In June 2018 Ipswch Quakers held a series of Quaker Quest events in which visitors were invited to come and find out about what makes people Quakers. The format was for three Quakers to each give a short talk on the topic for the evening after which there was a discussion on what was said. Some of those who spoke have kindly agreed to share their talks on our blog.
This is Andrew Sterling’s talk on Jesus.
JESUS AS A ‘WAKER-UP’ OF FAITH
Shortened version of a Quaker Quest talk.
Human beings grow up assuming the basics of life around them are the basics of life itself when, as I was later to find, they are largely the basics of the society in which we live. Big difference.
Similarly, reactions for and against religion(s) are based on assumptions derived from our (early) encounters (however strongly or faintly) with religion in the society in which we live. And so this applies equally to the figure of Jesus who, at the time of my young life, was still a powerfully central figure in religion and in society generally.
But my rebellious teen mind became appalled at what I regarded as emotive hanging onto any icon, from pop stars to Jesus. On the other hand, even at the age of 13, I did feel my own burning passion about the insensitivity and destruction of wildlife around me, due to “development” – it has continued to horrify me ever since: it is simply brainless, based on a whole set of assumptions and habitual and apparent economic dependencies .
This led to my wondering why we can’t also (like the rest of the living world) live simply, within what Nature provides rather than what we like to think we need. And I found, and experienced, clear evidence that indeed we can, and that it is our emotional, rather material, need that we feed through exorbitant, destructive, consumption.
This realisation touched memories of Jesus’s sayings in the gospels, so I looked again. This is some of what I re-found in Mathew:
6.19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal:
6.20: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
6.21: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
6:24 No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
6.25 Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?
6.26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they?
6.27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?
6.28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
6.29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
6.30. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
6.31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
6.32 For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
6.33. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
6.34. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
This talked to me about Jesus’s understanding of what our real material needs are and why we think we need to procure them and why we think we need more – an anxiety and lack of faith in life, in ourselves and in each other. If only we could let go.
Feeling instead insecure and confused, we relentlessly rationalise these promptings, by intellectualising life, creating beliefs and concepts to cling to – to explain, to tie life down and to control. We can’t let go. It spells disintegration and conflict.
This is also why we look to creating icons to cling onto and hopefully resolve our anxiety but, in a passage from the Gospel of St Thomas Jesus says
“If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
In a section from Mathew’s gospel, as distilled by Stephen Mitchell (Gospel According to Jesus) someone asked Jesus when will the kingdom of God come?
And he said, “The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, ‘it is here’ or ‘it is there’ for the kingdom of God is within you”
And John 3
“The wind blows were it wills. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So with everyone who is born from the spirit.” (My italics).
This then is a Jesus who attempted to connect us back to our inherent faith. What he had, he was saying, we have too. But it’s up to us to reconnect, not some idol.