YEARS ago someone made up this wanted notice for Jesus:-
Alias: The Messiah, Son of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace etc; Notorious leader of an underground liberation movement; Wanted for the following charges: Practising medicine, wine-making and food distribution without a licence; interfering with businessmen in the Temple; associating with known criminals, radicals, subversives, prostitutes and street people; claiming to have the authority to make people into God’s children.
Appearance: Typical hippie type - long hair, bear, robe, sandals etc.
Hangs around slum areas, few rich friends, often sneaks out into the desert.
Has a group of disreputable followers, formerly known as ‘apostles’, now called ‘freemen’ (from his saying: “You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.”)
Beware - This man is extremely dangerous. His insidiously inflammatory message is particularly dangerous to young people who haven’t been taught to ignore Him yet. He changes people and claims to set them free.
Warning: He is still at large.
In this description of Jesus, would be recognise easily the church today? Or is it easier to recognise the church in the lament of a bishop: “Wherever Jesus went there was a revolution; wherever I go people serve tea!”?
As a very young child I remember sitting in church on Sunday morning and asking my mother why all these “other” people were sitting outside on the benches there. Was the church only for us? I thought, the well-dressed and not the poorly dressed, for the “haves” and not the “have nots”?
The church, surely, as part of the establishment and as an organisation where property maintenance and social acceptability is given first importance must be dead in Christ, although very much alive in terms of human nature which naturally organises, values ownership and craves social acceptability.
Anthony de Mello tells this story: A wealthy farmer burst into his home one day and cried out in an anguished voice: “Rebecca, there is a terrible story in town - the Messiah is here!”
“What’s so terrible in that?” asked his wife. “I think it’s great, what are you so upset about?”
“What am I so upset about?” the man exclaimed. “After all these years of sweat and toil, we have finally found prosperity. We have a thousand head of cattle, our barns are full of grain and our trees are laden with fruit. Now we will have to give it all away and follow Him.”
“Calm down,” said his wife consolingly. “The Lord our God is good. He knows how much we have had to suffer. We had a Pharaoh, a Haman, always somebody. But our dear God found a way to deal with them all, didn’t he? Just have faith, my dear husband. He will find a way to deal with the Messiah too!”
And the way is found by proclaiming God’s Will as the institutional church of nominal membership and banal respectability in which not much is asked and not much given - The Messiah is lost.
But the real church - not the organised church by the Messianic organisation of the church - is exactly the description of Jesus in the wanted poster. And the absolutely necessary institution of the church becomes the most effective means of bringing the full message of Christ into people’s lives so that they truly become God’s people - generous, compassionate, forgiving, loving to all. An early Father of the church described it so well when he said: “The church is the assembly of love.”
Father Jim High
St Margaret’s Church