Scripture for this Sunday: 2 Samuel 18.5–9, 15, 31–33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4.25—5.2; John 6.35, 41–51
Control. It’s something that humans crave. Perhaps it’s connected with anxiety arising from awareness of our mortality. Craving for control causes much friction and unhappiness. There’s a temptation, especially as we get older, to become increasingly frustrated when the world doesn’t work the way we would like it to. People give vent to this frustration in many different ways. They vote for demagogues, because they believe that they might be someone who will take charge and give a vicarious feeling of control. They poke fun at people of different faiths and practices, because what is different and/or unknown can be threatening, and to denigrate what is different gives an illusion of control.
Let’s be very clear. No one, who wants to call themselves a Christian, can subscribe to this point of view. Being a follower of Christ, and participating in the great Judaeo-Christian tradition, is coming to terms with the idea that God is in control – even when it doesn’t look as though God is exercising that control as we would like.
The story of the fractured relationship between David and his son, Absalom, is one of wrestling for control that ends sadly in the death of Absalom. Yet despite all the aggravation and pain that his son caused, David’s palpable grief at Absalom’s death reaches through the ages in the words of scripture. It is a testimony to the power of parental love that at times overrides logic and reason. We can see this exemplified in many ways in our own times – not least in the miniscule number of elder abuse cases brought successfully by or on behalf of parents. Parental love overrides even abusive suffering. Of course, the ultimate form of powerful love is God’s love – demonstrated in the life (and death) of Jesus.
Jesus leads us towards the opposite of control. He speaks of the bread of everlasting life that is his body in language that can be difficult for modern readers of the gospel to understand. However, this can be understood through an incident from the life of David, when he refused to drink water that his troops had risked their lives to obtain for him, because it had been brought at the risk of the cost of their lives.
David refused to drink the blood of his men that had been risked for him, but Jesus offered his own life so that others could drink from the cup of freedom, repentance and forgiveness. This is the human form of a God who will pour out love and compassion on humanity, no matter how far we drift.
To be a Christian is to attempt to follow the example of Jesus through a life-long journey of pilgrimage to clarify how the ideas of faith can be put into practice in a way that truly shows us reflecting the love of God back into the world. This means learning to be slow to judge others and to check our own sinfulness first; to stop focussing on our own fears and worries in order to see how we might treat others as we would wish to be treated; to rein in our anxieties about tomorrow and dampen our anger before it becomes a sin; how, when we are aggrieved, to forgive others.
This is what it means to be a Christian; not stifling the freedom of others to gain a false sense of security for ourselves; not exploiting others for our own gain; not vilifying others because they are different from us; not trying to worship the hollow idol of control because it suppresses our own anxieties. This is, really, all heresy, because when humans seek excessive control we deny God the opportunity to have the last word – which is what will happen anyway.
The path of Christian discipleship leads us to be willing to relinquish control – to God – and seek to find the kind of freedom that immerses us in God’s wisdom and liberates us to follow the will of God, whose parental love is stronger than any human love, even bereaved David.