Tag Archives: social justice

Week 4: Friday Matthew 26:1-31

Extravagant love

 She loved him more than words could tell
Her heart was overflowing
She poured her love out o’er his head
In form of precious perfumed oil
Bought after many years of toil
Worth a fortune, so they said…
Why waste it on his head?

They said the money spent was waste,
The oil should have been sold in haste
To feed the poor – not this disgraceful
Wasteful generous anointing
Of this one man’s head.

“The poor” he said “are always there.
Just this once, her loving care
Of my needs for the future day
When dead and cold in tomb I’ll lay
Is right and proper”. So He said.

I wonder – when the dread day came
When hung he on the cross in pain
Bearing all the sin and shame
Of humankind – did thought remain
Of act of kindness, act of love?
Of oil pouring out above
His head, now crowned with thorns?

Before that cross, that bleeding brow
We kneel now, and we wonder how
We too can show our love right now
For him who died and rose again
And reigns on high – yet still the pain
Continues here on earth.

Babies die with nought to eat,
Refugees with bleeding feet
Trudge wearily along the street
To nowhere.
Even in this land of ours,
Peaceful, rich in hope
Homeless have no place to go
Hungry children whimper low
Christmas morn for them is bleak,
No gifts unless there’s less to eat.

So that is how we show our love
For Him who came down from above
To save us all from sin and shame.
Loving others – that’s the same
As loving Him – he said as much
As day by day he healed by touch
And word and deed.
So we now feed
The hungry
Out of love
For in so doing we feed Him.

 

Week 2: Tuesday Matthew 4:12-17

Wright, in today’s commentary, has given me a new perspective on some old familiar concepts.

The message of repentance being aimed at the Zeitgeist – the “received wisdom” of society – that’s a new one on me. I’ve always understood it as a personal call to individuals. Which it is… but this wider picture, of the call to repentance as a call to turn from our wrong notions of what the kingdom of God is and how it can be achieved, makes so much sense.

However, what struck me forcibly as I read the passage in Matthew, before I read the commentary, was something completely different – and also a new perspective.

John was Jesus’ cousin.
And John had pointed out Jesus to all within earshot – no doubt including the Establishment observers who were even then keeping a close eye on this potential trouble-maker in the desert with his way-out diet and clothing – as greater than John, bringing a baptism of fire.
From that moment, Jesus was also a marked man.
Jesus had submitted to the baptism of repentance – of turning towards God and his kingdom – which John was offering.
Jesus then went away alone in to the desert with no provisions to wrestle with God, himself and the Enemy about the true nature both of God’s kingdom and of Jesus’ role in it.

So Jesus himself repented – made the choice to turn towards the true Kingdom.
Jesus turned from being a carpenter – the life-path no doubt mapped out for him by his parents and community – and accepted the role of prophet.
Jesus turned from the Kingdom-theology he’d grown up with as a normal Jewish boy and accepted the new revelation from God.

And then, having made all of these massive commitments, Jesus returns to society and discovers what?
That John has been arrested.
This will not end well… everyone knew what Herod did to those who got on the wrong side of him, who threatened his personal security.
And Jesus’ response?
To put on the mantle of John and preach publicly that repentance was required because the kingdom of God was coming fast.
His response was to stay true to the repentance he had already undergone, to the choices he had already made.
And that in the growing awareness that if the message continued to be rejected, he would end up where John was, or worse…..

Ignatius of Loyola taught of two spiritual states – consolation and desolation. These are technical terms and nothing to do with emotional states.
Consolation is when our entire being is facing God in love and acceptance of him and his will for us – from the Latin “with the sun” – we might say “walking in the light”.
Desolation is when we are struggling with darkness – once definition I’ve found useful is “desolation is when God is inviting you to face and deal with an issue and you’re resisting”.
The overriding principle that goes with this is that decisions – especially big ones – should be made when in consolation.
And even more importantly – never change a big decision made in consolation when you are in desolation…
Of course, once back in consolation, the decision can be re-visited and might need to be re-appraised, but usually it remains the right one.

So that, to answer Wright’s final question, is what the call to repentance says to me personally. Stick with the big decisions made in consolation, and when in desolation turn back to the Light – or at the very least, try not to turn deliberately away from the Light.

Walking in the light

Day 3:Matthew 24: 1-14

There may be trouble ahead…

I’m not sure about birth-pangs.
Birth-pangs imply that there will be an end, and that the end will bring (usually) new life (see my short story in yesterday’s blog post).

