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 Richard Stewart’s talk on Jesus.
As a committed Christian I believe Jesus was the Son of God and therefore have no problems related to anything occurring in his life from the virgin birth to the Resurrection and Ascension. However I am here tonight to talk about the man of flesh and blood who lived on this earth for thirty three years, three of which encompassed his ministry, travelling almost exclusively on foot, or by boat, within a very small area. On his travels he observed not just people but also the natural world around him:
Consider the lilies how they grow, they toil not neither do they spin, yet I say unto you even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12-27).
He was a man whose words and deeds had a profound and lasting effect on the world and, to quote a recent letter in ‘The Friend‘ ‘his insights are much needed in the cultural turbulence of our times‘.
Although he drew large crowds out in the countryside much of his preaching actually took place in synagogues where he ‘spoke truth to power’ and was resented by those in the Sanhedrin who were trying to keep some degree of religious autonomy in an occupied country.
On one occasion he was chased and attempts were made to throw him over a cliff. It is interesting to note very few references to the Roman occupation until his trial before Pontious Pilate. Presumably Roman spies reported back that nothing he preached was related to insurrection and that most of his words related to that which his listeners knew well, i.e. fishing, agriculture and domestic life. There is the well-known ‘render unto Caesar’ comment but a second encounter was of great significance. The Roman centurion had faith to believe Jesus could cure his servant even from a distance and Jesus granted his wish, adding that he had found no one in Israel with such faith.
Although he came ‘to save the lost sheep of Israel’ he had meaningful encounters with at least eight different nationalities and that with the Syro-Phoenician woman suggests even the Son of God could still learn something he hadn’t expected. She asked him to cast a devil out of his daughter:
‘and he said unto her, let the children first be filled for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. But she answered and said unto him’ Yea, Lord, even the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, for this saying go thy way, the devil is gone out of thy daughter’. (Mark7:26-29).
Jesus didn’t minister just to the poor, marginalised and ill. His contacts included Nicodemus and Jairus, both men of high social and religious standing. The four gospels also show an enlightened and progressive attitude to women, with at least forty mentions, mainly individual, from the woman ‘taken in adultery’ to Mary and Martha disagreeing, then the women at the foot of the cross and Mary Magdalene being the first to see him after his Resurrection.
Jesus also preached not just of peace, love and forgiveness. There was violence related to the fig tree, the herd of pigs going over the cliff and the money lenders in the temple. He also said:
‘Whosoever shall cause one of these little ones which believe on me to stumble it is profitable for him that a great millstone be hanged about his neck and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea’. (Matthew 18-6).
Many of his sayings were hard to accept- let the dead bury the dead, sell all you have and follow me and many more. Although ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ was quoted before the Good Samaritan parable Jesus always reminded his listeners and disciples of the most important commandment: ‘thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind’.
This brings me to what many find uncomfortable these days, which is the often repeated concepts of a last judgement and both Heaven and Hell, as epitomised in the graphic description within the parable of Dives and Lazarus and his conversation with the thief on the cross.
However, Jesus didn’t invent such money-raising devices as indulgences for purgatory and it needs to be remembered that he enjoyed life, denying the need to fast except before his ministry began and within so many incidents and parables related to hospitality and both food and wine. It is no coincidence that his first miracle was during the wedding at Cana and his last positive contact with all of his disciples was at the Last Supper.
To me Jesus is a still-living presence and whose truths are eternal and the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I try, in my evening prayers, to analyse what Jesus might have done in the situations in which I have been involved. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes not. As regards the Quaker peace testimony, my support for this is simply based on the fact that I cannot imagine Jesus carrying or using a bayonet or kalashnikov, even though I am aware that his disciples carried knives.
As for Quakers and Jesus, and the current non-theist debate, can I end by quoting part of a recent letter in ‘The Friend‘ from Kees Nieuwerth:
‘In one of our Meetings an attender requested that we no longer speak of Jesus in them. After a while an elderly friend rose and said that this would not be possible since ‘the Spirit would require us to speak of Jesus’. He then fell silent and stood for such a long time that friends began to wonder whether there was something wrong with him. Then he added : ‘And if the Spirit does not I will’.