November — What it means to follow Jesus
Giving your life to Jesus is an amazing privilege. But doing so involves things that challenge the ways of the world and customs of religious practice. Jesus didn’t ignore these difficulties and, as God’s chosen king, explained how best to navigate them by following him.
1 November, Mark 12:28-34
There are many ‘commandments’ in scripture. Various groups at different times and places have championed particular themes according to their preference.
The answer to the question, ‘What commandment is the most important of all?’ provides a kind of hermeneutical key. A way to understand the outworking of all other things Jesus taught, by grasping the answers he gives in this passage.
God is first. No one really challenges this — in part because we cannot know what it means on its own. There is a sense in which Jesus’ second answer (‘Love your neighbour as yourself’) gives flesh (outworking) to the first saying. If you love God, you love your neighbour (see also James 2:14-17).
Understanding these concepts still only means you are ‘not far from’ the kingdom. You have to live them if you want to actually encounter the kingdom.
- How do these two sayings guide your response to God?
8 November, Mark 12:38-44
There are many dangers in religion. A common danger is something that I can ‘meaning leach’.
Religious practices and structures designed to mean one thing can have that meaning ‘leach away’. This then causes the practice or structure to take on a different meaning.
In Jesus’ time, the scribes served the community by preserving the scriptures. They became experts in the ‘letter of the law’ and (by association) the authority of God. But the meaning of the scribes’ esteemed role leached, and the esteem part became central.
Those who give from their excess effectively quarantine themselves from giving themselves. It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom!
- Where do you source the specific values that direct your behaviour and life direction?
- To what extent do your decisions and action reflect the values you tell yourself you hold?
15 November, Mark 13:1-8
Upheaval is a recurring theme in the gospel. Jesus spoke of the first being last and the last first. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus indicated the hungry would be satisfied and those currently excluded would become central. Jesus continually broke the rules by doing things like healing on the Sabbath.
In this passage ,Jesus tells his disciples that the most stable and certain of their iconic fixtures is to be utterly destroyed. As his disciples push Jesus on this matter, there is further description of a time of massive upheaval and uncertainty. Jesus sums up these comments with the ominous words, ‘These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs’!
- To what extent does your current understanding of the gospel equip you to engage with upheaval of this nature?
22 November, John 18:33-37
Throughout his earthly life, Jesus was coy with regard to his identity. He chose the self-identifying title of ‘Son of Man’,
which focused away from his divine and royal credentials.
In this encounter with Pilate just before his crucifixion, Jesus accepts the royal title ‘King of the Jews’. He accepts it and reframes it by saying his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world.
It seems ironic that one of the clearest identifications of Jesus’ royal status was made by a disinterested observer.
- When you think about your own sense of who Jesus is, take some time to consider the extent to which this represents your own conviction or, more generally, the views of particular people around you.
29 November, Luke 21:25-36
During the past two millennia, the Christian church has frequently been at the forefront of monumental social change. There have been examples of the outworking of kingdom values in the major shifts that have taken place in the areas of healthcare, public education, emancipation of slaves, provision of housing and micro-finance in developing economies (to name but a few).
It should come as no surprise that the return of Christ will bring massive change at every level.
Most humans find change threatening. It can be reassuring for us that the while everything else might change, the word of God — that which has been revealed to us in Jesus — does not change.
Jesus clearly anticipated the temptation to hopelessness and disconnection in the face of the upheaval of the approaching kingdom. It would be easy to assume that the plot had been lost (by God and by everyone else) as the events indicated by Jesus unfold.
The challenge is to see the kingdom dynamics at work even as the world structures are shaken to their core.
- How wedded to the current status quo are you?
- Will you welcome the kingdom or fear its coming?
These reflections for November were prepared by Rev. Dave Gore, Ultimo Mustard Seed Uniting Church.