Is Jesus THE Messiah, or is he YOUR Messiah?
What I mean is, can you accept Jesus on his terms? Can you love Jesus for who he is, or must you have him as you want him to be? Taking him as he is, now that is a much harder proposition.
I used to not go to a barber to get my hair cut. I didn’t go to the barber because I believed that barbers butchered your hair. I went to a “Stylist.” I would go to the “stylist” and come home and my wife would not say much about my hair. I could see her looking at my head, but not one word would she say. It didn’t instill much confidence.
Finally, one day, I decided, out of convenience, to go to the local barber in Brookston. When I got home, my wife couldn’t stop telling me how much she liked my hair cut. Later on she said something very telling. She said, (You must be a registered user to read more. Click on “Create an account,” if you are new to the site).
“I think barbers must just know how to cut men’s hair.”
It occurred to me when preparing for this reflection, that the reason that I didn’t want to go to a barber was because of the baggage that I thought that the word “barber” had. I think it is because when I was a kid, I used to hate those electric things that the barber would use on my head.
I felt that the barber always cut my hair way too short. My wife is correct that barbers just do a better job on my head. I had to get used to the fact that the barber wasn’t my enemy, nor was he what I thought he was. Now, whenever I move into a new town, I will have no hesitation about going to a barber.
I know it doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but barbers and stylists are taught to do what they do in very different ways. They both cut hair, but they do it differently. So, it is not the same thing going to a barber or going to a stylist. Little did you know that when got your locks cropped there was a difference, right?
Similarly, in B.C. 160, Judas Maccabees led a revolt in Palestine that freed the Jews from the rule of the Syrians. The Syrians had taken over after the death of Alexander the Great, who had taken the area in B.C. 333. Judas Maccabees was called the “anointed one.” He not only led a successful revolt, he re-established the Temple as a place of worship and consecrated the altar which had been desecrated by the Greeks and then Syrians. Judas Maccabees was the reason that Jews celebrate Hanukkah in December. The Gospel refers to Hanukkah as the Feast of the Dedication. It is named after the fact that Judas Maccabees had liberated the Jews and dedicated the altar.
Maccabees was called “an anointed one.” He was seen as sent by God to deliver the people from Greek rule. If you don’t know, the word for “anointed one” in Greek is “messiah” or “Christ.” If you remember more, the Jews at this time were under Roman rule. So, in our Gospel Lesson for today (John 10.22-30), when the Jews encircled Jesus in Solomon’s Portico and asked him, “Stop keeping us in the suspense, are you the messiah?” Do you think they meant “barber” or “stylist”?
When I worked at Mc Donald’s in high school, they used to make meals much differently than they do today. There was a clear schedule that was followed. You would make so many Big Macs, so many hamburgers and so many of everything by 11:45 a.m. to be ready for the lunchtime rush.
Everything was made and kept in a warmer waiting for people to come in and order. If someone wanted to order their burger differently, that meant that they would have to wait while a new burger was fried on the grill in back.
Then there came a competitor called Burger King. Burger King was founded on the notion that you could make burgers to order hot off a conveyor belt grill. You did not have to have the burger waiting for you when you came in, it was hot and it was made just the way you liked it. In fact, that was Burger King’s niche in the market and their motto showed it. “Have it your way at Burger King” represented this trend.
Nowadays, Mc Donald’s no longer has the burgers all prepared and wrapped in a warmer. They go ahead and prepare the meat and keep it in a warmer (then microwave it, yuk!), but now even Mc Donald’s prepares burgers to order. That is why it takes longer at Mc Donald’s now than it has in years past. But this illustration points out a trend in our society which was true, really, even in the days of Jesus. That trend is that we expect everything to be special ordered, just like a burger.
In fact, all of the church growth gurus of my seminary days told us that we needed to identify what people perceived as their need and then meet it as a church. Bill Hybels of the big Willow Creek Church, Bill Easum, and Lyle Schaller, all big names in the church growth business, told us that we needed to customize our churches so that we could offer as many services as people perceived they need. In fact, Bill Hybels church, Willow Creek, in Chicago had a food court like the mall, complete with a Starbucks.
The problem with all of that church growth stuff was, and is, that Jesus is not a burger and the church is not Mc Donald’s or Burger King. The Bible is complete with examples of how false prophets told the people what they wanted to hear and the people flocked to them. When the Jews ask Jesus to stop “keeping them in suspense” and “tell [them] if he is the messiah”, there is the danger that if Jesus tells them outright, he will have to be Judas Maccabees, and not the Son of God. Through all of these signs, the people did not want to see that he was and is THE Messiah, not just THEIR Messiah, predefined and predetermined.
Especially during Hanukkah in the time of Jesus, it would be easy to make Jesus the next Judas Maccabees. There are horrible dangers in that proposition for Jesus. Even in your church, people will remember a effective priest/pastor and bill the new priest/pastor as “just like Pastor X”. No matter who that person was, they were doomed to failure. The expectations would be too different than who the new priest/pastor really was. If Jesus were to be Judas Maccabees, he then would not be the Son of God in their eyes.
Up to this point in the Gospel, Jesus has turned water into wine, told the woman at the well about her whole life without her telling him first, healed the official’s son even though he never touched him, made a lame man walk, fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, walked on water (my personal favorite), dazzled us with his teaching about the woman caught in adultery with no one to cast stones at her, made a blind man receive sight and all he got was a world of trouble. His world of trouble was because the people to whom he was sent could not accept him for who he was and is.
Jesus Christ is one with the Father. He is not just our friend. He is not just a moral example. He is not just the Great Suggestor. He is not Judas Maccabees. He is Jesus the Christ, the anointed one of God, the Son of God, of one being with the Father, God from God, True God from True God, begotten, not made. He is larger than the box in which we put him.
One day, when I was a Methodist pastor, I was hit square between the eyes with an incredible thought: my church, at the time, was way off base with the first philosophy that we taught the children about Jesus. In the United Methodist curriculum children were introduced to Jesus, the Christ, who is one with the Father, as a “friend.” It hit me that when my friends tell me something that I don’t think is right, I listen politely, still love them, and then do what I was going to do anyway. To be a friend in our society is to support someone even when you don’t like what they are doing. That is a much different proposition than learning head on that Jesus is our Lord and we must do what he tells us.
Simply put, Jesus is not made to order. St. John tells us that Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” Whoever does the choosing has ultimate control. Even if you decline the invitation, it is Jesus who calls. So, that begs the question, “Are we his sheep?” Or, are we our own shepherds and ask Jesus to be our sheep?