These last few weeks I’ve found myself thinking more and more around the subjects of theology, leadership and Jesus. Why, you may ask? For the simple reason that I think we’ve got it wrong. Now that probably sounds pretty arrogant, so before you shout me down, let me try and explain what I mean.
At the age of 12 Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, and instead of returning with his family group, was found by his parents talking to the teachers there. All who heard him were amazed by his wisdom and understanding.
Why then, if Jesus was able to hold his own at 12 among such learned people, those who made the study of scripture and its interpretations their life work, why when he started his adult ministry did he not return to debate with his peers? He was clearly on their level at 12, so why not go back and study more with these people who had made such study their life work?
Today, if you want to be a minister or leader in a church then you are expected to study theology or biblical studies, or any combination of those and other subject related to leading a church. It’s understandable after all, that the people you are expected to lead, should have confidence in their vicar, priest or minister, even those who are non ordained, have knowledge of what the Bible means. Such learning can take you all the way to doctoral level. Such subjects can be fascinating and the ability of the student to show their grasp of quite complex theological arguments is to be applauded.
Our Church leadership, archbishops, bishops, deans, priests, curates, deacons, ministers etc, all undertake such study. They are taught to choose their words carefully. To be prepared to defend their arguments. How to quote the great teachers of the past as well as the present. To weigh up their words before they speak or write so that there can be no misunderstanding. They use the correct language to show their grasp of the subject, paring it down into quite carefully thought out presentations that their fellow academics can understand.
Therein lies the problem. Therein lies the issue that I need to discuss, which is, that while the language of academics is necessary, it is available and understood by a small group of people for whom the joy of such discourse is like a drug, dare I say. They simply can’t get enough of it and keep searching for more and more of it. There is a desire to gain more knowledge, to open themselves up to more fields of expertise, all the while becoming unknowingly to them, even more distant from those who they are called to serve.
Let’s go back to the question of why didn’t Jesus spend his time as an adult, studying and teaching amongst his fellow teachers in the temple? After all he is the Son of God, if anyone should be teaching there, it should be him surely? Yet he doesn’t. Instead he chooses to teach amongst the poor, the sick, the outcast, even amongst those called Gentiles, people outside the Jewish faith into which he’d been born and raised. He chose to use everyday language and examples from these peoples lives in order to teach them. He wasn’t teaching them theology. Most of them would have been able to read scripture anyway, as they went to school with the local rabbi, or teacher as children. Instead he was teaching them about love. God’s love for them.
Jesus, in answer to a question said the greatest commandment or rule that a person could live by was this: Love God and out of that love, love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.
It’s that simple. If we learn to love God as much as he loves us, then we will learn to love ourselves because we will understand what it is to be loved. Once we know that, then we can love everyone else as God loves them. Oh sure, we won’t always agree with each other. We may even fight each other, just as siblings do. There’s that saying isn’t there, you can choose your friends but not your family. Yet when we let love wash over us, even when we disagree with someone else’s viewpoint, yet we become willing to feed, clothe, house, visit, and accept those who hold different views and values to us. It’s not easy by a long chalk, which is why we are given the help of God’s spirit to sustain us, and when all else fails, and we’ve hit rock bottom and feel we can never ever love that person, to give us a top up and oil change so we can go that extra mile.
It’s interesting that despite all Jesus knew about the teachers of his time, and all his own knowledge, it was these very people who were his most ardent enemies. Jesus was willing and able to bring down the temple upon which these people based their very status upon and instead brought to the forefront those for whom these teachers had nothing but contempt. The beggars, the refugees, the prostitutes, thieves, liars, even those who helped out their overlords, the Roman empire. With their help the message of love, what is called the gospel message spread around the known world at the hands of these often uneducated people.
We need to stop thinking that only those who are educated to be “our leaders” can form churches. Church is not meant to be a building with a highly educated leader, it is meant to be a community of people who express love through acts of love and compassion irrespective of who the other person is. It is not about whether that person fits a rigid set of requirements. It’s not about whether they are straight or gay, male, female, trans or binary, able or disabled, black, white or Asian. What is important is, do you love God? If you do, then love these people in the same way God does and stop splitting academic hairs over it. Get on your knees and get your hands dirty just as Jesus did.
Let’s do God’s love in the same way he did, by healing the sick, binding up the broken hearted and stop, just stop this desire to be the cleverest person in the room, coz you know what? You are no more that the pharisees and the sadduces of Jesus’s time.