... The judge - what was his relationship with scripture? Well, he would have been steeped in a knowledge of scripture as it was the foundation-stone of the law which he arbitrated, the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - the founding legal and ethical religious texts of Judaism - the scriptures on which the law was based. And yet this judge is described by Luke as a man 'who neither feared God nor had respect for people', and that must make us wonder whether he was taking any sort of notice of the scriptures at all.
Even a cursory glance at the Five Books of Moses should persuade any reader that the scriptures demand of everyone a fear of God and a respect for people. But the judge had neither, as his behaviour towards the widow shows.
The widow - what was her relationship with scripture? It would appear that this woman, whose social position was among the poorest and most vulnerable in society, also knew her Torah, understood and believed what it said about protecting the likes of her from ruin. Time and time again the Books of the Law speak of protecting the widows and orphans in their need. She must have understood and believed this so much that she felt justified in persisting in asking the judge for justice against her opponent.
Jesus didn't himself say anything about how we should 'read' this parable which he told. Luke wraps it up for us as a parable about persisting in prayer, but that makes God out to be like the unjust judge, which poses problems for us.
Perhaps we should take Jesus's parable as a story which instructs us about our relationship with the scriptures. Are they merely collections of words which we know very well but choose to leave behind at the church porch? Or are they passages which carry power into our everyday lives because believing them gives us confidence in our faith? ...
When he realised that all he needed he had been given - Jesus had made him clean - the Samaritan experienced an inrush of the greatest power there is. The power of faith. His faith made him whole. We don’t hear the rest of his story, but we know that from here on in this is a man empowered, enlivened, enriched, by his faith in Jesus - and surely that would trigger new possibilities, new opportunities, for him. Nothing else has the power to make you whole. Nothing that money can buy or laws provide, nothing that status can offer. Only faith.
Imagine a world where the greatest power in it, the principle by which the world operated, was that of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.
Imagine a world where you called up your credit card company, said, “I’m sorry, I’ve overextended myself this month; and I can’t make my payment,” and the bank said, “Oh, that’s O.K., you’re forgiven. Don’t worry about it.”
Imagine a world where you make a huge mistake at work that cost your company thousands of pounds, and your boss simply said, “Never mind! These things happen. You’ll do better next time.”
Imagine a world where Philip Green takes a look at his finances, hands over three-quarters of his personal billions to his BHS employees, and says, “I’m retiring from this, but here, organise yourselves into a workers cooperative, do it your way, and succeed, with my blessing.”
Why do we laugh at such suggestions? Only because the world we live in, which has shaped our outlook on life, is a world which doesn’t operate on mercy, compassion and forgiveness, it operates on the cold, hard exchange of value, on the survival of the strongest. The business world is a ‘dog eat dog’ world.
What would it be like to live in a world which was run on merciful and compassionate lines?
Our calling as Christians is to be people who can imagine such a different world, and in the imagining, help bring this world into being.
Our faith is that the ‘dog eat dog’ way is not the only way, for we can see the way of mercy, compassion and forgiveness gently breaking in, like flowers through concrete. Our task is to tend these carefully so that they flourish and spread.
Our inspiration is Jesus of course, whose teachings about the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, whose parables, provoke and encourage such imaginings. ...
“There is another world, but it’s in this world,” the poets and mystics of every age tell us. Knowingly or unknowingly they’re following Jesus, whose descriptions of heaven are rooted in earth, whose take on salvation is about celebrating those moments where lostness gives way to foundness, moments we all know and feel from time to time. Jesus, who is always seeking redemption in the company of those who know they’re lost.
"We have travelled to a new planet, propelled on a burst of carbon dioxide. That new planet, as is often the case in science fiction, looks more or less like our own but clearly isn't. I know that I'm repeating myself. I'm repeating myself on purpose. This is the biggest thing that's ever happened." (Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet)
Now if we can’t accept that this is the way the world really is now, we should ask ourselves who and what are we believing instead, in who or what are we putting our faith, and why?
