“I don’t suppose our politicians bother you much, Jesus, since you don’t have to live with the injustice they cause.”

“You’re wrong about that. As you know I’m not altogether separate from you, so I experience your problems. But at the same time, I’m not at all separate from men and women and children who’re suffering from bad politics or from any cause; nor from any creatures who’re suffering, as they are more and more from global warning. Worse, I’m not altogether separate from those who cause the suffering.”

“That last bit about those who cause suffering, I can’t get my head round that. Surely they reject you?“

“But I don’t reject them. Think of the Bible story of Saul/Paul. He’s persecuting believers, he’s causing pain, but when he falls from his horse, what do I say?”

“Eh, eh, you say, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” So, yes, you’re in the persecuted people and in Saul. I’m sorry, I forget you’re not limited like me.”

“But back to where we started, which politician is causing you pain today.”

“Liz Truss, who thinks you can help poor families by cutting taxes for the rich. Or maybe she doesn’t really think that and already knows she’ll do nothing for the poor, since no poor person will vote for her.”

“It’s possible that if she becomes Prime Minister, she’ll feel how awesome the responsibility is, and change her tune.”

“No, that’s naive, Jesus. She’s a right wing Tory who thinks people are poor because they deserve to be poor. And what’s more, she’s thick as mince, and hasn’t an ounce of intelligence or decency in her!”

“……

“ Why have you gone silent, Jesus?”

“Because I’m so angry at what you just said. Do you know Liz Truss?

“Well, not really, just through the media”

“Have you ever heard her speak?”

“No, only clips on the radio”

“What do you know about her educational attainment?”

“Nothing, really.”

“And have you any idea what she believes or how she treats people?”

“No.”

“So how in earth can you say she’s stupid and lacks decency?”

“You want me to treat her like a private person. But she’s not. She’s public person and a dangerous one!”

“Let’s get back to the words you used: ‘thick as mince without an ounce of intelligence or decency.’ That’s proper public language about a public person, or is it mere abuse? It’s intended to dismiss her as worthless, to denigrate her as a person because you disagree with her policies. If you met her, and she complained about what you’ve said about her, what could you say?

“ I could refer to her policies and how many people they would hurt.”

“ But that would be dishonest, would it not? Do you think that politics would be improved if everyone who disagreed with a policy used the language of personal abuse?

“Well, no.”

“No indeed, but many people are doing it and making justice even harder to find.”

“It’s the language of the media…”

“That’s no excuse. Liz Truss is your political enemy, and you may remember what I said about enemies.”

“Totally unrealistic. You don’t mean I should love Liz Truss!

“…………

“Ok, Ok, Jesus, were you laughing at me?”

“No, no, not at you.”

“What then?”

“At your clumsiness.”

“When I was trying to fix that f…..that shelf in the garage?”

“Sort of…”

“‘cause if you were you can just get your a….yourself down there and fix it for me, seeing you’re so smart…”

“Believe me, I’d love to, but I’m not allowed anymore…it can be very frustrating…

“So you can criticise but you can’t help?

“Honest, I wasn’t criticising, and I shouldn’t have called you clumsy. It’s just you don’t know the right way; and if you do know it, watching someone doing it wrong can be like watching a clown at the circus….”

“So now you call me a clown, is that nice?”

“Sorry, sorry, I seem to have mislaid my tact this morning.”

“Apology accepted. I keep forgetting you’re a skilled tradesman. And I’m not, so I don’t know what that’s like….”

“Ah but you are, you are a skilled tradesman with words; and I imagine you must sometimes have smiled at something that was written all wrongly.”

“Like you say, it’s just knowledge of the right way. Often I can see immediately how to sort it.”

“When fishermen used to show me a boat holed beneath the water line, often one of them had nailed a piece of wood or leather over the gap to prevent the water flooding in. But that sort of patching was useless in the long term because the mortise and tenon joints of the planks had been broken, and water would soon find a way in. No, the planks had to be separated and the joint re-made. That was such basic knowledge I didn’t even need to think about it. Often I had to explain this to a fisherman who thought I just spinning out the work to earn more. These were happy years, I miss the work.

