Come-backs are still in full swing at the moment. As teenagers wear dodgy skinny jeans with 80‘s hairdon’ts, grown-ups of a certain age look back nostalgically at their youth and record companies say ‘ker-ching’ and so the bands of the 80’s and 90’s re-form (for better or worse) and stun us with their mediocrity. Quite how man-band Take That (whom I secretly love!) can win Best British Band at The Brits against Mumford & Sons who can tell.
When Jesus stormed the charts back in the day, he blew the current chart-toppers, The Pharisees, out of the water. They were like the X-Factor machine of their day, they had all the marketing bases covered for making sure everyone did the right things and behaved the right way. Namely, conforming. No-one was considered righteous unless they did what the Pharisees did. Which was to hang around each other patting themselves on the back for not being like ‘them’, the others, you know, the hoi polloi, the massed ranks of people. Think X-Factor auditions.
Almost as big a surprise to the ruling elite as The Streets were back in 2001, Arctic Monkeys in 2006 or Mumford & Sons in 2010, Jesus showed a new way, an original way, a much better way. Jesus challenged the Pharisees by saying (among other things) that separation from the tainted masses was not the way to be holy, and was definitely not the way to show love. In fact, for Jesus there were no tainted masses, there were no great unwashed. There were just – people. And he reserved higher condemnation for the hypocritical religious Pharisees than he did for the adulterers or prostitutes or cheating tax collectors.
Jesus took religion out of the white-washed tombs of respectability and plonked it slap-bang (pardon the expression) in the middle of the brothel, the drinking house, the messed-up marriages, the poverty-stricken abandoned widows and the dirty foreigners. So why is it that like the opposite of an indestructible 70’s prog rock band, respectability keeps on making a come-back. The church becomes so respectable, our faith becomes about being respectable. Of course when faith moves into the brothel we want the brothel to be transformed and changed – but not into a WI Knitting Circle.
Reading the story of Joseph (of the Technicolor Dreamcoat, not he of the pregnant fiancée) as part of the e100 Challenge it struck me how we even try to censor and make respectable the characters of the bible and the stories about them. Why, when the Bible doesn’t? The story of Jacob & Joseph contains multiple wives, surrogate mothers, oppression of slaves and even rape; it contains sibling rivalry so bad it almost ends in murder and (only!) ends in Joseph being sold into slavery. And we expect our children to be well-behaved with this family as a role model?! No wonder Children’s Bible’s are so much smaller. They have to cut so much out.
Of course we want to be changed and transformed. Of course we want messed up lives to be untangled and hopelessness replaced with hope. But let’s not pretend that that is anything remotely like coating ourselves with a veneer of respectability and hoping for the best. God looked at our Bible characters honestly, he judged them accordingly and guess what – by his grace he loved and nurtured and forgave and moved on with them, not without them.
Maybe this is a particular challenge to church leaders, of all denominations, when we so easily get caught up in being thoughtful intellectuals or organised managers or inspiring leaders and forget the primary calling to be real and to be immersed in our people and the messy lives that entangle us all. Maybe it is a particular challenge to followers of Jesus who have been around the light so long we have forgotten what it is like to live in the dark and we expect so much of hurt and broken people that we frighten them away with our whispering about their swearing or our sssh’s to unruly children or we simply don’t give them the freedom to bring something new to our community that has become static and respectable.
Jesus went out there and mixed with the uncensored sensibilities of people the religious elite avoided. May we do the same. And let’s stop respectability making another come-back.
This comeback by take That, though respectable, was actually quite good – Ed