Theme: Fear of upsetting God
Bible refs: Psalm 103 vv 11-14; John 3 v 17; 1 John 3 v 1
Location of clip: 11 mins to 13 mins 30 secs
This is Monty Python’s much maligned Gospel spoof, a film for which you might well have been incinerated a few years back. Actually, a close viewing reveals many useful glimpses into the fickle nature of people and the silliness of organised religion. I particularly love the moment when Brian loses his sandal and one of those chasing him lifts it high and declares it to be holy and worthy of worship. Anyway, back to the story…
Brian is born and is immediately mistaken for the Messiah. Wise men visit him, discover their mistake, and immediately scuttle off to the correct stable. Years later this returns to haunt him, as people begin to mistakenly look to him for salvation and guidance. He spends his days on the run, fleeing the crowds who want to make him into the Messiah.
Brian and his mum are off to a stoning. It’s a local boy so they reckon it should be good. They discover that the accused is on trial for saying the name of Jehovah. In his defence the poor man claims all he said was, “This halibut is fit for Jehovah.” But this is not good enough. It is totally forbidden to utter the name of Jehovah aloud, and anyone doing so must be stoned. After much debate and heckling from the crowd (who are all females disguised as males – another old law forbids women at stonings), the priest in charge gets stoned because he utters the forbidden name himself.
It’s a ludicrous clip of course, but it highlights a prevailing idea – that we must be careful not to upset God. In this case it’s all to do with the words used, but so much of religion is still based on the notion of pleasing God, getting it right, saying the right things, doing the acceptable actions. But God is not like us. He’s not whimsical, not easily flustered, not shallow or reactionary. God is patient and kind. He sees below the surface. He knows why we make the mistakes and why we do and say the things we do. And though we may upset other people, he understands where we’re coming from.
One of the incredible things about the accounts of Jesus in the Bible is that he is surrounded by women and men who do inappropriate things and yet he is not bothered by it. Women let their hair down in public and wash his feet – a highly embarrassing and provocative thing to do – the disciples are thrown by this, but not Jesus. The disciples themselves are forever putting their foot in it, doing and staying the ‘wrong’ things, their theology is all over the place. Again, Jesus is not phased at all, he knows what they’re like.
God recognises that we often get it wrong, and will continue to do so. He knows that his thoughts are so much higher than ours. We make so many rules and regulations and goodness knows, this idea of trying really hard to not to upset God is still very popular today. But that misses the point. We are not here to avoid making mistakes, we are hear to be alive. To get to know God, to make mistakes and live a little. There is so much God wants us to do in the world, and we only have so much energy. We can either spend it trying not to make any errors, or we can use it to change the world for good in some small way.
1. Holiness is often judged by outward appearance. Why do we do that?
2. Psalm 103 promises that God does not punish us as we deserve. Yet we still fear he might. What do you think about this?
3. We love rules and regulations when it comes to spirituality – yet Jesus gave very few. He never outlined a definition for being saved, (his conversation with Nicodemus is enigmatic and full of symbols) and instead gave us a handful of parables we have to work out for ourselves. You don’t get to the end of John’s gospel and find a list of the meanings of Jesus’s parables. What do you think about his approach?
4. Do you prefer black and white teaching or stories and anecdotes?
5. Did the clip make you think about anything else?