“As you say, when you know how to do it well, it’s not just work, it’s an art, yes?”

“Just so. What a pity that there are so few jobs in your society that can become an art. There are some, like the plumbers, sparkies, builders and so on, that come to your house….”

“And farmers, nurses, doctors, care staff, actors, oh there are many, but not enough, and certainly not enough apprenticeships…”

“To be able to do something useful, and to do it well, that’s a blessing, and if the market doesn’t provide enough of these jobs, the market needs to be altered.”

“I don’t think Liz Truss would agree with you…“

“Pity. We’ve been talking about the arts of being useful. Have you thought about the arts of goodness?”

“Not much, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me about them.”

“Stop me if I get boring. Remember I was known as a teacher. There’s a man I know who works voluntarily in a food-bank. He’s efficient, hard-working, and miserable. It’s as if he wants the customers to know lucky they are to have this help. Fortunately, the other men and women who work there are cheerful and friendly as well as charitable, so that the customers are given respect and dignity. Those workers have learned the art of doing good. Similarly, an honest politician…

“Is this a fairy tale – an honest politician!

“Don’t be cynical. Like I was saying, an honest politician will stand for justice but one who has learned the art of goodness, will make justice persuasive.

“If I understand what you’re saying, you want people to do good as naturally as a skilled carpenter mends a broken joint“

“I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

“Good morning Jesus. Yesterday you said it was as hot as Palestine, today the forecast says it’ll be a hot as hell….“

“Maybe you shouldn’t make jokes about hell…..”

“Eh? Oh, I forgot, the four gospels show you were pretty keen on the bad fires and the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ve always thought these bits were maybe added by your followers…“

“What made you think that?”

“…….. well……. OK, you have to admit that sometimes your followers put words in your mouth, yes? And some of these additions are in the four gospels, yes?

“Yes. But why are you so sure the words about God’s punishment are not my own?”

“Because so much of your message was about God’s love that the words about punishment seem spurious.”

“Have you ever known love without anger? Love makes us vulnerable and open to anger, so how can we imagine God’s love while denying his anger?”

“But surely even the language of love is just a way of using human emotions to describe God. We mustn’t take it literally.

“If we’re using picture language to describe God, then of course we should take it literally. Do you imagine God is never angry?

“I guess I imagined that he was beyond anger.”

“Do you think I was beyond anger?”

“But you were human…”

“I’m still human. But don’t you see me as a revelation of God?”

“Yeah, but…

“ A revelation apart from my anger?”

“Eh…..”

“Let’s take a concrete example. How about my story of the sheep and the goats?”

“Yes, that’s where you send the goats off to the ‘eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ You want to defend that language?”

“Yes. Let’s begin by remembering that it’s a story about God’s great King and the judgement he makes on human nations. Some have cared for the least important people in society, while others have neglected them. The King reveals the terrible truth that he identifies with the least important.

“So one lot, the sheep, are rewarded and the other lot, the goats, go off to the bad fire.”

Now let me ask you the key question: there’s a line that divides the sheep from the goats, where does that line run? “

“Between those who care for the least important and those who don’t.”

“And who are they?”

“I don’t understand, what are you getting at?”

“OK, let me be specific, which group do you belong to, honestly now?”

Eh…. Mmnn….. I’d like to say the sheep, but being honest, probably the goats… but then again, there’s a bit of the sheep in me, no?

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Could we say that the line between the sheep and the goats runs through the middle of every person? So the sheep stand for the justice kindness and care in every person and society, and the goats for the injustice cruelty and neglect in every person and society…”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

“So listen up. Do you want to hold on to the goaty bit of you?”

“No, I hate it, I reject it, I want rid of it, but it sticks to me.”

