Stand at the crossroads, where the good way lies….

Who do we trust?
January 12, 2024
Who is doing the yelling?
January 25, 2024
Who do we trust?
January 12, 2024
Who is doing the yelling?
January 25, 2024

A few weeks ago, I told you the story of Takashi Nagai, the story of a Japanese doctor, who became a Christian before WWII and after the atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, did something extraordinary as a consequence of his faith.  Tens of thousands of people were killed, including Takashi’s wife Midori. Takashi who was at the time, the Dean of Radiology at Nagasaki University, served and cared for the countless victims of the bomb explosion, even though it meant his own exposure to radiation which eventually caused his own death. 

About three months after the explosion, Takashi Nagai organised a funeral mass in the ruined Cathedral in Nagasaki, and he was invited to give the address.  He told the people to offer their dead to God as a whole burnt sacrifice.  Many were shocked and hugely angered by this, although he felt strongly what he was doing was right, as he urged people to accept the deaths in this way.  His conviction this response was appropriate was based on the peace of heart this acceptance brought to him and to everyone else.    

Through his faith, Takashi believed this insight about the way to understand the terrible thing that had been done, was authentic because it brought him and many others, ‘the fruits of the Holy Spirit’.  For Nagai, Galatians 5:22-23 says it all:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  

Jeremiah 16:6 says:

Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

Nagai, standing at the crossroads of death believed this faith, this interpretation, had brought great peace.    As he said at the time: ‘through this great sacrifice, peace was granted to the whole world and religious freedom to Japan’.    I remembered this story as I read the opening phrase in our Gospel text: 

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:14)

The context for the good news being told by Jesus is this same story of violence and the imposition of power by the authorities, both religious and secular, to restrain and contain criticism with John’s open truth telling to power.  Mark has this narrative of violence and threat clearly in the background, as Jesus starts his own ministry building on John’s earlier work.  Into this story of imprisonment and danger, comes Jesus speaking of Good News, stating the time is fulfilled.  He has chosen to speak God’s news also without restraint, without fear.  So, the commencement of Jesus’ ministry is not simply about chronological time and consequences, but he is also declaring it is the season of God’s redemptive work in human history.  ‘Now’ is the time, whatever humanity may think and do!

Jesus chose to start his ministry and the new work of the kingdom among the people of Galilee. Galilee was neither a religious nor an intellectual centre in Jesus’ day.  It seems to have been off the beaten track for most things.  It was the home of ordinary people, including the hardworking, marginalised, left out and exploited Jewish people.  Jesus told the good news to small villages in the liminal places for those who were looking and listening to Jesus’ good news about repentance and faith, including Galilee, on the edges, in among the margins, barely seen or noticed. 

Galilee was the place where Jesus healed the sick, confronted the authorities, fed the hungry, ignored and crossed social barriers.  People were astonished and amazed at his teaching and healing, his authority and kindness.  Jesus forgave sins, and he healed and restored those whom he encountered.  He talked with tax collectors and with those whose lives were hard, impoverished and excluded.   He encountered death and in the fullness of that liminal space, he was transfigured as he brought this good news to those around him. 

Jesus called for people to repent and believe.  The ancient word for ‘repentance’ is used to call attention to the need to repent: not in our modern, lazy, or despised use of the word, but with the active commitment to changing our lives, giving ourselves a new orientation; turning from an old direction towards another, towards Jesus and God. The movement of our lives and our loves, takes us away from self-interest and self-centredness towards the life called forth by the reality of believing the good news, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Repent and believe. 

As we prepare for Lent, Ash Wednesday is on 14 February, my call echoes Jesus: let us ‘give up selfishness and self-centredness’ and focus on what we can do for our neighbours in this time of change and repentance.  Such a response means a continuous commitment to ongoing change in our lives, and never going back to our old ways, as we answer God’s call daily. 

I asked you last week if you could remember the last time you made a life-changing decision and who it was that helped you to make that change.  The story of Jonah and the people of Nineveh reminds us who can show us the way, to guide our response to God’s call for repentance.  Through God’s prophet Jonah we’re told, ‘the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small put on sackcloth.’ (Jonah 3:5).   And God responded to the people of Nineveh with great mercy and forgiveness.  This time, we have Jesus, to show us the way. 

I hope you can see God’s fullness of time which is here, now; and your response to God’s call to change. I hope you can, like Jesus, bring peace, hope and love, and resist hatred, fear and all the comfortable habits which may prevent you from following through on God’s call to change your lives.  Remember the reference I gave at the start, quoted by Takashi, from Jeremiah 6:16:

Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

The Lord be with you.

References

Glynn, P., S.M.  1988.  A Song for Nagasaki. Catholic Book Club of Australia Marist Fathers Books, Hunters Hill, NSW, Australia.

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2014. Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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