There seems to be noting so dear to our media as a scandal, especially a sexual one and especially a sexual scandal in the church, writes Rev Sydney Maitland.
It certainly feeds the market demand for prurient voyeurism, as readers and viewers get their fill of satisfaction from seeing another person fall apart, and especially one in a position of power or influence.
The more we can point to the misdemeanours of another then the less time we will spend on our own shortcomings. And it is certainly true that in the gospels Jesus give no time or excuse for sexual sin. This is clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 27 – 32) when Jesus points out that this kind of sin begins in the heart – as does murder. In this sense it begins in our fantasies and works out from there. Mark 7: 1 – 23 deals with defilement in all respects and Mark 10: 1 – 12 also has a full teaching about marriage and divorce.
Yet Jesus does not say very much about sexual sin and the expected norm was – and is – heterosexual union within lifelong (heterosexual) marriage. But then while He had time for all who came to Him, including children, women, foreigners, lepers and the poor, the point was that it was often those without power or position or wealth who were going to be most open to His message. Yet this did not prevent Him from giving time, healing and restoration to Roman soldiers, the rulers of synagogues, or tax collectors. The point here was that in being there for all of society, Jesus was not going to repel any who came to Him with an open heart. He certainly did instruct one enthusiastic but wealthy possible disciple to sell all that he had before coming to join Him. But only one such instance. And He also commented that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Peter asked ‘Who then can be saved’ and Jesus replied that with God all things were possible. Enigmatic but not quite the answer to the socialists’ prayers.
It must be remembered that Jesus can from an artisan family, and had learned His trade as a carpenter who had to source His materials, obtain and deliver His orders and then ensure He was paid. He was educated to synagogue standard and could read and write, certainly in Aramaic and possibly in Greek and/or Latin. He was a friend of the poor without alienating any other section of society.
But there were certain areas that really did exasperate Him. His disciples took a long time to learn to think in the spiritual terms that Jesus followed, and even when Peter discerned that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he was still quite able to misunderstand the way that Jesus’ mission was going to develop, even when Jesus was quite clear in warning of the coming passion and crucifixion.
But if the disciples were slow to understand Jesus’ teaching then there were others who were wholly opposed to it in all respects. When presented with miraculous signs of who and what Jesus was they still rejected it. In the instance when He was confronted with a man who was both deaf and mute then Jesus had to discern the man’s need. This was regarded as a sign of the Messiah. He performed the exorcism only to be rubbished by a suggestion that He was in league with the devil (Matthew 12: 22 – 30). It was at this point that Jesus spoke about the sin that was beyond forgiveness (Matthew 12: 31 -32). The point here was that it was a deliberate rejection of the plain evidence before them, due to a prior and personal rejection of all that Jesus was and stood for, that placed a person beyond forgiveness. In many ways this kind of unbelief is self-inflicted for it is that determined, even life-long, rejection of all that Jesus was, which put a person beyond help. I do not believe that God desires that any soul in human history should be banished from His presence – for that is what Hell is – but equally love calls out to and for love. We love because God first loved us and not because we are particularly loving or discerning. Without the quickening Spirit of the Lord then we are quite unable to respond to Him or indeed to pray to or worship Him.
But to know the love of God and to reject it, to know the truth of God and treat is as falsehood, and to maintain this to one’s last breath – then what is there left to respond to the love and mercy of God? So: all sins can be forgiven – except that which the sinner so puts into place that he/she is self-banished from mercy or forgiveness. To maintain a determined and life-long rejection is to impose on oneself an alienation from God that God Himself never intended or desired. It is self-inflicted. If any area of sin is exceptional then this is it. It is not personal pain or honest doubt or sexual misdemeanours. All of these can be met and forgiven.
In this respect the honest – and I mean genuine and open-minded – sense of confusion at aspects of the mystery and miraculous in God, is not the same thing as a rejection of the love and truth of God as I have described it, however even here it is possible to play games with God. Jesus had a solemn warning at those who put stumbling blocks before children, and warned that they were better tied to millstones and thrown into the sea. (Matt 18: 6) This may well apply to those areas where children are so abused and distorted in their minds that they never recover their childhoods. It could also apply to those who gain wealth and prominence by using their knowledge and education to undermine the faith of the simple and uncomplicated.
It may be that this rejection of Jesus has come to the point of a cultural norm in our society – yet I also believe that as society is further tried and tested, then many will come to faith, and the attractions of intellectual and spiritual snobbery and pride will fade.
Let us pray so.