Monthly Archives: March 2016

Good Friday with Luke 23

Reading Luke’s account of Jesus death suggests several points of contact with life today.

Luke 23:1-5
Jesus is brought to Pilate, Roman governor, and we notice that truth is the first casualty in the campaign to get rid of him. ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ 23:2 Yet Jesus had answered differently on taxes – “ give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” 20:25 and he had been careful not to claim Kingship, knowing that it would be misunderstood – Messiah was a different kind of king.
We might think about truth. How the truth about ourselves and those around us is important in an age of PR, spin, and confrontational presentations. Pilate was cynical “What is truth?” John 18:38, but Jesus had earlier suggested ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ John 8:31,32

Are we ready to see the world, and ourselves, as God sees?

“Father, help us to care about the truth, the reality you see. Show us the world from your perspective, and help us to understand Jesus, ourselves, and your priorities.”

Luke 23:6-12

Herod had his own agenda, and Jesus didn’t fit. He is not going to make the effort to listen or understand – it is much easier to mock. The soldiers join in. Like so many people, they realise that Jesus is dangerous – taken seriously he might challenge their assumptions and prejudices, might make them want something different and better. Don’t listen, poke fun, victimise.
We wouldn’t do that – would we? In theory all Christians are followers of Jesus, bound to obey and serve him above all. Yet service has not always been our main reputation, and obedience is difficult.
Put it another way, many of us, just like Herod, have our own agendas. I don’t mind being church as long as . . but I must keep time for . . I’ll do that, but don’t ask me to . . The mockery of Jesus comes because he doesn’t fit in their list of priorities.

Are we ready to change our priorities to fit in with Jesus?

“Lord, forgive all those things which mock your direction of my life. My own agenda of what I want, my laziness, my pride. Remembering a Lord who gave all for me, help me to learn his way in everything.”

Luke 23:13-25

Pilate as governor has the responsibility of administering justice. The Roman occupation was not always popular, but if it was fair, it would win acceptance, and if not, opposition would grow.
He knows what is happening – he says Jesus is not guilty, but is too weak to find a way not to listen to the crowd (no doubt carefully manipulated). Is he stupid, not up to the job? He must know that his credibility, as well as Jesus life, is at stake. But he is driven by the mob voice.
We would think someone who claimed “the voices made me do it” was a case for psychiatric help. But how often do we say, “It’s not right, but it’s how you have to do it at work”; “None of my friends would think twice about that”; “it’s how things are”. And how often do we deliberately support someone trying to do right when it is criticised or unpopular?

“Father, help us to practise justice. Not rules and judgements, but standing out for right, supporting those who take the way of caring, not cheating, not causing pain and wrong. Let our voices be those that speak what is good, true, right, pure, lovely and honourable. (cp Phil 4:8)”

Luke 23:26-46

So they take Jesus and crucify him with a batch of criminals, and that’s – not the end of it at all. There are all sorts of consequences, and that’s why we read and ponder.
Some of them are quite minor – a visitor is conscripted to carry the cross, the soldiers share some clothing. Some are strange and unexpected – darkness, a curtain torn and opened.
But the most important go two ways. Jesus warns the weeping women of greater loss of life to come. Jerusalem will suffer siege and defeat – it happened in AD70, after the rebellion. Is this the inevitable consequence of rejecting the opportunity Jesus offered? Will taking the way he does not lead always carry great danger?
Jesus is not looking for revenge. He asks forgiveness for those who crucify him. He makes a promise of hope to the penitent thief. One consequence of his death is the way of forgiveness, reconciliation, service and peace.
But the choice is not forced. We have to make it, and go on making it. Words are easy, but faith has to show in daily life, truth telling, agendas, justice. The consequences of Jesus death were not at all what his enemies expected. They bring hope, and perhaps also danger. What do they bring you?

“Lord, as we have spent a little time reading again the story of Jesus’ death, let us go to take full advantage of its consequences. Teach us to accept forgiveness, and to offer it. Give us the hope he won, and the readiness to explain it to any who ask, as we live as his disciples.”  (cp 1 Pet 3:15)

Failure and Success (Lent 6c, Palm Sunday)

Palm Sunday – sixth in Lent and last before Easter – invites us to read a longer section of the Passion story.  (Luke 22:14 – 23:56, or the shorter but still substantial Luke 23:1-49).  It is not an easy story – not to read, to enjoy, even to understand.

All the gospel writers insist that this is no mistake or accident.  Jesus goes to his death knowingly, and, while horrified at the nature of it, willingly.  The story is the climax of the gospel, and represents the victory of God’s plan.  How can this be victory?  That is the paradox, the challenge to our usual ways of thinking of success.  Only when we glimpse what this is all about can we say we understand – and even then, we will tend to lapse into old ways of thinking.  Somehow, Jesus execution is what sets us free.

It may help to look at the many failures that happen.  Jesus friends fail.  Their loyalty rapidly disappears; their understanding was even more limited, and their sympathy is overwhelmed by fear and exhaustion.  The governing authorities fail to govern properly.  The justice system fails repeatedly.  Even at the most basic level, the soldiers who mock and then gamble as men die, lack humanity.  Those failures contrast with God’s success.  God remains in charge, and the loving plan to work our salvation moves on to completion despite human failure.  The contrast is so extreme that it dazzles.

