Yesterday, during the church service I spied my four year old, K2 standing at the communion table. She was looking intently at what our vicar was doing and I tried making eyes at her to move away from that. He was preparing the elements and performing the liturgy and as any parent I was worried that she would be ‘disturbing’ the process.
Turns out she had gone up and asked our vic whether she could help. And he said yes. And there she was getting her hands sanitised, walking along with our vicar while he gave the body of Christ to the people. She then helped him wash the cup and the plate.
I was incredibly moved. Obviously as a dad anything your cute little one does can be moving (sometimes even into a rage). I was moved by a few things.
First K2’s impulse to help and her confidence to go up.
Second the environment of our church which allowed her to have that confidence.
Third, our Vic who was very happy to have her there.
At a particularly cynical time for me it was a strangely ordinary beautfiul thing: a bit of Jesus, not just from the bread and wine but from the actions of a four year old girl and 60+ year old man.
This is a great puzzle. What does it mean to be an individual? And why do individuals make up mobs? To be a particular person is a gift. To be in community is a gift. But too often we go the selfish way and join up the nearest mob to make ourselves feel better. Individualism as sold by capitalism is all about self propogation when in reality capitalism is heavily dependent on mass marketing and mob buying.
At the same time in churches we are often sold a story of individual salvation which requires a mob behaviour to sustain itself.
How does Jesus fit into this puzzle? He had many mobs against him. At the same time we see him extricating himself from mob mentality by being different, acting differently and being challenged to be different. (The story of the syro-phonecian woman ). At the same time he’s forging a community that looks after each other. Yet how does this community stop becoming a mob? As it has so often done with disastrous consequences?
On Palm Sunday we read from the bible the ‘triumphal’ entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. During the preach we briefly looked at the passage before which was Luke 19:11-28. This is the seemingly familiar story of the nobleman who went away and gave his lackeys money to invest and so on. During the sermon it was said, ‘Jesus is the nobleman and we are the slaves.’ Maybe it was my contrary nature but I thought ‘is it?’
Is Jesus the man who grabs for power? Does he only reward those who make money? Or those who get results? And does he slaughter his enemies?
For me the key is the start and end of the passage. ‘he was near Jerusalem… they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately’. This is the key introduction to the parable. The passage ends with ‘he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.’
I can understand the consistent way in which we interpret a person in power within the parables of Jesus to be God or Jesus himself. It’s what we grew up with but isn’t it also convenient for those in power that God is like a king? But Jesus has consistently subverted the expectation of the coming kingdom that his followers expect will result in a political overthrow. I think this story goes with along with that subversion.
First the story starts with the nobleman needing to go and get royal power for himself. Herod in 40 B.C and his son Archelaus also went to Rome to get their approval. Doesn’t this immediately cast the nobleman as the ‘baddy’?
The nobleman then wants to know how his money has done. With those who have done well he gives more power. They take charge of cities according to the amounts they’ve made. If this nobleman is the baddy then it can be assumed that the money he’s got is through coercion and cheating. I think this because the passage just before this is the story of Zacchaeus who made his money dishonestly.
So in this reading the third servant tells the truth. He doesn’t do anything with this dishonest money. He doesn’t put it in the bank. He devalues the money by not doing anything with it. He says that the master is harsh and reaps what he doesn’t sow. This is hugely disrespectful. No one one would dare say such a thing to their master.
For uttering the truth that money is taken away from that servant and given to the one who’s the most slavish to his master’s ways.
Then the nobleman wants to slaughter his enemies.
Is Jesus giving us a warning? A warning in how evil power works and sucks people into its ways? Is he also saying that he will be slaughtered? He said it before.
I wonder if any of the disciples had that sick feeling in the stomach. It also points to our complicity with power that is evil. For why have we taken it for granted that the kings in the stories are goodies? The majority of Israelite and Judaic kings were rubbish. Most of the other emperors, pharoahs and kings are presented in not very flattering terms. So why do we somehow romanticise the notion of king? Especially when Jesus is doing everything upside down.
A woman was ‘caught’ in adultery. Nothing new there. The man wasn’t accused. Nothing new there. She was dragged to be stoned. Nothing new there except that nowadays it’s more metaphorical. She would be used as a pawn. Nothing new there. To trap a good man. Nothing new there either.
In the end the accusers left her. And Jesus said to her ‘No one’s condemned you?…. Neither do I.’
That’s new. In fact it still feels new. A woman who is in the wrong has all her accusers and accusations made to leave. And she is not condemned.
The rape case in India showed up the attitude of a certain section of its population. It’s the girl’s fault. She shouldn’t have been out late. She shouldn’t be so westernised… blah blah blah… and we have condemned many innocent girls to horrible fates through our prejudices.
Jesus in this story seems to go completely the other way. The system of condemnation that has dragged this woman in, is made to leave. He declares the entire system to be without validity. The system of condemnation and misogyny for that moment crumbles. In the end it’s just him and the woman. He addresses her directly. ‘Is there no one to condemn you?’ No, she replies. ‘Neither do I’ he says, ‘Go and don’t sin anymore.’ This is the freedom that Jesus offers. The woman acknowledges his act by accepting that there is nothing to condemn her.
