Published In BT, Lent 2008


I wonder how British Newspapers would have reported the incident recorded by Luke, in which Jesus enjoys the affections of a prostitute (7:36-50). Surely he should have known better.  Surely if he was the Messiah, he should be media-savvy and aware of the sort of hostility such behaviour would attract from those for whom he is supposed to be the ultimate religious leader!


The Sun would probably have sent two page three girls around Palestine in a big red bus calling for the Messiah’s resignation.  (They might even get their car-loving moral dinosaur of a journalist to pronounce his uninformed verdict!)


More sophisticated papers might brand Jesus ‘stupid’, and set up a ‘democratic’ poll proving that he should resign.


Evangelical Christian leaders would condemn Jesus because he is supposed to defend the religious interests of his own people and nation – not including those who don’t belong to our in-crowd.


Of course I am referring to the way that Rowan Williams has been treated last week, after his lecture (which has obviously not been read by those with the strongest of opinions) stating the inevitability of Sharia law working its way into the British legal system.


Sharia law is often characterised as medieval and crude, particularly as it relates to marriage for instance.  But anyone who has tasted the workings of the British Divorce industry can hardly see it is a sophisticated and fair system!  (Listen to the Fathers for Justice organisation!)  Social evils from gun crime to housing shortages find their roots in the family breakdown that the divorce industry in Britain promotes.  And we fear Sharia law!


The Evangelical leaders and the imbecilic dictators of Right wing press stand together in playing out the role of the Pharisee.  Condemning others for the sake of the precious values and customs that they themselves have come to treasure.  No ability to hear what Jesus was saying.  No ability to hear what the archbishop was saying.  Just a rapid descent into crude slogans – and the complaint that their supposed leader is not defending their interests.


Thank God that this is not what Jesus is about, and I believe we can thank God for Rowan Williams, because in this – as in many other issues – we can see him reflecting the character of his Lord.  Anyone who actually bothers to pay attention to the Archbishop’s public statements will see that in both technique and in spirit, he is a fine communicator of the Christian faith.  (His website should be compulsory reading for Baptist ministers!)   But as is often the case – his views are usually twisted and distorted by the time they arrive in the world of popular opinion.  And didn’t the same thing happen to Jesus?


The sheer, unwarranted ferocity that Christians and media have unleashed upon the archbishop, shows that the spirit that crucified Jesus is alive and well in modern Britain.  And we think that Sharia law is medieval!  


But Jesus turns this hostility into a living parable.  He takes the example of the woman who is most definitely outside the people of God, beyond the limits of God’s blessing – and places her instead in the mainstream of the people of God, living the life of peace for which all people were created.  He does it by forgiving her sins, which in the first century means above all else, being restored to the community of God’s people.  Unfortunately, for many Jesus was thereby including the wrong people in the arena of God’s blessing.


And isn’t this precisely what we see with the archbishop – who has been branded the ‘arch-enemy’ in one headline’s pitiful attempt at wit – has done?  He has blessed the wrong people.  Gregory Venebles, another Anglican Bishop has said that the archbishop is supposed to be speaking out on behalf of Christians, not other religions!  If only evangelicals took their Bibles more seriously!


The essay in which Rowan Williams made his statements about Sharia law is dense and difficult.  But  his point is to try to do precisely what Jesus has done with this woman.  It is to seek for those in our society who are marginalised and vilified and victimised, to find a place where their humanity is taken seriously in our communities – where these people are restored to their communities and granted the peace that accompanies that restoration.


I hope that many of our churches write to Lambeth Palace in support of the archbishop.  He is an example and inspiration for all who try seriously to allow Christian worship to shape their theology and politics.  He is not infallible, and many of us won’t agree with his particular claims here.  But perhaps we can offer our support in light of the kind of pressure he faces, the opposition that often arises when the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed. Otherwise our act of worship next Sunday may as well echo the tabloids’ religious chant, “crucify him”.  I suppose it would be quite fitting for Lent.    

Sharia Law