Monday, 22 April 2013


Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the spirit ... and he taught in their synagogues.  Luke 4 v14

The synoptic gospels have Jesus emerge from obscurity to be caught up in the Baptist movement before taking time out to consider his future. On his return he knows what he will do with his life: he will help ordinary people learn to be free and whole.  So he goes to the synagogue to start work, reading from the scriptures and relating them to his mission. It’s not long before synagogues are too small and perhaps too restricting for him, so he starts to teach freely in the open air using parables. Succeeding in provincial Galilee, he eventually takes his message to the big city, Jerusalem. Once he knew what he had to do, he had few options of course. Today’s world is vastly more varied; I wonder how he might tackle his vocation now.
                I suppose he might become a minister of religion and use the pulpit. His vision of what it might mean to be free and whole owed much to his mediations on the religion in which he had been brought up, and it provided the language in which he naturally articulated his ideas. But a moment’s thought shows this is most unlikely. In the first place, helping people to be free of organised religion would be a central plank in his programme, now no less than then. Moreover, he could no longer rely on a shared religious language with which to communicate to the majority of people. A dog-collar would tend to both cut him off from ninety percent of his intended audience and identify him with the problem rather than its solution.
                Entering politics would be easier for a person of his background now then it was then, though it seems he may have considered it.  He would know that politicians can make a constructive contribution to well-being of large numbers of people, if only by not interfering too much in their lives. But I think he would still today avoid this route, not only because much of the good politicians do is negative, but also because when politicians try to change people’s views, they arouse suspicions of hidden motives. What’s more, he well knew that even well-intentioned politicians are tempted to use short-cuts to persuasion.
                There are professionals whose expertise lies in other very practical areas that Jesus seems to have been concerned with, particularly those who help sick people or teach. Might he have become a health professional? I doubt it. He seems to have been concerned with sickness primarily as a symptom of deeper, spiritual malaise and to have tackled it as such. No modern health professional can sensibly overlook this aspect of the work, but it is not at its centre. The freedoms offered by surgery, medicine and other therapies are not those Jesus planned to target. Nor would he have become a teacher, though the best teachers today are his confederates to the extent that they see their job as helping young minds to learn who they are and how to be free. But they are also deeply involved in teaching the more everyday necessities of reading and writing and calculating, items that were not on Jesus’s agenda.
                Being expert in the use of parables, he might have joined those today who spend their time trying to express in words or images exactly what they feel is important in life. Perhaps much of what they do is self-indulgent, but for the limited audience reached by philosophers, artists and poets, no doubt what they bring to light is helpful. It is a limited audience, however, not the mass audience Jesus wanted to reach. And too often what is expressed goes no further; people might be helped to understand more but the objective should not be to help them understand their situation better; the objective is to help them change things so they can be free.
                So what about becoming a counsellor or therapist, committed to the client’s self-understanding only as a prelude to making health-giving life changes? Wonderfully helpful certainly, but only to the small minority who can afford such help. Moreover, it is generally an individual who is reached, or perhaps members of a small group; therapy does little to help the millions whom Jesus would have wanted to reach in today’s world.
                As a keen observer of humanity’s behaviour and as a teller of stories, he might perhaps have considered trying to get his message across as a novelist. Certainly many novelists have successfully reached a wide audience with an important message. Charles Dickens springs to mind as an example, but he was writing in a world without television. Today’s serious novelists reach a much smaller audience, albeit one which sometimes helps shape the wider agenda. And even though they are read by millions, the scope of Mills-and-Boon authors is strictly limited to just one vital theme in human life.
                Those who practise all these professions in today’s world, and many others too, often play important roles. They help us deal with life’s challenges, they move our sensibility forward, they shape the setting in which we live our lives, give us pleasure, help us develop our skills, do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, facilitate our everyday lives. Brought up in the home of a trained craftsman, Jesus would have valued these roles both for what they are in themselves and for what they do for other people. But I can’t see him using any of them as a vehicle for his message.
                He would need a job which would give him access to millions of people whom he could entice to think about life’s richnesses and complexities. He would demand considerable freedom in this job; he couldn’t agree to push any party line. The job would have to enable him to present everyday dilemmas and satisfactions in familiar settings, using down-to-earth language. The stories would keep the audience in suspense as long as possible, to force them to think about and discuss the issues, and so discover what they deep down feel about them. I don’t think there’s much doubt about it: he would have done a media studies and drama course, and then got a job as a script-writer on a television soap opera.                                                                           

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