I think that this is the Jesus we all need to embrace.
A lot of folk say that religion or any belief in God is a crutch. Interestingly believers without using the same terminology reinforce this assumption in the way they express the need for God. So often it is said that when we are in trouble, God will help us; or to go a bit further God will rescue you from hell.
Is that it? Is that all faith is? Is that all religion is? Any adherent of any belief system will proudly say, we are not really religious; it’s our way of life.
It’s a way of life. Get it? It’s not something we turn to when things go wrong. It’s alway around we. It’s our world view. It’s like water, which we drink when we are happy and satisfied after a meal or when we are dying of thirst. It’s not a crutch.
If anything, Jesus calls us to throw away all the crutches that we’ve built around us.
This morning as usual I was woken up by the kids and sometimes it’s fine. We have our coffees and on Saturdays we probably climb back into our bed to have a cuddle and some games. Sometimes it’s not that great. There’s loads of squabbling and whining and fighting in the bed and it all goes rather unpleasant.
I rather irritably said ‘well God never had to deal with THIS! I thought in the incarnation he got to know all our troubles, but not this.’ Then somehow the story of Jesus and the storm popped into my head. Well he was woken up from a deep sleep. And did he then had to deal with squabbling children?
In a sense I think yes. He crossly asks the disciples, ‘where’s your faith?’ Then he gives a right old scolding to the storm. It strongly reminded me of a parent coming and telling both children off in different ways. After all God did give birth to the elements that make the storm just as he gave birth to us.
So Jesus gets woken up by the disciples like the whiny young child complaining about the big brother or sister bullying them. Jesus grumpily asks why the younger siblings of humans couldn’t have sorted it and gives the big brother storm a good rollicking.
Since God gave birth to all creation I think it’s legitimate to think of parts of creation as being siblings with each other. This probably could or should change the way I look at the environment. It also puts the whole struggle we have with nature in terms of disease and ‘natural’ disasters in a different light.
After all, all creation needs to be saved. And Jesus in Mark was ‘with the wild beasts’, he walks on water in the storm and so on. Are these glimpses of Jesus proclaiming salvation to creation itself? Can we view the rest of creation as older brothers or sisters since within the creation stories we are ‘younger’? And as the younger or second siblings fulfil the promise of God in so many stories of the bible, is that why Jesus comes as a human and shall not incarnate himself as any other part of creation?
Possibly lots to think there.
This piece uses the octatonic scale or the diminished scale. It climbs and rises symbolising the lifting of the Son of Man. The glorification of God himself. In the end the breaths. And the final cry. God is dead. In our hearts and minds God needs to die too. We build up these strange edifices and pictures of God that might initially resemble him but they get twisted and perverse. God needs to die in us so that we might see him again truly.
A conspiracy is a noble intent which needs to take ugly but necessary steps out of the public eye. Most people don’t act with pure malice. Most people shield themselves from truth and act true to themselves. So bankers can justify their huge bonuses and their immoral actions against humanity. Politicians can justify their corruption and society as a whole can give an almighty shrug.
When our authorities decide to arrest a trouble maker we don’t think of it as a conspiracy unless we are in some way with the trouble maker. We think the authorities are doing what they are supposed to. So when the priests and scribes plot Jesus downfall they’re merely trying to neutralise a possible terrorist. Unless of course you’re on the other side and see it as an extreme injustice.
Jesus on the other hand seems to lead a counter conspiracy. One that would reveal human conspiracy as pitiful attempts to hold on to power and reveal the naked broken God who takes on the fury of conspiracy and suffers with its victims.
Everyone’s excited. The corrupt government will be overthrown. There’s a new leader in town. Yet everyone’s uneasy. Even this great leader shows unease. How will all this end? There’s a strange feeling that this Jesus is going to do something none of us want. A deep breath could help. But God’s breath seems to be present only in snatches. We’ll take what we can.
This piece tries to picture a consistent downward movement. The great hymn of Phillippians 2 sings of the great downward movement of Christ, a downwardness that Paul encourages us to join in with.
The whole of scripture seems to be a downward movement. In Genesis, God moves from himself to the heavens finally down to the dust to create humankind. In Revelation the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven and God comes down to be with his people.
Losing one’s status is very hard. All cultures take fairly drastic steps not to lose status. Fathers kill their daughters for causing dishonour. Parents work themselves to death for the sake of keeping up with the peers of their children. Bankers embrace evil lies. Rulers massacre their own people.
Over the years I’ve felt a real loss of status. I haven’t kept up with my peers. My employment is dicey and I have none of the status possessions like a house or a car. This grates on me especially since I want my own daughters to keep up and have the full possible access to the life this world can offer. Obviously I have lot to be thankful for. But not keeping with those I grew up with, does grate.
Yet as scripture shows and the piece illustrates, God embraces the downward, status down.