“My story tells you what God is doing with your goaty bit. In his blessed anger he is burning it out of you and one day it will have gone. Do you suppose that process will be painless?”

“Probably not, for I’ll try to hold on to it, even though I’ll be delighted to be rid of it.”

“But meantime, in his blessed kindness God is rewarding and cherishing your sheep bit; all your justice, kindness and care are being affirmed and given new scope.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“Can you sum up what you’ve learned?”

“No, not yet anyway.”

“Let me start you off. ‘ God’s anger is not the opposite of God’s love but…”

“An essential part of it’”

“Amen.”

Hey Jesus, a quick word please!

“Good morning, it’s almost as hot here as Palestine today. Why are you in a hurry?”

“Did you change something in our last blog?”

“I corrected it.”

“Without telling me”

“Did you consult me before publishing it?”

“Well, I suppose not. I mean I thought you were OK with this, as long as I listened carefully while writing it.”

“But remember me saying that I could just be a figment of your imagination, or I could be real?”

Yeah…

“Let me add that even if I am real, any conversation still has to come through your imagination; and your imagination can be mistaken at times, yes?

Oh, I suppose so…..

“I just removed a bit that didn’t sound like me. Where you made me lay down a law. I never did that and I’m not likely to start. That bit must have come from you. I don’t mind if you put it back under your name.

No, no, I don’t mind the change, and yes, I’ll be careful to check with yiu in future. Is it all right to publish this conversation, since people may find it helpful.

“Of course.”

“Good morning, Mike…“

“Who’s that? Oh, Good morning, Jesus, I didn’t realise you might take the lead in these conversations.“

“It would be a bit limited if I always had to rely on you. But how are you, did you do your interval training?“

“Eh? Oh, I forgot we didn’t speak yesterday. So, no, on Thursday I didn’t, but yesterday I saw the physiotherapist about my hip pain. She thinks I have inflammation in muscles or tendons due to over-use. She recommended some exercises and a reduction in my interval training from 12 sprints to 8, and maybe only 3 times a week. I tried that yesterday and it felt OK apart from a feeling that I was being lazy. But that’s enough about me. How about you, did you ever take exercise, say at the gym, in the Greek fashion, like some of your contemporaries?”

“No. Remember, from the age of 10, I was working with my dad. In fact, I’d always worked with him, learning how to use tools, how to do small jobs, like repairs to ploughs, or boats. But soon I was working in the big jobs, building boats or houses. All in all I must have worked with him for 20 years, till he died, and my brother took over the business. With that sort of work, who needs gyms?”

“I need to keep reminding myself that in your society, masculinity was defined by physical labour, and femininity by house-keeping and having children.”

“Someone writing a book might say that, but we never thought, male or female that we needed definition. We were not very self-conscious; we were as we found ourselves. Nobody asked me if I wanted to be a builder. Indeed there was a bit of argument when I said I wanted to stop that work. As for being male, I suppose I found myself with certain reactions to girls. Of course, whatever your reactions you had to be careful. If you touched a woman whom you had no intention of marrying, her brothers would come and deprive you of your masculinity. But we didn’t think any of this was a burden. We got married young. I was 17.

“You were married! But there’s no mention of it in the Bible!“

“The Bible writers started to think of me as somehow unearthly. They probably imagined I had male bits, but not that I used them. I was married to Rachael, for a year, until she died in childbirth. The baby died too.“

“Can I tell people about this?”

“Of course, but most of them will not believe it…especially those who’ve made the Bible into God.”

“There are others who want you married to Mary Magdalene….“

“Who was old enough to be my mother.”

“Listen, did you watch the debate amongst the candidates for leadership of the Tory Party?”

“No, I don’t think any of them would welcome me.”

“Well, there was this woman, Kemi Badenoch, making a fuss about giving credibility to trans people. From what you say about your simpler society, you might be in agreement with her. Like the Bible says, God made them male and female.”