But if we do accept that this is the way the world really is now, then the wise thing to do, according to our Archbishop, is to celebrate what’s good, and to lament what’s bad, and to be angry about the things that are unjust, and to take those things to God so that he will tell us what to do about it.
And if we accept that the wise way is also the way which requires us to ‘carry our cross’, in the work of protest and lament and healing on this rapidly and irreversibly changed planet, then our challenge is to weigh up the costs involved, and to be prepared to take the consequences. Bill McKibben is clear when he writes,
"We're not … going to get back the planet we used to have, the one on which our civilisation developed. We're like the guy who ate steak for dinner every night and let his cholesterol top 300 and had the heart attack. Now he dines on Lipitor and walks on the treadmill but half his heart is dead tissue. We’re like the guy who smoked for forty years and then he had a stroke. He doesn’t smoke anymore, but the left side of his body doesn’t work either."
There’s no going back. The question is, how will we go forward?
Let us go forward lamenting what is bad - the carbon choked-up, rapidly overheating planet, product of centuries of industrialised production and unrestrained consumption which is all that many generations, in this part of the world, have ever known.
Let us go forward being angry about the things that are unjust in this - not least that the world’s poorest people invariably suffer the most in this situation, and that the wealthiest nations - who created the problem in the first place and perpetuated it by following the idol of growth - refuse to help. Those who have weighed up the cost and are determined to dump all the consequences on others.
Let us go forward celebrating what we might find here to be good - seeking opportunities to nurture a broken planet back to health, making friends with others across all social, economic, religious and national boundaries in pursuit of healing ways.
Let us us go forward taking all these things to God so that He will tell us what to do about them.
... Now poor old church minister Lee Banfield was the first to leave The Great British Bake Off last week after Paul Hollywood said one of his cakes was too dry. He’s been judged and found wanting, he’s been expelled before the first soufflé has had the chance to rise. He’s been told he doesn’t belong in The Great British Bake Off any more and I wonder how he now feels coming back down to earth and - like me - finding that this week’s set bible readings, which we are given to preach on, are all about food preparation and hospitality. ...
... At eighteen you are deep into the process of creating yourself, defining your personality, shaping your future direction. You may not be aware of it but it is a time where the Creator is close to you, close to the heart of that wonderful creative work you are engaged in.
At eighteen you are vulnerable to the spirits which oppresses you, bow you down, stop you becoming the person you were formed to be. You may not be aware of him in the Sunday shopping crowds, or while clicking social media in your room, but Jesus sees you, longs to call you over and say, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment’, to stand you up straight, to complete your creation, to include you in the life of God, life without end.
For the Sunday Girl it can be about so much more than recreation - it can be a day of re-creation. ...
“Any kind of genre, any kind of form, it’s never more interesting than when you’re kind of breaking it in some way, or dismantling it.” - Northampton magus Alan Moore in conversation with Stewart Lee about Lee’s collection of ‘messed around with’ Observer columns, ‘Content Provider’, which with Moore’s forthcoming ‘Jerusalem’ are going to be two wonderful reads this autumn. Perhaps improbably, I find so much in what these guys say that unwittingly sheds light on the Jesus-story which I try to illuminate on a weekly basis. Explaining why he decided to subvert the standard columnist form, Lee writes: “The clown theorist Gaulier had once told my friend, the theatre-maker Rob Thirtle, that one should perform comedy as if the next action would result in your death. I decided to write like I was trying to get myself sacked.” All this is excellent commentary on every one of those parables of his, and next Sunday’s gospel on what Jesus does a sabbath (Luke 13.10-17). Moore / Lee conversation clip: http://bit.ly/2aWtOXX Jerusalem: http://amzn.to/2bkdR33 Content Provider: http://amzn.to/2bnG4Sz
"Why did the two old crocks laugh? They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her other foot in the maternity ward. They laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway. They laughed because God seemed to believe it. They laughed because they half-believed it themselves. They laughed because laughing felt better than crying. They laughed because if by some crazy chance it just happened to come true, they would really have something to laugh about, and in the meanwhile it helped keep them going."