Life may seem meaningless at times, as though nothing changes no matter what. This can cause despondency and confusion. The person of Jesus can also cause perplexity as Herod Antipas found when he heard about the miracles being performed. He wanted to know just who Jesus was. Many people now are looking for meaning in life and Jesus holds out the offer of giving life meaning. He’s a very attractive figure, one that many are drawn to, but at the same time one who causes confusion. Who is he? What will it cost to believe he is who he says he is?
On Thursday at the 2pm service the readings were Psalm 90:1-6, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, Luke 9:7-9. My reflection follows:
Children’s stories tend to find a place in our hearts, whether because we heard them in our own childhood or in that of the younger generation of our family. A favourite in our family are the A A Milne stories about Winnie the Pooh and his friends. The characters are all very different and memorable.
Our daughter is particularly fond of Tigger, a bouncy tiger. “I’m Tigger, T – I – double Guh – Er, that spells tigger.” Tigger is full of energy and goes full tilt into life, often ending up in a mess due to his lack of caution and his conviction that he’s right. There is nothing half hearted about him and he bounces back from what life throws at him. As he said, “Bouncing is what Tiggers do best!” Fairly typical of him is this incident:
“Excuse me a moment, but there’s something climbing up your table,” and with one loud Worraworraworraworraworra Tigger jumped at the end of the tablecloth, pulled it to the ground, wrapped himself up in it three times, rolled to the other end of the room, and, after a terrible struggle, got his head into the daylight again, and said cheerfully: “Have I won?”
In marked contrast to Tigger is Eeyore who’s a rather gloomy donkey. He finds it hard to see the positive side of life. You can get a flavour of him from the following:
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
I would say that The Teacher in our Old Testament reading is very much like Eeyore. He looks at life on earth (under the sun as he puts it) and sees that it’s meaningless. No progress is made no matter how much time passes. Generations pass and nothing changes. The sun rises and sets innumerable times. The winds blow round and round. The streams continue to flow to the sea. All carries on in an unbroken cycle but people are still in the same situation as ever. The circumstances surrounding people go on and on unchanged, activities are repeated. Those who have lived pass out of memory as though of no importance.
The Teacher might hope that having lived for some time, the wisdom of older age might give him insight into the meaning of life. However he is not able to make any sense of it all. He applies his reason and comes up with nothing which is of help.
Years later we find Herod perplexed also. He was living through a disturbed and disturbing time. John the Baptist had annoyed him by condemning his relationship with his brother’s wife. He was annoyed enough to have John arrested. And yet, somehow he was drawn to what John had to say and went to listen to him while he was in prison. Despite John’s message being unpalatable there was something there which Herod was grasping for. When he found himself having to order John’s execution to fulfil a promise, it was with regret that he gave the orders.
Perhaps Herod had resigned himself to what had happened and tried to forget about it and get on with his life. Then Jesus came to his attention as a result of the miracles he was doing and Herod was perplexed. Stories were circulating that John the Baptist had come back to life. Or maybe it was Elijah, who had never died but had been taken to heaven in a chariot. Or perhaps it was another prophet. People were trying to make sense of Jesus and Herod was no exception. He wanted to see Jesus for himself.
Jesus continues to cause perplexity for many people. There is something very attractive about him as a character: a revolutionary who preached love and mercy. At the same time there is a resistance to believing that Jesus is who he says he is and that he did what the Bible says he did. Sometimes people fight so hard against believing in Jesus because they are afraid of what might happen if they choose to follow him. So he is thought of as a prophet, a great teacher, a madman, some kind of political leader or a trouble maker, anything to keep Jesus at arm’s length. These labels are unsatisfactory as they fail to explain the miracles Jesus performed or the fact that he rose from the dead.
What these explanations do offer is a sense that human reason can work everything out. Those who have no faith but are attracted to Jesus often hope to reason their way to a faith that they can cope with. Even those who call themselves Christians may find it disturbing to be asked to accept some things on trust. They don’t want a faith which leaves their brain at the door of the church as they see it. Perhaps the apostle Thomas was an example of this: ‘Unless I see, I won’t believe.’ Thomas was acting very much like a scientist, wanting proof to satisfy his intellect and Jesus didn’t actually deny him that proof but he did say that those who believe without seeing are blessed.
Jesus commended a childlike approach to him, one that accepts and trusts without necessarily understanding everything. Perhaps we need to bounce our way into faith like Tigger, rather than trying to use our human wisdom to understand the absurdity of life and reason our way to a conclusion.
Each in our own way is asked to answer the question about Jesus that Herod was asking: ‘Who is this?’ That can be a challenge. Our finite minds can never understand all there is to know about God or Jesus. We are dust and God is everlasting. We are trapped in time yet our millennia are but a day to God. How can we hope to know everything?
Faith doesn’t ask us to leave our brains behind and set aside all difficulties in believing. It asks us to trust a person, Jesus. Once we know in whom we believe we can live with perplexity and questions without it destroying us or causing us to be like Eeyore, feeling gloomy all the time. In fact, like many children’s stories, the story of our faith journey is one with a happy ending, whatever the challenges we pass through to get there.
You know, I think I’m going to bounce!