“For a start, I never said my society was simpler, or gave you any reason to feel superior to us. It’s never simple being human. What’s more, when the Bible says ‘male and female‘ it means ‘male and female and everything in between. It’s like ‘good and evil’ which means more or less ‘everything in the world.’ Bible scholars call this figure of speech, a merism.

“I didn’t imagine you reading biblical scholarship…”

“It’s about me and I didn’t write it, so it’s useful for me to understand it. Of course I studied the Hebrew bit of it when I was young.”

“I stand corrected. What about trans people, then, should we accept them as being whichever gender they want to be?”

“We should accept them.”

“Ah, so you’re really quite woke, Jesus!”

“Please take it seriously that I said, “accept them,” which doesn’t mean ‘accept their ideology.” Your society frequently confuses these; people are left behind in arguments about ideology. Accepting people as people, as children of God, is our first and most important obligation. And that acceptance must confer friendship and dignity. Back in Israel, people had an ideology about prostitutes and they were outraged when I accepted them.”

“But must I accept a man who wants to be a woman, as a woman?”

“It’s courteous when we accept a person, to accept the identity they declare. But if you were to declare yourself to be a black man, I might have some doubts, and black people might have more. Black people might accept your support of black people and your desire to identify with their cause, they might even declare you to be an honorary black man, but they would still wonder if you really knew anything about being black, lacking the physique, language, family life and experience of prejudice, of black people in this country. They might encourage you not to be defined by your white skin, while doubting that you could ever be defined as black, simply through a powerful desire to be so. This example suggests that there may be limits to acceptance of a trans person’s new identity, but there should be no limits to acceptance of them as people.

“But say the trans person is simply an exhibitionist or suffering mental illness?

“That should make no difference to our acceptance of them as people, which might prove helpful or healing.”

And what about changes in the law?

I’m not a lawyer, but if the community accepts trans people as normal members of the community, doubtless the law will catch up.

“So, Jesus, can you define a woman?“

“A woman is a child of God, born and developing with female reproductive organs; and anyone whom society judges to have adopted that identity. The born woman comes first because it is her identity which is desired by the trans person. The trans woman is not a second class citizen but she is different because she has chosen to be a woman.” Now I’m answering no more questions on this matter, as you could have thought this out for yourself. Right?

“Maybe, but you were very clear.”

“Most issues like this can be solved provided people who may seem strange are accepted as children of God. Look how much better churches have become through accepting gay people as God’s children!”

“So, Ok, Jesus, here I am on another sunny morning, looking at our tree garden where most of the leaves are hanging downwards, and many of them yellowing and dropping off. It’s the lack of rain combined with the sandyness of our soil; they’re just not getting enough nourishment; they look old. And talking of old, I’m trying to decide if I should push my 80 year old body to do my 12 -sprint interval training at the football field, or just some floor exercise here at home. Maybe I’ll go to the field later…

“One of the few benefits of being killed at 33 is that you don’t have to deal with old age. All my knowledge of it is second hand. How do you find it?”

“I won’t moan; I’ve been lucky; no major illness or disability. It’s the mental side of it that sucks.”

“Incipient dementia?”

“Aye, one sign of that might be talking to an invisible person such as you! No, there’s no dementia yet, but more what T S Eliot calls ‘the gifts reserved for age,” principally, “The rending pain of re-enactment of all that you have been and done.’ Lots of shame, lots. But I suppose seeing you were sinless you never felt regret or shame?”

“Who told you I was sinless?”

“St. Paul, I think, was it…?“

“ Yes, at least in passing, but probably you’re thinking of Hebrews where it says that I was ‘tempted in all ways as you are, only without sin.‘ Of course that writer never knew me in the flesh. Why do you imagine I went to be baptised by John along with my fellow sinners? You think I was pretending? And you know I called a Canaanite woman a dog; do you think that’s not sinful? I’m not sure if you can be human without sin. So, regrets, I have a few, and shame. But cheer up, we only feel shame because we’ve changed, grown beyond the person we were. After all, it’s no good pretending to be perfect….

