The word “breakthrough” conveys a sense of excitement even before you know what it is about. The word is used in many contexts but particularly in sport - and politics. In a tight game where defenders on both sides are guarding all openings, it is thrilling to see someone actually break through and score.

It is a word also favoured by writers who try to describe what Jesus did when he walked among us. Society, any society, builds conventions, customs and ways of behaviour and each generation is expected to learn them and abide by them. Yet we know that convention and custom, while giving structure and stability to society, also freezes it in a given shape. There is an expected way of doing everything and if anyone is in doubt they can simply consult the elders.

Jesus saw that Israel was like that. It demanded “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” If I do something to you I should expect you or your relations to do the same to me. It was a predictable and stable society and it did not want to be disturbed. Jesus used various images to describe what he was doing. One was very daring. He described himself as a thief in the night coming silently to break through the wall of the sleeper’s house and steal his property.

We have to be terribly clear about what Jesus was doing. He did not come just to teach people to be patient and forgiving – although these too were part of his message. He came to fulfil the real longing for community. Conventional relationships, such as we have in many societies today – I mind my business, you mind yours – were not enough. We have to go beyond them and break down the barriers that separate even those who live in the same street. Jesus shocks us into thinking about what this means: “if someone hits you on the right cheek, don’t hit him on his right cheek, offer him your left cheek.” It sounds crazy! “If someone forces you to go one mile, go an extra mile with them.” In Syria today, after 2000 years of Christianity and Islam, the leaders are far from this thinking. It makes no sense to them. Yet it is the way of Jesus. He is announcing something new: a breakthrough of the kingdom of God. We play with it at times, as we did in Zimbabwe in 1980 when we said, “Yesterday you were my enemy. Today I am bound to consider you as my friend.” We said it but we did not mean it.

The new world that Jesus announced is not easy to build. But it is possible. It is 15 years since the peace agreement in Northern Ireland and during all that time the former enemies have been sitting round the same table governing the province together. It has been difficult but they have gone that extra mile.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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