A Sermon delivered by Desmond Tutu at the Chapel of King's College, London (Sunday 22 February 2004):
In St. John's Gospel our Lord says the highest title he can give his disciples is to call them friends. Therefore what he says to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection stands out prominently. And he's talking about people, one of whom betrayed him, another denied him not once but twice, and they all deserted him, like craven cowards and were now skulking behind closed doors.
We would have understood perfectly had he been thoroughly miffed with them and spoken dismissively and even derisively of them. Well, what happens? It would have been startling to have called them his disciples after what they had done. And quite mind-boggling even to have called them friends. Well, he decided to knock us over with a feather.
Just listen to what he says to Mary Magdalene: "Go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father. To my God and your God."
Now that really is quite unbelievable. This craven despicable lot - my brothers indeed! But clearly Jesus meant this to be taken seriously. That we, his followers, belong in one family - God's family. Is there anything else in the bible that seems to support this assertion?
This Jesus came - not to an ideal world - but came to a world that was polarised, fractured, divided. Divided into hostile and often alienated groupings. There were the much hated occupying Romans, resented by the subject natives, and Jews did not share a cup with the Samaritans. The Jewish community of His day was stratified, fragmented. There were the Sadducees and Pharisees, the zealots and the collaborating tax collectors. There were the rich, the poor, male, female, young, old - and there was a sharp divide between Jew and Gentile, represented by a wall of partition in the temple precincts to go beyond which spelt death for the Gentile unbeliever.
And people saw a veritable miracle happening before their very eyes with the advent of the new community of the followers of Jesus. They saw those who were formerly alienated and hostile flocking into this new fellowship. And they marvelled and remarked "How these Christians love one another."
It would have been revolutionary for a slave to have been accepted as the equal of his former master. But no, they were not just equals - no, they were brothers. They were sisters in one family. An equal you can acknowledge once and forever after ignore. You can't do that with your sister or brother.
You don't choose who your relative will be. Sometimes we wish we could, given just how difficult some of them can be. Well, we don't always know what they think of us! No - we don't choose our family members. They are God's gift to us, as we are to them.
Do you recall when Saul went to Damascus to arrest Christians there and was blinded? And the Lord asked Ananias to go to Saul's lodgings to pray for him to have his sight restored. Do you recall Ananias quite flabbergasted telling the omniscient Lord "Lord, do you know this man? He has been harassing your people and came here to arrest us. No, Lord, you can't be serious." Well Ananias went, and when he arrived said about this persecutor of the Christian community "Brother Saul".
Yes, I believe the words of the Lord to Mary Magdalene to be his most radical utterance. We are family - all of us. We belong in God's family. There are no outsiders. All are insiders.
When Jesus spoke of being lifted up on the cross he said "I, if I be lifted up will draw.." - he didn't say "I will draw some" - he said "I, if I be lifted up will draw ALL - draw all to me to hold them" all of us drawn into the divine embrace that excludes no-one - black, yellow, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, male, female, young, old, gay, lesbian, so-called straight - yes it IS radical. All, all, ALL belong - Arafat, Sharon, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, George Bush, Tony Blair, Palestinian, Israeli, Jew, Arab, Protestant, Catholic - all, ALL, all belong in this family.
And in a healthy family the rule is from each according to their ability, for each according to their need. And so if we are serious about being family we would not spend obscene amounts on budgets of death and destruction, when we know a small fraction of those budgets would enable our sisters and brothers - members of our family - God's family, God's children - EVERYWHERE - they would have enough to eat, clean water to drink, adequate health care, education.
Go and tell my brothers. Go and tell my family. We are all, all family God's family. The human family.