Summary: Seeing the Christ in our midst...
I can remember being young and watching the play Peter Pan. In that play there is a scene in which Tinker Bell, who becomes jealous of Wendy, agrees to betray Peter Pan by identifying the location of his hiding place to Captain Hook. Captain Hook then sends a bomb to Peter Pan which is disguised as a present from Tinker Bell; the plan, obviously, to blow up Peter Pan. When Tinker Bell discovers Hook's plan she rushes to where Peter is an takes the package, saving Peter, but getting caught in the explosion.When Peter Pan realized what had happened, he turned to the audience, pleading them to wish as hard as they could and clap their hands as loudly as they were able, and said that if we believed hard enough, Tinker Bell would come back to life. So like all the people in the audience I clapped and wished as hard as I could and Tinker Bell was saved. That is how life worked in Never-Never Land– a strong wish and a loud clap could perform miracles.
Since that time, however, I have forgotten my way to Never-Never Land; and, as a result, I spend most of my time residing in the "real world." In the real world we sometimes have hopes that the laws of Never-Never Land apply, but we usually know better. In the real world we sometimes express the hope that the underdog will win out against the ruthless oppressor. We sometimes express the hope that those who do bad things will be punished, if not by civil or criminal law, then at least by some cosmic law. So we speak of concepts such as karma and reciprocity and we remind ourselves that "what goes around comes around."
Unfortunately, though, when we remove the Peter Pan spectacles from our eyes and view the world for what it really is, we find that the people who do bad things more often than not, act with impunity; and worse, are often rewarded for their actions. We see that the ruthless oppressor nearly always rolls over the underdog, crushing it without the slightest effort. And we realize that, no matter how hard we wish and how loudly we clap, Tinker Bell stays dead. This is the real world; and it is exactly to this world which the Bible speaks.
The Jews in the first century lived in the "real world." They had been oppressed long enough to learn of the fate of the underdog. They had wished hard enough to learn the futility of that effort. Although they had, for the most part, accepted their condition, they expected God to do something about it. They expressed hope for the Messiah. Now, the reality was that there was very little agreement on exactly who the Messiah would be or what he would do; Yet, in spite of the particular expectation associated with the Messiah, most Jews associated the Messiah with freedom from oppression. God's Messiah would come in and wipe everything clean. The Messiah would throw out all the enemies of God's people and establish a theocracy. The Messiah would restore Israel to its former glory. The Messiah was perceived as being a sort of end-time Peter Pan, who would stand up to the Romans and establish the Kingdom of God.