You may remember that over the New Year I shared with you the idea that I was really only going to make one New Years resolution and that that was by the end of 2017 I would hope to know Jesus of Nazareth better, and have deepened my relationship with him. The ‘rumblings’ this week, in a way, mark the first tentative steps in this regard. I suppose if I am honest the quest for the real Jesus has become for me almost a pre-occupation. Of course the quest or search for the historical Jesus is not new and forms a huge branch of study in itself. Much has been written on this. What I am proposing is a little different. I recognise, and am very grateful for the huge volume of scholarship in this area but I do not want my resolution to end up as an intellectual exercise. The purpose of getting to know the real Jesus better, is, for me, specifically to enhance the experience of this unique relationship as loved and loving. In addition to this it is hoped that this will in turn lead to me being changed, or more accurately, to my conversion being deepened.
From a church perspective I do not think we have done this particularly well. At times we have got distracted by many other things. I mean what can be more pressing, more valuable for a person of faith than a good intimate knowledge of Jesus? Very often we say things like ‘ my knowledge of Jesus has not really made any difference to my life’, or ‘I have not become a better person as a result of knowing Jesus’. Sometimes this is because we have a heady knowledge of Jesus. We know about things he did or what he said. We have not moved from the knowledge of Jesus to the actual encounter with him. This example might help. Many years ago in one of my roles in education I had the task of supervising Night Study. This would involve me supervising nearly a hundred students, eighteen year olds, for two two hour sessions of silent study in a large assembly hall. I soon discovered that many of them did not know how to study. No one had ever shown them, or taught them, how to actually study. I realised that I could work out, through simple observation, who was actually engaged in study. Gradually I started to share this with the students. The student who was reading was reading. Sometimes the reading was passive and leisurely. The student writing notes was doing just that, he was writing notes. None of these students were studying. Studying is not passive, it is active. The students who were studying were using a range of skills. The student who was studying was reading, taking, notes, underlining, summarising, highlighting, formulating key questions, learning off, trying to recall, testing himself. Study is hard work.
If we are serious about having a quality encounter with Jesus it’s a bit like that. If we want to, we can choose to stay on a fairly superficial with Jesus. Knowing a little of what he said, maybe some of what he did, but we are not really serious about getting to know him. Getting to know Jesus so that we can have a meaningful encounter with him is not a passive, leisurely hobby. To know Jesus in a way that is central to our lives is no spectator sport. This is not a popcorn evening. This is hard work but the rewards are amazing. Life changing and eternal. Knowing him, and of course he can never be known fully, is only part of the encounter. In addition to knowing him, we must have the self-knowledge and courage to bring our real selves to the encounter. We will only do this if we have some grasp of his mercy and love.
Similar to what is outlined above regarding study the preparation for a meaningful encounter with Jesus involves a number of important activities including, study, reading, key phrases, prayer, selecting a special or sacred place, silence, picking an appropriate time of day. I appreciate this will all sound like a lot of effort. The one thing I am absolutely sure of is that any effort we put into encountering the real Jesus, he will outdo us in generosity. One of the problems with organised and structured religion is that it can make us, as individual pilgrims, a little complacent or even lazy. We can allow ourselves to be spoon fed, which of course is very dependent on the person feeding us, not to mention what’s on the spoon! The support of the community is great but there is a uniqueness about our individual relationship with Jesus. The moment it dawns us that he is there for us, and that he delights in us, is truly graced. The engagement that follows from this is an exciting adventure yes, but it should never be forgotten that it is also God’s work. It is in the actual adventure, the actively seeking Jesus, that the change within us begins. Sometime soon here in ‘rumblings’ I intend to write about an actual encounter with Jesus, and to explore a little how it can begin to change our lives at the very deepest level.