Print Version September 22nd, 2005
The little vignette from the gospel tells a tale of power and distance. It seems you can’t have one without the other. Herod might have the power to behead inconvenient prophets and the spies to bring him all the rumours buzzing around Jesus like flies but it’s a power that only buys him distance. All he can do is theology. All he can do is talk about him. He puzzles, ‘Who is Jesus? What is he up to?’ What his power cannot get him is the closeness to Jesus that changes people. There’s a gulf. The crowds of powerless who trail after Jesus and hang on his word and his touch—they know more than Herod ever can across the distance of his power.
There’s the same gulf in the Haggai passage too. See them: Haggai the prophet, with High Priest on one side and High Commissioner on the other, having a go at the farmers and wage-earners trying to get on with life as best they can in the face of poor harvests and a ravaged land. The powerful threesome want a temple full of glory—and, as we’ll see tomorrow, full of gold too—to glorify God and I suspect to glorify themselves as well. But the truth is, they can’t build it themselves—they need the man-in-the-street to work without reward—chop the trees, haul the wood, labour like crazy—and build their vanity project for them. And they aren’t above putting the frighteners on to get their way—they blame the people’s poverty and hardship on a grumpy God unhappy at having nowhere to live and ready to make it worse.
It’s clear in Haggai’s head on which side of the gulf God lives and it’s even clearer where Luke finds God in Jesus. Jesus is on the wrong side of the gulf of power. It will destroy him. But in his poverty and vulnerability all distance is gone—between him and his people, between him and his God.
And that’s our invitation too: to join Jesus on the wrong side of power where distance dwindles and God is close enough to touch.