Solid respectability. Roots deep down in things that matter. We’re here because we’re here .. Unchanging truth spoken and lived. Let the world rush about in the search for change and novelty and short-term satisfactions – we hold the deepest truths about life and how it should be lived. Like the prodigal son, they will come back.
Today’s readings actually challenge that way of thinking. The gospel is about change and movement. Paul seems even to challenge our belief that consistency is one of the greatest virtues – in those misunderstood words, he says ‘ I have become all things to all people so that I might by any means save some’
What Paul means is that he is prepared to identify with or belong with or be with slaves or Jews or those under the law or the weak – in order to win them for Christ. I read a book this week which described us as working on the suction model of church – making it more inviting so that people will be drawn in. That is not Paul’s picture. He goes and becomes and spends time with. Just before Christmas, I spent a day in ministry with the Mission to Seafarers Chaplain and we began at the gas terminal at Inverkeithing. The crews of the two tankers we visited were Croatian and Philippino. John became Croation and Philippino – we talked about the life of the village back home, about being employed in the first world, about dislocation and fear. We need to be with and become young, old, rich, poor, sick, frightened for the sake of Christ. It’s being with, being part of, for the sake of the Gospel.
One of our deep-down fears in the church is of being completely irrelevant, of having nothing to do, of it not mattering whether we live or die. Jesus has plenty to do. He has healed Simon Peter’s mother in law. He has healed and freed people who were sick or possessed by demons. There is valuable and caring work for him to do – enough to keep him going for the foreseeable future..
Yet, instead of settling down to meet the needs of people there, Jesus first withdraws for prayer – he gets back in touch with God’s will, setting that against the clamour of the unending needs with which he was faced. And then he moves on to the neighbouring towns.
What Jesus does is to heal and free people so that they can themselves form communities that heal and free people. He doesn’t stay around so that people can get used to him or become dependent upon him. He moves on. He calls people to follow him, to move with him, to leave behind family, comfort and security – rather than to stay in the same place with him.
There is or there should be a sort of divine restlessness and impatience at the heart of our discipleship. Too often we seem to be protecting things, maintaining things, preserving things – many of which are valuable in themselves. And there will always be people to look after them. But Jesus moved on – Paul moved on – the gospel moves on because it is a passion for bringing God to people.