As far as I can see, there have been wars and rumours of wars throughout history. Indeed, the Old Testament is full of such stories – descriptions of anger, hatred, betrayal, adultery. The disciples of Jesus will have been steeped in the history of the Children of Israel. This most recent invasion and occupation, by the Romans (not noted for their mercy to dissidents), must have had them crying out to God in the words of the prophet Habbakuk:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help?
But you do not listen!
“Violence is everywhere!” I cry,
but you do not come to save.
Must I forever see these evil deeds?
Why must I watch all this misery?
Wherever I look,
I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralysed,
and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
so that justice has become perverted.

With all that’s going on in the world today, I reckon we could echo those words…

And then Jesus turns up. As they got to know him better and to see his power they began to be more and more certain that this man was the promised Messiah.

They had very clear ideas about what that meant – in their minds it meant a great leader who would bring them release from oppression – and by that they meant specifically a military leader who would throw out the Romans and establish God’s kingdom – the earthly kingdom of Israel – once and for all in a Golden Age.

Nowadays we pity their naivety. We can oh, so easily feel superior – of course that was never what God intended. We, with the benefit of that most amazing thing, hindsight, know that for sure.

So what conclusion do we draw then?

Maybe Jesus wasn’t after all the Messiah.
Maybe God actually doesn’t care about our every-day agony and the way the world is heading – history would suggest that.
Maybe God is so completely Other that we can never know or understand what it’s all about.
Maybe we are simply an experiment – like bacteria in some giant petri dish, with far-superior aliens looking on, and anyone who comes close to realising the truth and escaping the illusion is like a bacterium which wanders too far into the encircling protective penicillin and dies (gentle reader, you just might recognise the plot from an Asimov short story – Breeds there a man? – in that one…)
Or maybe there is no God after all…………..

The traditional interpretation is that Jesus was stating the literal truth in this passage – that one day God will wrap it all up and usher in His Kingdom Rule here on the physical earth, that it is merely the timescale that the disciples got wrong. At least, that’s what I was taught in my early years, what is still taught in my current Parish church and what is implied, I suspect, in Tom Wright’s commentary.

This I can’t believe. On so many levels, it simply doesn’t make sense.
Assuming for the moment that God exists, and that God is a benign Presence of Light, Love, Being, I see no way that the Kingdom of God can be reduced to earthly structures.
Given that God (if such a being exists) appears to have given us untrammelled free will, there can never be an earthly, physical “God’s Kingdom Rule” without changing us from autonomous beings to mere puppets.

That leaves me two options.
Walk away entirely from the Christian narrative.
Or understand the stories differently.

Mostly I do the latter.

And this particular story I understand as an indication that life is tough, unpredictable, full of death and disaster and pain. That is simply how it is – and how it ever was, and how it ever will be.

Even now dark clouds are gathering once again over the world. The extreme Right is rising up, prejudice and hatred are gaining momentum. Russia is flexing its muscles and eyeing eastern European ex-Russian-Satellite-States speculatively. The situation in Syria is beyond words awful. However, we’ve been here before and will be here again. In my youth (50s and 60s) we lived in fear of imminent nuclear holocaust. It hasn’t happened (at least, not yet… and certainly not in the way it was predicted then). This too will pass. Or not. Who knows? I certainly don’t.

One thing is certain, and one question matters.
How will I face this latest round of death and doom and disaster?
I choose.
Daily, hourly, moment by moment, I choose my personal response to each person I encounter.
I choose to continue to follow the call of Christ to live by Kingdom values – love, faith, mercy, integrity (and that last includes not pretending in this blog that I subscribe to the standard interpretation of scripture, not pretending that I believe it to be literally true – although I do believe that it contains and reveals Truth).
And in such choices, Christ comes again and God’s Kingdom is established on earth.

So please, please don’t try to convince me that what we hear and read in the news are signs that the End Times will soon be upon us.

I believe that, since the resurrection, we have all been living in the End Times and that with each choice made to live by Kingdom Rules Christ comes again and God’s Kingdom is further established.

In other words, Christ comes again and is revealed to the world in us.
Choice by choice.
In our willingness to live sacrificially by His standards, not the prevailing cultural norm.

What does that look like?
Feeding the hungry
Housing the homeless
Visiting those in prison
Giving water to those who thirst
Clothing the naked
Fighting (and voting) for social justice even if that is not in my personal best financial interest

The list could go on…

Not some future magic-wand solution, but us – here, now – we are the way God’s Kingdom is being established, one choice at a time.