“God is good, God is great…” Chances are many of us grew up chewing on those familiar words around the table. Those ol’ faithful words were said every night, or maybe only on special occasions, or when we remembered in between the craziness of our schedules… “God is good. God is great….” I’ll let you finish the grace…
It’s short, to the point, goes to the rhythm of a nursery rhyme and best of all, anyone of any age can remember it. It’s the common grace at our table when Lorna and I sit down at home or find ourselves “eating out”, which usually draws some curious stares in restaurants and pubs. Most of us say it without ever thinking twice about what those words mean.
While I don’t agree with his book’s central premise, Richard Dawkins has a pithy title for his national best-seller: God is NOT great. He’s also very good at bringing to light Christian hypocrisy and selfish superstitions that masquerade as theology – especially in the American context.
Given the deeply intertwined nature of religion and politics with our sisters and brothers to the south, I can appreciate it. Especially when on a recent episode of John’s Stewart’s Daily Show, Stewart had no lack of fodder to choose from in the always troubled marriage of religion and politics. It makes for really good tragic comedy. A local mayor declared his support for Republican Todd Akin who believes “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. The mayor believes he should support Akin’s bid for election because there was another guy who suffered public outcry and outrage for what he believed…and we think he was the son of God. As Stewart aptly pointed out…ummm…Todd Akin is not Jesus Christ. Whew. Glad we cleared that up. Let’s all breathe a sigh of shared relief. The words “legitimate” and “rape” cannot co-exist in a Christian worldview that’s grounded in the goodness of the God of the Gospel.
But these are the folks who are running for office with Christian credentials in tow and on display in every sound bite they get. I’m never surprised at the rise of secular and atheist critiques on religion when you get a chance to see what’s happening in the broader culture, that like it or not, deeply affects our own.
Dawkins might be onto something – and maybe Jesus would agree – to a point. God is not “great”, at least not in our cultural understanding of greatness. Jesus reminds the disciples of this teaching in our reading from Mark 10:35-45 this Sunday.
Remember last week? Jesus told us, “God alone is Good” when the man with great possessions called Jesus the “good teacher”. He tried to elevate Jesus to greatness, but Jesus pointed to God alone. Maybe that mayor should remember this little tidbit when he compared a politician to Jesus Christ.
The disciples are freaked out by Jesus third teaching about his impending suffering, death, and resurrection on the way to Jerusalem in 10:32-34. They put their foot in their mouths when they ask Jesus to do whatever they want him to do. They also draw the ire of the remaining disciples who are upset the sons of Zebedee beat them to the punch. I don’t think James and John are as thick, vain, and utterly hopeless as some people make them out to be.
When we’re worried about the future, when we are afraid, it’s a foregone conclusion that our first impulse is to do whatever it takes to be secure. All Jesus talk about his death leaves James and John wondering what it will mean for their future and they don’t like where this trip to Jerusalem is headed. They want assurances – I’ll follow you if I’m great, if I’m secure, if I know I’ve got a spot at your left or right when you get the keys to the big house.
The bitter irony is that the only people at Jesus right and left in Jerusalem aren’t sitting in thrones, but are being crucified as criminals, and neither the left nor the right are from the chosen twelve.
Jesus really is clever in putting a stark choice before the disciples between goodness and greatness, between the “looking out for number 1” way of our world and being the servant of all, between living in a way that ensures the first remain entitled to be first and turning the tables upside down so there’s room for all. The “great” leaders of the world are