“What are you looking for?” It takes a special kind of person to venture out on a cold and snowy January morning to come to church. So, let me ask you again, “What are you looking for?”
The people of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to come and save them from the injustices perpetrated by the Romans. Many of them believed that they’d found the kind of saviour that they were looking for in Jesus. But Jesus refused to be the kind of messiah that they were looking for. Jesus refused to lead them in an armed revolt against the Romans. Jesus called them to a different path; a path that required them to renounce violence, hatred, and greed; a path that demanded not violent resistance, love of enemy, and care for the poor and marginalized among them. Jesus’ way of being in the world was not an easy path to walk.
Already, in the gospel according to John we see those early followers of Jesus, retelling the story of Jesus in ways that recast him into the role of the messiah that they longed for. Over time, the storytellers, the theologians, and the church has pointed to Jesus and declared, “Look, there’s God’s sacrificial lamb, who takes away the world’s sin!” For generations, too many of us have looked to Jesus to take away our sin. Believing that all we need to do is believe and Jesus will save us. Like so many who have gone before us we have wanted Jesus to be the kind of saviour who would save us from our sinfulness.
Our ancestors defined sin as missing the mark. Who can live a life without missing the mark? Surely, there is someone, who can offer us some way of living a life without missing the mark, for each time we miss the mark, there is sadness, pain, suffering and death. Surely there is someone who can save us from all this? But Jesus refuses to be the kind of messiah that we want. Jesus calls us not to believe in him, but follow him, follow him to passionately non-violently resist injustice, follow him by loving our enemies, follow him to care for the poor and the marginalized among us.
Believing in Jesus won’t save us. Becoming a Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, or New Ager won’t save us. Only our shared humanity will save us. Jesus lived and taught a way of being human that spoke directly to our common humanity and called us to walk a path that would lead humanity to a new way of being in the world. But what are we looking for? Are we looking for a different kind of Messiah than one who will not save us from our troubles?
Our friend Pete Rollins tells a story of this kind of longing. Pete speaks of an: “old Buddhist parable that tells the story of a young woman who gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. But after only a few weeks the child dies and the woman is distraught. She wraps the child’s body in linen and then she wraps the child’s body to her own, and she goes in search of someone, of anyone who could resuscitate her child. She goes to faith healers, and witch-doctors. She talks to the tribal elders. But nobody can help.
Finally, one of the elders says, “You know it’s rumored that high up in the mountains, away from everyone, there’s a holy man who is so close to the DIVINE that he can even raise the dead. Now perhaps this is a myth, or maybe he is long since dead, but there’s no one here who can help you. If you are that desperate, maybe you need to go in search of the holy man.
And so she does. She packs a few provisions and she goes up into the mountains to find the Holy Man. After a few days, she comes across a small hut in the middle of nowhere, beside a crystal-clear lake. She knocks on the door. After a couple of minutes an old man comes to the door. She begins to weep. She says, “I don’t know if you’re the one they talk about and I don’t know if you can help, but my child is dead and I must have her back.”
Well the old man takes pity on her and he says, “I am the one you’re looking for and I can help. But I need to concoct a potion and the potion requires ingredients and one of those ingredients is a handful of mustard seeds from taken from a home that has not been touched by the black sun of suffering that has scorched your life. Go down to the village, find me the mustard seeds and then return.
And so she does, she goes down to the village and she goes from house to house. But, she cannot find one family that has not been touched by suffering, death, and loss. Yet, as she listens to the stories of other people’s suffering and as she’s able to speak of her own, she gradually comes to terms with the loss of her child and is able to bury her in the Earth.”
The Holy Man never offered the woman salvation from her troubles, but neither did he send her away without hope, instead the Holy One creates a space where the woman is able to engage other people’s stories and is able to speak her own until she is able to mourn and to let go and to heal. We all want to escape our suffering and our difficulties, we all want to be saved from the vicissitudes of life in the world. But if we want to find freedom, to find joy, to find love, to find life, we must engage our humanity. Jesus is not what we are looking for if we are looking to escape our humanity. Jesus is a holy human who leads us into a deeper humanity.
When I reflect upon Pete’s story, I see myself carrying around my own treasured images of the DIVINE. I can see myself holding on to the God of my own creation, hoping against hope for a Messiah who will breathe life into the lifeless image that the god of my childhood has become. I thought I was looking for Jesus. I have spent years looking for the magic mustard seeds, so that I don’t have to give up my illusions. I thought I was looking for salvation from life. What I have found is a saviour who leads me into life with all its various twists and turns. I thought I was looking for magic and what I have found is life itself.
What are you looking for? Do you want to be saved from life in the world or do you want to live life? Jesus is the kind of saviour who sends us out to look for mustard seeds in the midst of the living. We may not find what we are looking for. But what we do find empowers us to let go of our illusions and live fully, deeply, completely.
What are you looking for? Jesus’ way of being in the world was not an easy path to walk, there is no salvation from our troubles, only hope, hope that as we journey together, we might find LOVE. The LOVE which nourishes, grounds and sustains us in this marvelous life that each of us has been given. Who needs magic mustard seeds, when you can have life? May the LOVE who is the DIVINE ONE we long for continue to live, in, with, through, and beyond you. Now and always. Amen.