July 20, 2018

What’s in a name?

My uncle used to tell a story about an annoying kid in his school named Robert.  Robert loved to crash parties.  Which, when one was growing up in Edmonton in the 1940’s wasn’t a terribly big deal.  Back then it wasn’t big enough to have schools with a huge graduating class each year like Harry Ainsley does today, so crashing a party was pretty normal.  But this kid Robert would eventually get over to the piano and start playing and singing, much to the consternation of his classmates.  It was really annoying, because he wanted to have the spotlight to himself, and it’s rather difficult to have a conversation with a girl when someone is belting out some song while banging on the piano.  My uncle was not impressed.
Not unlike the townsfolk in our scriptures this morning, who were mocking Jesus.  They weren’t just asking each other, who is this Jesus fellow, they were being deliberately insulting.  Normally people didn’t have last names and there were a lot of people named Jesus, or Joshua or Jeshua.  So they were called by their father’s names.  Jesus Bar Joseph would mean Jesus son of Joseph.  Benjamin Bar Abbas, and so on.  But they didn’t call Jesus Bar Joseph, they called him Jesus Bar Mary.  That’s actually very rude.  It’s saying that Jesus was illegitimate and throwing that comment around was very insulting back then.  To do so in public would have been an intimidation tactic to try to shut Jesus down and encourage him to take his message elsewhere.  Three chapters ago, his family was trying to lock him up as crazy, and in this chapter, his family was used to remind him of who he was, and that he shouldn’t get too uppity.
Like Robert at the piano, they did their best to shut him down and get him to stop interrupting their fun. 
They emphasized his family connections as if to say, who do you think you are, coming back to town and spouting off all kinds of crazy ideas.  In short, they tried to bully Jesus.
Someone recently said to me that this still happens.  Every year, kids graduate from high school in small towns like Athabasca, and some go off to Edmonton or BC or Toronto for education, and we seldom see them again.  And then there are the ones who return home.  I was told that they have a hard time when they come back because folks feel like they’ve put on airs, got too big for their britches, forgotten that ideas that work in the city don’t work for real people and so on.  Some of these returnees felt bullied into playing small and safe and being frustrated that they couldn’t do the work that they felt called to do.  Some eventually moved away permanently, finding places where they wouldn’t be known as Mary’s kid who’s too full of themselves.
Jesus, son of Mary, take your uncomfortable and crazy ideas about inclusion of others somewhere else.  We don’t want to hear about what you learned in the big city.  We don’t want to see you heal others.  We don’t want to think that maybe there are ways in which we could be doing things better or differently.  Who do you think you are, Jesus?
And Paul faced the same thing.  He challenged the people that he felt were pushing their ideas as superior not because they had thought things through carefully, but who were bragging about their privilege and their special status.  Who would go on and on about how special they were, how they had great visions of God, and special abilities to connect with the divine, who were more interested in impressing their audience about how great they were instead of how great God was.  Instead Paul talked about being modest, and keeping the focus on Jesus, not on himself. 
He wasn’t in the game to become famous or rich.  He was in the God game because it made sense to him and gave him the courage to inspire others to give Jesus a try.
Now some people say that folks never change.  Once a bully, always a bully, once a braggart always a braggart. 
Once a selfish egotist, always a selfish egotist.  Yet scripture says otherwise.  Remember again that Jesus’ family planned to lock him up rather than spread his crazy ideas through the land.  Well two of his brothers were named James and Jude.  In the book of Acts, James helped Peter build the congregation in Jerusalem, and while Peter and Paul travelled around sharing the good news, James stayed behind and took care of the folks there.  Jude also became a teacher and wrote a letter to the congregations that is in our New Testament.  He introduced himself not as Jesus brother, but as James’ brother.  And scholars have come to the consensus in the most recent research that Jude did indeed write that letter, that it is one of the oldest letters in the New Testament, and that obviously he moved from thinking that Jesus was crazy to preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed one.  Not Jesus Bar Joseph or Jesus Bar Mary, but Jesus Christos, special, unique and worth honoring.  If two younger brothers who knew Jesus that intimately could change their minds so drastically and humbly, why can’t we?
Why did my uncle like to talk about Robert?  Because he went on to greater things.  His last name was Goulet, and some of you might remember hearing about Bob Goulet, who went on to sing with Julie Andrews in Camelot and starred in movies and television shows right up to his death in 2007.  He even was on an episode of The Simpsons, and in a movie with Ellen DeGeneres.  But he was not a humble man. 
And in this day and age of special effects and big movies, he is not remembered by the young Edmontonians who are growing up in his old neighborhood.  His fame may not outlast the folks who knew them.  But Paul and Jesus, Jude and James and Mary continue to be remembered, not because they bragged or bullied their way to the top, but because they chose a humbler path based on love.  May we too practise humbleness and love in all we say and do.  Amen.

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