“Funny you should say that. I was just reading about the candidates for leadership of the British Tory Party. There they are, having spent the last two years sharing the faults of Boris Johnson, but suddenly, in a flash, they’ve become perfect. Nothing to admit or apologise for. Certainly not! Everyone a winner! No shame at all for the past. But what do you think, Jesus, are you ‘ready for Rishi’?”

“I’m afraid my priorities are not theirs or maybe even yours. How do they treat the helpless strangers and the poor who have no food? But remember my experience of government is not yours. I’ve more in common with a citizen of Tibet, ruled by a world empire. There wasn’t a lot of democracy in the Roman Empire.”

“You think I should be grateful just to live under the rule of law, in a democratic state?”

“Yes.”

“Grateful for Tories?”

“Grateful that you can get rid of them soon if you can persuade enough of your fellow citizens. But there is a genuine emergency that should grab your attention, now or sooner, regardless of who is in power.

“Global warming? What more do you want me to do? Food? I’m more or less vegan. Transport? My car is electric. Holidays? I don’t use planes. Politics? Last time I voted Green. But it seems to make no difference. Should I be chaining myself to roundabouts?

“These people are saying, how can you do normal things when the lives of your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren are at risk? Not to mention your brothers and sisters who happen to be animals, birds, fish, insects.”

“Perhaps God should be doing something, rather than taking a bystander role.”

“Don’t be so stupid as to think like some believers, that God will ‘protect his creation.’ We love this planet and its creatures, but it is not ‘creation.’ Look at the photos of the universe published by NASA this week. There are countless other worlds and creatures. We can only persuade living beings to protect life. If you don’t, then it may be God’s sad duty to use the death of your planet as a terrible warning to others.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Remember Jesus, if you are Jesus, who I am. An 80 year old semi-retired church minister. In all honesty, what can I do about global warming? This planet’ll see me out, as we say in Scotland.“

“But I know from what you’ve said and done that you love this world and its inhabitants; that the way a goldfinch balances on a gorse bush gives you joy and reverence; the way the thin mist envelopes the ridge of a high hill leads you to praise. I know that you have often wondered if your love of the world is greater than your love of God. It would be a crime against yourself to do nothing. Besides, a real fight for the planet might be fun.

“You’re very persuasive.”

“I hope so.”

When I tell the congregation that Jesus is alive, I always warn them that he is not to be considered as just another person in their lives: he is a presence in and through other persons, in and through events, in and through other living things, in and through themselves, their bodies, souls and spirits. But if so, how can he be recognised? Does he/she speak, and if so, how can Jesus’ voice be distinguished from the voice of self-deception or indeed, from the voice of the devil? And of course, if we can be theological for a minute, is Jesus’ communication different from that of God the Father, or God the Spirit?

I guess I could try answering these questions rationally and theologically but instead I’m going to propose answers by recording my own conversations with Jesus.

“So here I am, Jesus, seated in my room, which looks out over the village of Monifieth, where I live with Janet my wife, holding on my lap my iPad, which is my usual writing implement. For days the sun has been shining, often from a clear sky, making the temperature almost too warm, although today there is more cloud, more wind, giving a more normal, Scottish, feel to the weather.

We’re lucky, I guess. We’ve paid for our house, we both have modest pensions and some savings ready to pay for whatever age-care either of us may need. We both look back to our childhood and youth in a nation ruled by socialist principles and institutions, recognising that much is now changed and not for the better, as a result of widespread agreement in society that capitalism is the only way. “

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Who are you?”

“You could think of me as the voice of your imagination, or more simply, as Jesus.”

“Can you see into my mind, so that you know what I’m thinking? Like that terrible hymn I learned in Sunday School….‘ Not a look or word or thought, but God knows it all.’ God the celestial spy.

