Monthly Archives: February 2016

Suffering and Repentance (Lent 3c)

Is it reassuring or sad to know that Jesus was asked about disasters and human suffering? This week’s gospel (Luke 13:1-9, and for once I could not get to Bible Study and have to think for myself) begins with a denial that the people who suffer deserve it.

It is strange how often people having a bad time ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” – and Christians can answer “It may be nothing you have done, just the fact that we live in a damaged world”. And even for those who are responsible, there is hope in repentance.

Repentance is an often misunderstood “religious” word. It is not about producing a big enough feeling of sorrow or remorse. And it is certainly not about adding to our feelings of guilt. Isaiah 55 (the Old Testament reading) tells us of a generous God, who welcomes and provides for less-than-perfect people. We are invited to enjoy God’s goodness and love – and repentance is a response to that.

As we find out what God is like, and what it is like to be forgiven and sorted out, we “turn away from” what is evil – and the “turning away” is repentance. It is not just “attitude” or “opinion”, but behaviour, priorities and motivation.

In verse 5, Jesus is not threatening, but rather giving a warning of danger. (Those living in Jerusalem would suffer terribly in the siege and destruction of 70 AD – the Christians remembered Jesus words, and escaped in time). It still applies. Repentance is part of Christianity, both when we first come to faith, and as we go on learning more of God. Like fruit trees, Christians are expected to produce fruit, reflecting God’s generosity and care. If instead they live selfish and unproductive lives, we wonder if they have recognised the source of their life, the soil and water that make life possible. If not, the risks are great, and repentance more urgent.

Who is threatened? (Lent 2c)

Lent 2c gospel – Luke 13:31-35

We had a good look at this in Bible Study, and found plenty to think about.

Is the warning friendly, or a veiled threat? It is not clear, but Jesus’ in response suggests he is confronting evil constantly, and will not be put off that. (In the parallel passage in Matthew, 23:29ff, there is open criticism of the Pharisees, and a fuller explanation of the fate of prophets).

At the same time, Jesus’ ministry is not standing still, but moving on to a climax, and a climax in Jerusalem!

What is his concern for “Jerusalem”? I think it unlikely he is sentimental about the place. He speaks of concern for the people, and I wonder if he also laments the culture dominant in both the religious and political life of the city. If only they would hear, and take the way of peace! This is very much a Lenten concern. If only we would hear!

But hearing has to lead to more, to practical application over time and where possible in wider society. Jesus looks forward to Palm Sunday, the (“Benedictus”) shouts of the crowd as he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (quotes from Ps 118: v26, v25 is Hosanna, while v22 will become important to Christians and quoted several times in the New Testament). That enthusiasm will be short lived, and not avoid his betrayal and death. Can we do better, without acting like Peter? (Luke 22:31-34 and parallels).

Is this passage tragedy playing out to it ending? Or does it speak of the need for reality – and if so, did Jesus have it? Certainly there is much here about human frailty and the ugly side of power struggles.

Lent (Lent 1c)

I enjoyed last night’s study group. We were looking at Luke 4:1-13 – Jesus’ temptation.

There is so much in that passage:

Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, received at his baptism (no, hard times are not always a mistake), and is tempted (it is not the being tempted that is wrong . .).

Each of the temptations offers a diversion from the ministry that Jesus will have: turning stones to bread is about making comfort a primary requirement for our lives; the power of ruling the world is the temptation to have and use power over other people; jumping from the Temple suggests both forcing belief by using miracles to amaze, and misusing scripture to try and force God’s action.

What I realised more as our discussion went on was centred on two things. First, the Devil constantly tries to manipulate and force Jesus to comply, while Jesus chooses the actions which will preserve the freedom of choice for those he will meet and minister to. Jesus will not make disciples by offering comfort, power, or cheap thrills. While he acts in compassion and with clear purpose, he always leaves people free to follow or not, to believe or forget, or ask more questions.

The second thing that struck me was how Jesus struggles – and the Devil’s temptations – were linked to the question of identity. Twice comes “IF you are God’s son . .” All through is, “What sort of ministry? What sort of Minister?”

I wonder if the traditions associated with “Lent”, or other times and traditions of penitence and fasting, are so carefully linked to our identity as God’s people, responding to his love and invitation to serve? And do our traditions set out to prepare us for service, service in ways which bring life and blessing, but without trying to coerce, manipulate, or make people do what we want them to?