Now what, you may say, has that to do with our Gospel reading this morning? Well, just this: in a sense, that jester embodied three key aspects of Jesus’ teaching - firstly, by not fearing; secondly. by not clinging to possessions or position; and thirdly, by above all remaining awake to the presence of God’s kingdom, whatever happens at any moment. For this is the gift of Jesus, the greatest spiritual Jester of our lives: the One who shares the divine laughter and the invitation to share in the true kingdom of God’s love...
Secondly, Jesus talks in today’s Gospel reading about not clinging to money and other possessions. Again, he is right, isn’t he? Note well: Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, never talks about money or posessions being ‘the root of all evil’. That is a shortening, and a consequent misunderstanding, of a famous bible verse. In fact, that verse – 1 Timothy 6.2 actually says ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.’ In other words, money and other possessions, are not in themselves evil. How could they be? They are gifts of God to be used wisely and generously for the benefit of all. Rather, it is our attitude to them which is the significant thing. If we grasp or cling to them, they will disappoint and harm us, and others. For the true kingdom, the real strength of our lives, is love, the love which comes from God: this is the ultimate thing to seek. Thus, like the jester in the story, if we do not cling to our status or possessions, we are then free to respond creatively in the face of change and challenge.
Thirdly, Jesus in today’s Gospel encourages us to stay awake to this love, the gift of the true kingdom of God. Now we can relate this teaching, as many have, and some still do, essentially only to the end of all things: to what Christian tradition calls the Second Coming of Christ. That is one of those mysterious parts of Christian doctrine which the Church, as a whole, does indeed affirm. What, however, does it mean? Surely it does not mean that we need to spend too much energy on expecting Jesus to appear literally among us at any moment? Certainly many of the very earliest Christians did believe that would happen. Some of their anxiety is indeed reflected in the language which the writer Luke puts in the mouth of Jesus. Yet, after 2 000 years, living with that kind of literal expectation does seem a bit strange. Even stranger are those people who spend their lives calculating what they call the exact date of the ‘end times’. Don’t get me wrong! I am not saying that time and space, and everything else we count on in this world, may not come to an immediate end, any moment. Who knows? What I am saying is that speculation about such things is both fruitless and also a distraction from Jesus’ real message in today’s Gospel. Jesus was seeking to teach us much more about how to live in the here and now, and not so much in what is to come. For dwelling on what might or might not happen tends only to increase anxiety and fear: exactly what Jesus was seeking to counter. This is not the wisdom of the jester!
Instead, what today’s Gospel is saying is simply ‘stay awake’: stay awake to the gift of God which is already here within and among you. Don’t be afraid, and don’t be distracted by what you already have or might acquire. For, as Christian tradition and doctrine affirm strongly, Christ may not be all in all in this world, yet Christ is also not wholly absent to us. Rather Christ is already partly present among us. As such, ‘the end times’ are both now and yet to come. If we stay awake to the gift of Christ in us, then we can potentially face any situation with peace and creativity: just like the jester in his time of trial, just like Jesus on the cross.
To summarise: Jesus in today’s Gospel reading is not trying to give us a whole series of commands. Instead, he is trying to encourage us to live with the wisdom of the jester: not fearing; not clinging to possessions or positions; but remaining awake to God’s eternal love and to the creative possibilities and invitation of every precious moment. In other words, Jesus is inviting us not to be conformed to the kingdoms of this world but rather to be transformed by the kingdom of God. Such a kingdom is the kingdom of Jesus the jester, who turns things upside down and calls us to the joys of simplicity and trust. As the great Welsh Anglican poet-priest R.S.Thomas wrote, of that kingdom:
It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king and the consumptive is
Healed; mirrors in which the blind look
At themselves and love looks at them
Back; and industry is for mending
The bent bones and the minds fractured
By life. It’s a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free, if you will purge yourself
Of desire, and present yourself with
Your need only and the simple offering
Of your faith, green as a leaf.
In the name of Jesus, God’s true and eternal jester, who gives us the last laugh in the power of the Resurrection. Amen.
Jo Inkpin for Pentecost 12, Year C, Sunday 7 August 2016