“If I’m a figment of your imagination, then of course I have access to your mind. But if I’m Jesus, then no, I do not invade your privacy, but wait to be invited to come in. But I should remind you, that you have often invited me in, over many years, many churches, houses, joys, sorrows and struggles, so that I can say with some truth that I know your heart.“

“‘ Mortals only see appearances but the Lord sees the heart’” So that’s nice and biblical, eh? That’s how you persuade me you’re real, rather than an invention of my mind. Well, OK, seeing you claim acquaintance with my mind, what am I thinking about now?”

“Probably, as you sit at your desk, your eye has caught sight of the photo of your late daughter, which you have magnified and pinned to the wall. There she stands full of life and health on top of a small hill overlooking the River Tay. She brings you joy and grief. You have shared this with me many times.”

“Yes, yes, I shared it with anger, do you hear, anger. And you told me she was with God, as if that helps. She’s not with me, that’s the point! If you’re a saviour, why didn’t you save her from the addiction that killed her? Then she’d still be here, with me!”

“I tried, and failed.”

“What use are you then?”

“What gave you the idea that I could be of use? As if I was a life-improving gadget like your iPad only better? Have you forgotten who I am? You know my story.”

“All right, all right Mr Crucified, I don’t need to see your wounds, it’s just you opened one of mine when you mentioned my daughter, Eleanor. No shit now, will I really see her again?”

“ Yes. You will see her. But she will not be yours. And you will not be hers. In heaven there is neither marriage nor families, as I once taught.”

“Even your good news is hard. Maybe that’s why I’m tempted to think you’re real: you’re not what I want.”

“Does that mean you’re going to keep talking with me? And if course you’re putting this material in a blog, shouldn’t you ask my permission as one of the participants?”

“I’d never thought of that. So, do you give your permission? You do? Thanks very much. And yes, I hope to continue this dialogue.”

I guess for Ukrainians it had been happening for many years pretty continuously but for me and most of my neighbours it only burst into being when the Russians invaded it. Suddenly there it was with its splendid President, its effective army, its population of men, women and children made of vulnerable flesh like ours, its quite handsome cities and quaint villages, doomed to be pulped by the superior firepower of a force directed by a dull and brutal thug who began his career killing people on behalf of a dull and brutal government.

So yes, by all means praise the valour of the Ukrainians, their refusal to kow-tow to Putin and his vast army of well-deceived lunkheads, and their humanity never more evident than in face of the utter inhumanity of the invaders, but let’s note that none of these qualities persuaded our government to intervene on their behalf, a decision which has left us feeling obscurely guilty as an atrocity unfolds itself before our eyes.

Our and other governments took this decision because although they believe in the efficacy of force and have spent millions providing themselves with armaments and armies, they feared that intervention would lead to a war whose dangers were incalculable and whose benefits were doubtful. They saw indeed that in this instance, violence was not the way to peace or justice. It is also true that they were scared of a conflict they might lose and thought Ukraine an acceptable price to pay for peace.

I say that we feel guilty but we did not feel any guilt when the same Russians invaded Syria on behalf of a government even more loathsome that its own, murdering thousands of innocent people and destroying the means of life for thousands more. Somehow Syrians were not as photogenic as Ukrainians. Nor did we feel guilty when it became clear that the Chinese government was killing, torturing and re-educating millions of Uighurs in a remote area of their own country. In fact, we have worked hard at forgetting this fact while we continue to do civilised business and cultural exchanges with people who may yet invade Taiwan. Our horror, it seems, owes more to press coverage than we like to think.

It seems likely now that whether the fighting lasts a shorter or longer time, it will end with Ukraine having to accept some measure of Russian domination. As one who has argued the wisdom of Jesus’ non- violence, I take no pleasure now in pointing out that Ukraine could have obtained this same result without war, without the death and maiming of its soldiers, without the wholesale destruction of its cities and the lives of many of its civilians. Yes, they would have to have endured Russian domination, trying to protect themselves against the abuse of their democracy, but now, after all their courageous fighting, they will still have to do that.

