In 2000 years what little seems to have changed. The Second Epistle to Timothy could easily have been written for a 21st century audience for all that it describes:
“3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2Timothy 3:4:3-4
What a wonderful phrase; 'itching ears' is and what egotistical desires it highlights.
Christianity has always been, to some extent, counter-cultural. It may have got the upper hand in this country in the medieval and early modern period but in today's post-modern society it is, I believe, once again very counter-cultural to be a Christian and to challenge the norms that one sees around us. When Jesus and his radical teachings first burst onto the scene in first century Judea few listened to him. Even less followed him Why? Simply because Jesus' teachings were difficult for 'itching ears' to cope with. In our society, today, a society divided by wealth, class and aspiration (to list but a few divisions) Christianity seems to challenge the accepted norms too much and for the majority of the population that challenge is one they would rather not acknowledge or think about, let alone respond to.
I see 21st century Scotland and perhaps much of Europe to be very much like the first century Greco-Romano culture. Both had a focus on the individual and that individual's immediate family rather than the wider common good of the whole community or population. Individuals today, like then, are encouraged to think firstly of their own needs and wants rather than of those around them. You can see this expressed in the response to the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe. Very few people want to respond generously to their plight. Instead the first concern is how will this effect me. Helping these strangers might stop me achieving all that I want to achieve or to acquire.
Christianity, however, teaches us and challenges us to do something different. It instructs us to be welcoming and generous to the stranger and to those in any need; to be hospitable and to think of others before we think of ourselves. Dangerous stuff in deed.
This is a counter-cultural message today just as it was revolutionary in the first century - you can see why the Early Church was persecuted and many martyred for their compassionate faith. Christianity has always encouraged the development of an attitude of acceptance and outreach to others. An attitude that says that; 'all are welcome' and all are acceptable in the eyes of God and in the Christian community and that all are expected to share in what we have to offer. As St.Paul wrote:
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof and correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, and equipped for every good work." 2Timothy 3:16-17
This implies that all of us should read our Scriptures and put what they tell us into action. If you further put St.Paul’s words with those of Isaiah and St.John (the additional readings set for today) you will also see that it is through Jesus that Scripture is expressed in its purest form and that when we encounter the living Christ we meet the ways of God face on. In doing so we are also transformed and encouraged to live a life inspired by Jesus and to copy the things he did, rather than the things we might want to do.
Scripture is rich food in deed, but it does not feed us unless it also inspires us to live a Christ-like life and in order to do that we have to try and live our lives in the ways that Jesus taught and showed us. We are to care for the orphan and the widow, to reach out and welcome the stranger and the refugee to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Basically, Jesus challenges to remember who are neighbours are and what we might need to do to make their lives more bearable and wholesome. The ways of Jesus and the Scriptures of God call us to be counter-cultural and not to be afraid of doing things differently to the ways of Society. It is a difficult path to tread but it is one that leads to a more fulfilled life for ourselves and for those around us as well. Scripture encourages us to be radical because if nothing else Jesus was radical before us.