In a series of joint Bible studies with Castle Square, a group of us, with our ministers Simon and Gethin, have been looking at stories of people who were changed by Jesus.
Whilst Jairus is anxiously trying to get Jesus into his house to tend his sick daughter (Mark 5 21 – 42) an anonymous woman touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. We noted the contrasts between her story and that of Jairus – his importance and her social insignificance, for example and the fact that Jesus draws public attention to her action and her healing, whilst insisting that the little girl’s healing be kept secret. Jairus asked for healing, whilst the woman simply ‘claimed’ it, by touch.
How much was the ‘rich man‘ (Mark Ch 10 17 – 29) changed by Jesus? He went away challenged and disappointed. The disciples are left pondering the seeming impossibility of anyone being able to free themselves from worldly wealth enough to enter God’s Kingdom … and also marvelling at what God can do with even our small response.
Jesus responded to a Gentile woman (Mark 7 24-30) in a way that we thought rather ‘unchristian’! He was rude to call her a ‘dog’ (a ‘bitch’ perhaps, in our culture). But she, clever with words and persistent in her cause, manages somehow to change Jesus’ mind about her. She is granted the healing she sought for her daughter.
Jesus sees a disabled man sitting by a pool renowned for its healing waters (John 5 1-18). He asks him if he wants to be healed, and he heals him. In a follow up conversation in the temple, Jesus appears to be telling him off- warning him to behave as though he were well and whole! Did the man indeed want to be healed?
Was the early church for Jews alone, or for Jews and Gentiles? Early Christians struggled with the question and our last two passages show us the ‘breakthrough’ from a closed, Jewish group of followers, to a broader, worldwide church- without which, we would not be here today!
God (or the risen Jesus) convinced Peter, through visions, messengers and ‘co-incidences’, that he should consider no person to be ‘unclean’ (Acts 10 1-33). Peter found the courage to flout the deeply ingrained Jewish holiness laws and go to receive hospitality in a Gentile house. He told Cornelius (and the crowd he had gathered there) of Jesus and welcomed them as fellow believers.
Finally we see how Philip responds to a ‘chance encounter’ with a black, Ethiopian official (Acts 9 26 – 40). The man, it seems, has travelled to Jerusalem on a spiritual quest. When he asks for baptism, Philip obliges, thereby welcoming the first known non-Jew into the Church.
Cornelius and the Ethiopian official were both serious enquirers, on the outside of the Christian community and wanted to be accepted as part of it. Who, we ask, is knocking on the doors of our church? Are we able to respond and welcome them?
And how does Jesus change us? How does he take us beyond our comfort zone, to welcome those on the margins? By ‘chipping away’ through the influence of other people , and the sense that we make of our experiences, or by stopping us in our tracks with new realisations that change everything? Probably both. We may never know the extent to which God is changing us, or the extent to which, though us, God is changing other people. But we can believe and be glad that he does.