pray. 

'See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.' (Hebrews 12:15)

'Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.' (Eph 4:31)

It is so important in prayer, even when we feel defenceless, to let go and leave God to deal with those we feel have wronged us, and cannot yet feel good about

'You O God, who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.... My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt.' 
(Psalm 71:20-21, 23-24)

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