Trevor McCracken – Sermon “Riddles of Jesus and Gollum”
Sunday 11 November 2018, 8am &10am
The eleventh of the eleventh 1918. What a day, 100 years ago. Armistice Day, the day that ended the Great War, the War to end all wars, so they said. World War 1, a 4-year war that involved 32 countries and resulted in 40 million casualties, that is, dead or wounded military and civilians. For NZ, 16,697 were killed and 41,317 were wounded, a casualty rate of 57 percent. It is important to remember the sacrifices that were made for freedom, and so at the end of the Service we will ring the church bells for 1 minute and then a period of silence.
Of course, remembrance is a vital part of our Holy Communion worship Service where we remember what Christ has done for us in the Lord’s Supper. And from our gospel reading from Mark 12: 35-44 we remember Jesus’ teachings. Jesus taught many things during his three years of ministry and to be honest, although much what he said is quite clear, not all of it is straight forward. Take today’s gospel reading from Mark 12 for example, what did Jesus mean by what he said about ‘’whose Son is the Messiah”, verses 35-37? To help is understand this and other teachings, we need to go back further in Mark’s gospel to the passage just before.
When Jesus was asked by a Teacher of the Law ‘what is the most important Commandment?’ Jesus reply, as recorded In Mark 12 29-31 29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these.”
The Lawyer commended Jesus on his answer and Jesus’ reply was that the lawyer was not far from the Kingdom of God. Then we find Jesus continuing with his teaching in the temple courts and no one dared ask Jesus anymore questions because of this insightful answer (V34). Jesus now asks the crowd and legal experts a question in verses 35-37. Not a simple question at all. This what he asked. 35 “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”
This question is actually a difficult riddle that he puts to his hearers about David’s Lord and David’s son, which they cannot answer.
Do you like riddles? In the book by JRR Tolkien, ‘The Hobbit’, which has been turned into three movies filmed in NZ, has a fascinating riddle contest. Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, is challenged by Gollum, a strange creature to be sure, to a riddle contest and the outcome has serious consequences for Bilbo, life or death. If Bilbo can answer the riddle, he would be free from the dangerous intentions of Gollum, who wanted to eat Bilbo and capture his ‘precious’, Gollum’s affectionate term for a special most powerful ring that when worn on a finger, you become invisible, and that is the ring that was the centre of the three other movies also based on Tolkien’s three novels, known as the Lord of the Rings.
Thus, the fierce riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum continues until one can’t answer the others riddle. One of the riddles Gollum asks Bilbo is: ‘Alive without breath, As cold as death, Never thirsty, always drinking, all in mail never clinking’. Bilbo answers “fish” and is correct. After a series of riddles, the final riddle is unanswered. By whom and what happens? Not to take away you interest if you have not read the book or seen the movie, I won’t tell you, but just to say Gollum was hungry after the contest.
The riddle question Jesus asks is all about messiahship, or put another way, Jesus is asking about being the messiah in general and Jesus himself in particular. Jesus is really saying that he is the Messiah and if know your Scriptures, it is plain to see.
It might be plain for Jesus but for those listening, including ourselves, it is not that plain. Jesus was challenging the normal Jewish assumption that the Messiah or the Christ would be born from the family of David. Yes, Scripture attests that he will be, but what we find from Jesus is a challenge to the idea that the Messiah will be simply a king from David’s line. Jesus is saying that the Messiah will be David’s Lord as well as David’s son.
I don’t know about you, but this is not plain. How can it be? Let’s find out? Jesus uses Psalm 110 written by King David to make a point. The early church used this Psalm as a way of talking about Jesus’ ascension and lordship over the world. In the psalm, David calls someone ‘my Lord’, – someone, in other words who is apparently senior to David, not junior as a descendant would be. Who could this be? We should be used by now to Jesus saying things which point beyond themselves, telling riddles which he doesn’t totally explain, pointing towards a larger truth.
What Jesus appears to be saying is that when you understand messiahship in terms of this Psalm 110, he will be both a descendant of David and one whom David will rightly call Lord. As if pointing to himself, what this means is that the Christ is coming with the royal authority to Jerusalem and the Temple, but also, he is going to die to bring about the true kingdom. He is doing all of this not simply as David’s son but as David’s Lord.
Psalm 110 goes on to say, although not quoted by Jesus in Mark 12, that the coming King or Lord will also be a priest, a priest forever. In Mark 14 Jesus is claiming authority over the Temple, moreover to declare God’s judgment on it, and to do this not simply as a prophet, nor just a king, but as the true priest. This is complex. You see, the true priest has authority over the Temple.
And now you can see why Jesus has authority to speak about the widow’s generous and extravagant but very small offering to the Temple, known as the widow’s mite.
Jesus begins by giving a warning in verses 38-40 over the pomp and pretension of some of the legal experts. They gave themselves airs, and have a great reputation for piety, but are only interested in lining their own pockets. The world has not changed, it seems. Not only some lawyers, but also some politicians and other leaders in the world, are again and again discovered to be putting on a show to gain favour while underneath they are after money or perks. What a contrast: when David’s Lord became David’s son, he did not use this as a means of gaining popularity or wealth but gave up his life.
Giving up one’s life, or ones’ all, becomes very clear when Jesus contrasts the rich people who can afford to give plenty to the Temple Treasury, and make sure others see that they are doing it, with the poor widow who has given, literally, ‘her whole life’, the two copper coins which were all she had to live on that day. Her sacrifice, though small, was total. Once again, when we read this story in the light of Jesus’ riddle about David’s Lord and David’s son we discover a strange affinity. One might have thought she was ‘merely’ putting in just two copper coins, but in fact she was putting in everything she had. One might have thought the Messiah was ‘merely’ David’s son – a human king among human kings. But in fact, in the Messiah, Israel’s God has given himself totally, given all that he had and was.
Knowing what is still to come in Mark’s Gospel, we wait in anticipation. Jesus has declared judgement on the Temple and has claimed the highest possible authority for doing so. At the same time, he must know what he has done is bound to lead, not just to arguments in the Temple courtyards, but to his arrest, trial and death.
We are soon coming into Advent, the Christian season prior to Christmas. The word ‘Advent’ means coming or arrival, and from what we know from Mark, Jesus is coming to soon fulfil his destiny on the cross. He is going to give his all, for the world, so that we can be free from the punishment of sin.
Bilbo Baggins may have won the riddle battle with Gollum under the mountain, and kept Gollum’s precious, the ring to rule them all, and that is for you to discover how it all pans out, but Jesus did win over the bigger battle over sin and death, with his death and resurrection. And you can receive your own precious from Jesus, the knowing that your sins are forgiven, and that you can live eternally with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Do you want this precious? No riddle contest required, just faith in Jesus and asking him to lead you as your Lord.