The story of Jesus, we often forget, is set in an occupied nation, dominated by a world superpower, whose people ultimately took to armed rebellion against their overlords, and were viciously defeated and destroyed. The assemblies of followers of the non-violent Jesus, on the other hand, expanded throughout the empire by peaceful means and cunning. Ukraine may yet do the same, with the support of other nations.

That support, as the economic, commercial and cultural isolation of Russia, constituting a powerful persuasion against injustice, may yet do more to control Putin than any armed intervention. If so, it may reveal the efficacy of well-devised persuasion as an alternative to war. That in turn would suggest that what has been recognised as Jesus’ sacrificial ethic, is in fact a profound and practical wisdom.

Luke 6: 17-28

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[e] Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Well, this is the heart of Jesus’ teaching and acting: it’s how he lived and why he was so thoroughly disliked by many of his fellow Jews. For this is not the teaching of Moses and (most of) the prophets. For them, the enemy was to be smitten, by God if not by human beings. Given the amount of wrong and injustice borne by decent people, who wants to hear about the mercy of God? God’s not bearing this suffering, so who is he to expect us to love those who cause it? And as people who have borne a lot of suffering can tell you, love doesn’t work on evil people! Only threats of force and punishment have any effect. That’s right, isn’t it? OK Gandhi and Luther King were great people, but they were killed, and Nelson Mandela was engaged in armed struggle.

For Jesus, it comes back to God, the one he called Abba. He did not see God as separate from the life of the world. He numbers the hairs of our heads, he is involved in the fall of the sparrow, he clothes the flowers of the field. So, yes, God feels the suffering of his creatures but he does not remedy it by force majeure. No, rather he ceaselessly works to persuade his creatures that love is the way. Only human beings refuse to accept this wisdom: animals only kill for food or living space.

Jesus imagined that God was involved in his ministry. To trust in this sort of God is to believe that you are part of God’s evolution which leads to the “peaceable kingdom” envisaged by Isaiah, where “they shall not hurt or destroy for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.” Those who are part of this evolution do not want to suffer, but they are ready to suffer, if their part demands it.

Will it work? Nobody knows, but those who trust in the way of Jesus are prepared to take the risk. So, followers of Jesus will not say that it doesn’t work; they want it to work, and hope that it will, like the sower of seed hopes for growth.

Luke 6:17-26
6:17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

6:18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.

6:19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

Luke’s version of the so-called beatitudes is different from Matthew’s which is better known. Basically, in Luke, the blessings are for disciples, and there are only four categories of them: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the persecuted. In Matthew the blessings are for all who fit the categories. We can either say that Matthew spiritualised the categories of those blessed or that Luke materialised them. Matthew for example has “”the poor in spirit” while Luke has “you poor.” The temptation is to think, as did 19th century scholars, that there was a document containing sayings of Jesus, possessed by the two writers who then edited it in their gospels. I think this is unlikely, and that many other solutions are possible. Both writers imagine a “kingdom of God” which has material and spiritual dimensions. Luke includes a spiritual dimension here, by emphasising that Jesus was talking to committed disciples.

He is nevertheless concerned to depict Jesus as recognising the needs of the poor. The word used means “destitute”, “without resource“, as would have been the case with his companions in ministry. The coming of the kingdom is dependent on people who accept poverty for its sake, and not only poverty but hunger, sorrow and defamation. The kingdom will be “good fortune” for them, because it will supply all they have lacked.

It is notable that in Luke’s second volume, the book of The Acts, he shows the first Christian community as sharing all their resources with each other. Here indeed is God’s kingdom.

Luke saw the church as continuing the ministry of Jesus, as a sign of the viability of God’s kingdom in the world, a shared life rather than an impossible ideal. He saw this ministry as prophetic, pointing to what God will create. The blessings in Luke are not for societal groups of people but for people committed to God’s justice. In my sermon on this text I mentioned a residential care giver, doing the most important job in society for a minimum wage, out of commitment to needy people.