At the same time, those who pass judgement seem unaware that there is double trial in process.  Jesus may be under judgement, but so are the judges.  As their scorn, their contempt for evidence, procedure, and equity are documented, they face appraisal – and fail.  We like to think that we can sit back as superior beings, judging the judges.  We easily forget that all who read of the Passion and death of God’s Son are themselves liable to appraisal on their reaction.

Judas – Entrepreneur’s disease? (Lent 5c)

As Lent moves to think of Jesus’ death, we read John 12:1-8.  Jesus is having dinner with friends, and Mary anoints his feet in an expensive gesture.  Judas complains about the cost and “waste” of valuable perfume, though we are warned that as treasurer for the disciples, he was inclined to help himself, and his motives may be mixed.

I think I might have found Mary’s actions difficult, too.  It is a bit “over the top”, too much, too personal, embarrassing.  Of course, we can take the anointing as symbolic and prophetic of the cross to come.  Then Mary anticipates laying out the body with respect and love.  That is probably why we read this passage on Passion Sunday, looking at the Passion to come.  But that isn’t the point.  Mary is expressing love, thanks, – something perhaps too deep for words, and certainly beyond the evaluation of the group accountant.  For Mary, Jesus has done something deeply significant, of lasting importance.  She is different, she has found something beyond price, and she must express something of that.

Judas either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to.  He is a disciple, has had time to watch and hear Jesus, as well as talk to him in private and in small groups.  But somehow, his loyalty is limited to – to what?  To what he can understand, or perhaps even to what he can control?  His attachment to Jesus is conditional, and the conditions are about to fail as Jesus takes his own way to save the world.  I have some sympathy for Judas; I think I have often believed with an unstated condition, “I’ll follow, if . . “.  I wonder if the culture of our time, pricing everything, and always looking for “efficiency savings”, brings the same dangers Judas faced.  Would we now see him as an entrepreneur who withdrew his investment as he lost confidence in the management? – because that would not only be a mistake, but question the “business model”.  The problem is Judas relationship to Jesus.  It just isn’t up to Mary’s standard.

Passiontide, Jesus’ passion: they take us beyond calculation, beyond strategy and financial analysis.  If we are going to follow Jesus, a lifeplan will not be enough for long.  We have to share his concerns, his motivation, his love.

I’m afraid I would have found Mary a difficult person to get on with.  I am more “moderate”, planned, – in other words, calculating.  But there is a side of me which can get emotionally involved, and I must remember the importance of involving that with my faith.

Mothering Sunday – a Christian festival?

I have a mixed relationship with “Mothering Sunday”. Yes, celebrating mothering, or perhaps positive parenting and families, is good; the encouragement to affirm and say thank you is helpful. So what’s wrong? The danger of ignoring those for whom families have not worked, and indeed caused pain or damage: the broken and divided families, memories of control, abuse, violence, argument; those who longed to be parents, but could not, or whose experience of parenthood was hard.

So let’s have some reality. Yes, for most of us families have been good, not always giving us what we thought we wanted, but often providing what we needed. I think Jesus would recognise that. He had two good parents in Mary and Joseph, and we read (Mark 6:3) of four brothers and more than one sister. As the eldest (Mary’s “firstborn” Luke 2:7) we guess that he stayed at home long enough to leave Mary with his brothers running the business to support them all (Joseph does not appear again after the incidents of Luke 2:42-52 when Jesus was about 12). But during his ministry, Jesus breaks free from family control (Mark 3:32-34, as Lk 8:20ff and Mt 12:46ff) – and there are words which must have been hard for Mary! Later she is cared for at the cross (John 19:26-7), and becomes part of the early Christian community (Acts 1:14).
There is a choice of gospel readings today. We can take Jesus’ words from the cross, instructing John to care for Mary (John 19:26-7), or Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph when they brought the baby Jesus to the Temple – words that amazed them, and left Mary with much to think about (Luke 2:33-35).

Perhaps my favourite, though, would be the parable of the Prodigal Son – or should we call it the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story in three acts. First the younger son takes his money (no doubt causing much pain) and goes. Not a great deal is made of his route to the decision to return – no doubt there are many factors – but he makes the decision and the journey we might call repentance.

The second act belongs to the Father. Love is on the lookout, and offers not only a warm welcome, but also a shield through the village from hostile comment and action. As a picture of a generous God, it can be a little difficult to hold in focus. (Can God really be like that? Even if Jesus says so?)

The third act is more familiar. The resentment and self-righteousness of the elder brother sounds familiar. He is ready to think the worst, and offers no forgiveness – a challenge, not only to the proud of Jesus’ day, but to all of us. If we have avoided scandalous wrongdoing, and offered a measure of service, isn’t there strong temptation to want to claim our reward, and to denounce the cheats who enjoy the Father’s love? The question we don’t want asked is, “Who is cheating the gospel?”