In Jesus’ name

In the 2016 census 29.6 % of the Australian population ticked the ‘no religion’ box. I swirl this fact around my brain for a while before I drift off into something that might be relevant to this fact. Christian publications don’t talk much about Jesus. The pages brim over with Christianity in action, seemingly a given that this is done in Jesus’ name, even though many non-believers seem to be as concerned about social justice issues as Christians. Does the difference lie in why you do something, not in the actual doing?

If we are to do what we do in Jesus’ name it follows that we need to be familiar with his life, not just the Christmas, Good Friday and Easter bits. The historical Jesus was born into a marginalised people with radical views that challenged the social and religious Earthquakenorms of his time. He could have slid into time as just one more forgotten charismatic figure.

The people he lived among all knew him differently.

Mary, his mother, saw Jesus as her son, her child, even as she pondered who this child might be while the Magi saw him as a child-king, and Herod sought to destroy him as a competitor.

Poor people, those who felt the heavy hand of the religious authorities and the Romans, appreciated him as a great storyteller and provider of meals and healing, hoping that he would be the one to restore them to prosperity and freedom.

Nicodemus saw Jesus as a philosopher like himself, and cautiously explored undreamt of possibilities with him.

Peter, when pressed, blurted out that Jesus was the Christ, God’s anointed one, then wondered at the enormity of what he had just said.

Women quickly discovered that Jesus was their friend, someone who treated them with respect, compassion and a sympathy that they rarely experienced from a man.

A little group of Greeks visiting Jerusalem asked an intermediary, Phillip, to arrange a meeting with Jesus. As gentiles, unburdened by expectations of a Messiah, they saw Jesus as a charismatic leader.

The religious leaders perceived him as a threat to their power. As for the Romans, they saw Jesus as a nuisance and an insurrectionist, to be got rid of.

I was introduced to Jesus in my Catholic primary school. The Jesus of my childhood was a miracle worker, able to feed thousands. The fish I saw Jesus blessing was crisp and battered just like the local fish and chip shop. He brought dead people to life and cured blindness. While God was really scary, Jesus loved little children.

My childhood Jesus has given way to a Man who knows what life is like, and like me, didn’t always like what he saw or experienced. When I read his words in the New Testament or reflect on some occasion in Jesus’ life, I begin to know him a little better, more like a friend, someone who understands where I’m coming from, not only as Jesus, the Son of God. I see him take time out to spend with God and I understand that this is something I too need to do if I am to truly call myself a Christian.

The reality is all of us live in a spiritual supermarket – a diverse mixture of beliefs and practices. Our culture, and sadly sometimes our families, identify religious faith and its practice with wishful thinking, being naive, piety, immaturity, narrowness and fundamentalism. While it’s acceptable to talk about the weather, the inflated price of housing and even the institution we know as the Catholic Church, unless you belong to a group that gathers regularly to talk about the Jesus of the Gospels, talking about personal faith is a no go area. refugees_012

If we never get to depth why we visit the sick, feed the hungry, turn the other cheek, give to the poor, then it’s easy to lose focus on what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. As Jesus once said, “Isn’t that what the pagans do?” How well do you know Jesus?

 Judith Scully


All fired up

Once upon a time I was very careless about acknowledging the source of the quotes that I copied into my journal or stored on my computer. I’ve improved, but these words about Pentecost stirred me then and still do, and I have no idea who wrote them.

The Spirit is fire and flame,
a restless wind, a babble of tongues, an upsetter.
It is forever choosing the prodigal son over the dutiful brother,
the Samaritan heretic over Jewish priests,
the widow’s mite over large donations,
a lost sheep over 99 safe ones,
a maid of Nazareth to be the mother of the Messiah,
a befuddled fisherman to become Peter,
an enemy of the church to become the apostle to the Gentiles.

Or as Andrew Hamilton SJ says, the Spirit is wild. (Eureka Street 20/2/2013)

    Barely listened to homilies on top of childhood catechism class and Columban calendars had me believing that Pentecost was a one- off happening accompanied by severe wind gusts and dangerous looking licks of fire sitting perilously close to heads of hair. Prodded on by the necessity of teaching small children something about the Holy Spirit, I finally twigged that Luke, or whoever it was who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, had endeavoured to capture in words and images the excitement, the possibilities, the wonder that was Pentecost as it tumbled around inside him like a fire seeking an outlet, like a swirling wind ready to split open his whole life.

Paintings of the apostles gathered in a tidy circle, Mary in the middle, don’t capture that fired up feeling. Not that long back, in the years following Vatican 2, lots of quite ordinary people had felt all fired up – priests, pope and lay people, all in this church thing together. We were fired up, enthusiastically embracing new ministries, enjoying liturgies that touched the reality of our lives as well as our hearts.

Then the sins of a few brushed against us and all over the catholic world the fire seemed to go out. Today I find it difficult to capture that Pentecost feeling against a backdrop of pain, confusion, anger and outright indifference. More correctly I am challenged to recognise the voice and the actions of the Spirit of God amongst what is.

It’s hard to know. Do this voice come from the women and men labelled as zealots, crackpots, obsessive, driven, one-eyed, the kind of people who send slivers of discomfort and doubt into our cosy, materialistic lives. They live in the present but see the possibilities and drawbacks of what might be to come.

Some of these voices are religious – Christian and non-Christian – others without affiliation to any denomination. They may not be familiar with Jesus’ words, ”I have come to cast fire on the earth”, but there’s a God-fire that drives them to speak with a voice that just might be the Spirit of God, “who breathes where it wills.

Maybe cartoonists who draw it like it is, politicians who don’t stick to the party line, social activists who practice what they preach, environmentalists, women who don’t let cultural expectations get in their way, writers with a fire in their belly, and theologians who catch the eye of a watchful Vatican, are a twenty first century version of scriptural figures like Isaiah, Jerimiah or John the Baptiser. Fireworks

That’s our Pentecost legacy and if I read the New Testament account correctly, it was a chaotic experience. If there is one thing that institutions like the church find difficult, it’s chaos. And there’s nothing orderly about scattering, is there?

Judith Scully