Michele touched on three themes in answering the question: “Does the New Testament speak to contemporary Australia?” Following is an edited extract of Michele’s address.
My response to “does the New Testament speak to contemporary Australia?” is most definitely so, if we are ready to listen.
First, consider the Resurrection. Before anything else, the New Testament speaks the most fundamental message of hope there is.
Jesus of Nazareth, God's anointed one, was executed on a Roman cross and raised by God from death. Because of the cosmic significance of this death and resurrection it is not just that Christ has been raised; we who trust ourselves to Christ also dare to believe that we will be raised. Living in this hope is massively different from living without it.
This is a message of hope the world needs to hear. We all know people today who live without this hope — many of us have them in our families. I believe it makes a real difference to life and to our encounters with our own mortality. We need to carry for the world, this hope, that death is not the last word of existence; that God is even now, bringing the world into a new condition, which God has always desired, that we are set free from death and have the glorious hope of life beyond this one. This is a hope with which Christians become so familiar, into which we become so domesticated that we forget how radical it is. We forget to access it and to remember that it is our calling to hold it alive in a world that does not know it or does not dare to trust it.
Second, consider power, and the grinding round of negotiations that keep human business going — the world that tends to know only power in the form of power over others.
In response to human power, what we might call bullying, Jesus insists on the power that each of us legitimately has, to defy overweening power. Jesus says we are not powerless; we are not to be doormats. We hear this in examples from the Sermon on the Mount, which we often read quite wrongly, in quite the opposite way that Jesus intended.
If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well. (Matt 5:40 NRS)
Imagine you are a poor person in ancient times and you are taken to court. As you are so poor, you are told that your payment is your cloak. You are only wearing a cloak and tunic. Provided you have the audience, take off your tunic too. The audience will speak up and boo the ones in power, showing the injustice of the situation.
Do not be a doormat, Jesus says. But do not succumb to overweening power. Be alert: find a way to expose overweening power for what it is, for it to be exposed to itself. It is a resurrection of sorts to set oneself free from this kind of control, which operates everywhere in our world.
Those who follow Jesus are called to use power not for our own aggrandizement, but in concert with Jesus, for the good of the community. Jesus promises they will do a power of good and they will inherit the Earth.
Third, consider power and women, and women in the church. In very many areas of public life in this country, we have begun to wake up to the amount of talent, strength, and mature judgment we lose by not allowing women into all levels of work, governance and discretion over matters of first importance. The law, government, commerce and banking, the armed services: all have begun, sometimes shakily, to promote women actively to top levels of authority where they have serious power.
The church is a hierarchy: that is, as an organisation it is governed by priests — a hieros in Greek is a priest. Basically, over two millennia, priests have kept governance to themselves in a single-one, highly rank-focused structure of governance. This is no longer good enough. If nothing else proves it, then the findings of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse massively demonstrates it and calls for many detailed and far-reaching changes. Among them is the need for women to be involved more, at all levels in governance, within the church.
Women are not angels. Women are human and they desire power and can wield power wrongly every bit as much as male persons can. But at least the presence of women will put a brake on whatever it is that allowed the two-millennia old single-gender governance of the church to decline to what we have seen in the past decade around the world.
To conclude, I want to come back to resurrection. We might think we are in a place of death. Numbers are down in churches; it's hard to be Catholic in some places; we can't argue with the evidence of the royal commission. If the church were a solely human organisation we might be well advised to leave it. But we believe that God is with us. We must be realistic about our situation, the challenges we face. But we are Easter people and our song is Alleluia.