Monday, July 25, 2022

The Parable of the Rich fool (Luke 12:13-21)

The following is an edited down version of the section in my MA dissertation on this week's reading from Luke's gospel. I had forgotten what I had written, and it was quite helpful as I began to think towards Sunday. I thought I would post a shorter and more readable version here, in case anyone found it useful.

The Rich fool (Luke 12:13-21).

13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)

The parable is introduced with an exchange between Jesus and a man in the crowd who is in dispute with his brother, concerning their inheritance. Jesus declines to intervene, phrasing his answer to echo the story of Moses’ intervention in the fight between two Hebrews. In the Exodus story, one of the men asks Moses, “who made you a prince and a judge over us?” (Ex. 2:14); in this text, Jesus asks the man “who made me a judge or divider over you?” (12:14b)  Rather than issue a direct judgment, Jesus answers in the form of a parable, framed by two sayings, which furnish some further interpretation. A parallel to the core of the parable is also to be found in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas (log. 63), which may suggest it was in circulation in the early church, separate from the interpretive sayings in verses 15 & 21.

The term ‘rich’ in Luke has a negative connotation, which conflicts with the society within which the Gospel is set, where wealth was a sign of blessing, and a consequence of belonging to the inner elite of the community. Here a rich man is depicted as being fortunate enough to enjoy a bumper harvest (12:16). He asks, “What shall I do” (v.17), which in Luke’s gospel is a question of salvation. His choice is to multiply his wealth by building bigger barns to store his wealth, and to rest in his complacency, which has echoes in wisdom literature (e.g. Psalm 49 & Sirach 11:14-28).

God’s response is to describe him as a “fool” (12:20). Foolishness is comprehensively defined in Proverbs (e.g. Pr. 10:18, 10:23, 11:29, 12:15, 12:16, 13:16, 14:3), and in the Psalms it is the fool that denies the existence of God. (Psalm 14:1). The rich man sees his wealth as his security and not his God, and in doing so effectively denies his existence. Furthermore, he only makes provision for himself; no-one else is mentioned.

But in Luke, it is not simply that the man has a lot of money or assets; it is that in his context being rich would have carried with it power, responsibility and even a basis for assuming piety in the one who has been 'blessed' by wealth. The parable targets these assumptions and contradicts them. This man abdicates his responsibilities and fails to use his power to improve the lot of others. He even lacks the one remaining virtue of possessing a piety, albeit one which finds no expression in action.

Introducing the parable, Jesus states that abundance of possessions are not the means to measure the value of a human life (12:15) A valuation of life, based on possessions, inevitably results in the pursuit of material gain as the goal of life. 

In the same way, the core story of the parable is rounded off with the saying about being rich towards God (v. 21). In the wider context of chapter 12, we can understand this to refer to generosity. A little further on, Jesus' command is simple, “sell your possessions and give alms” (v.33) and they must pursue “treasure in heaven”. This is concluded by the summary challenge “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (v.34)

The overarching message of this section is clearly the folly of lives that have material and financial gain as their goal. This pursuit is, of course, vulnerable to disaster, since these treasures are easily lost, stolen or destroyed. Furthermore, they eat away at the commitment of the disciple. Seeking the kingdom (v.31) becomes less of a priority as concern for material well-being grows. It may be that this was becoming a concern within the Christian community that Luke was seeking to address, and so it was a priority for him to include material from the communal recollections about Jesus that directly tackled the issue.



Monday, June 20, 2022

Yvonne Lyon, Gareth Davies-Jones and David Lyon

Trace The Line

We are very excited to have a new programme of concerts in the autumn at St Nicholas', Beverley. You can view the programme here. The next one coming up is special to me, as it features 3 artists who have become friends over the last 12 years. 

In 2016 Gareth joined with Yvonne & David Lyon to record and release an album called The Space Between - a collection of songs inspired by the Sermon on the Mount. Just before lockdown in 2020 they went back into the studio to record a follow up album - Trace The Line, now available on CD, and on streaming platforms from July.

We are delighted to be able to host these three talented musicians and singers as they share their new material, as well as highlights from their respective catalogues.

You can buy tickets below.




Sunday, June 19, 2022

Jesus and the man with demons.

Today's Gospel reading was the strange and disconcerting story of the man described as troubled with a legion of demons in Luke 8:26-39. It prompted me to look again at the work that Debbie had put in towards writing a life of Jesus in the form of a novel - done during her illness. As she put it, she wanted to get away from "men in tea-towels" saying "yea, verily" to genuine characters - inspired by how Hilary Mantel had depicted Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall.

As something different, in place of a sermon, I read out this section from what she had written. It was slightly strange reading her words to a congregation that had never known her, but I got some appreciative feedback, and it made a change from a conventional sermon.

You will spot that she weaves in another story from a different part of Luke's gospel.


Yeshua gathered himself and strode on ahead, unflinching.

In a matter of minutes, dusk had turned to darkness. Only the stars and half a moon lit the path in front of them now, a path which was taking them up the incline ahead of them towards the sound of the gulls’ shrieks and the murmuring of grazing animals. This was not the sound of sheep or goats, however. A vast herd of pigs was roaming free at the top of the incline. Some of them had wandered down among the caves and tombs which, Yeshua’s companions now realised, were round about them on every side. The swine were short, stocky, dark; they ran quickly and grunted as if about to charge their unexpected visitors. But in fact, they kept their distance.

Yeshua was again reciting Scriptures as he walked ahead; they clung to his voice as though to a lamp for their path, a light to their feet.

 

“I was revealed to those who did not ask for me;

I was found by those who did not seek me.

A people who sit among the graves

And spend their nights keeping secret vigil.

Who eat the flesh of pigs

Whose pots hold broth of impure meat.

I will not destroy them all;

I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,

And from Judah chosen people who will possess my mountains.”   (Isaiah 65)

 

As the sound of the Scriptures drew the others together, it also beamed like a torchlight through the graveyard, and it was not long before it flushed out the one Yeshua knew he had come to meet. From somewhere to the left – almost as if from deep underground – a wailing began. Then a high pitched crying, like a little girl; a man’s deep laughter; a noise of animals far more disturbing than the noise of the pigs. They braced themselves to be set upon by some sort of savage army. But in the end, it was just one man who threw himself into Yeshua’s path.

He was, indeed, a man, though at first sight he looked more like some terrible wounded beast. He was completely naked, his body a patchwork of cuts and scars where he had harmed himself with broken pots and stones. Remnants of chains hung on his wrists and ankles. His hair, like a Nazarite, had not been cut for who knows how long; thick, matted, it fell down his back in knots and tangles. He barely looked capable of emitting even one small voice, yet the whole cacophony of sound was coming from his mouth.

“What do you want with me, Yeshua, Son of the Most High God? Don’t torture me, I beg you!”

“Tell me who you are.”

 

Mary and the others, having shrunk back in fear, huddled closer together.

 

“Tell me who you are,” Yeshua repeated.

The man reached forward, clung to Yeshua’s robe, and opened his mouth. What came out of him was clearly like torture.

“Our name is Legion!”

“Legion!”

“Legion!”

“Legion!”

“Because we are many!”

“Don’t throw us out of him, Yeshua! Don’t let us die!” it was the little girl now, pleading. “You wouldn’t let us die!”

“Just keep us from the Abyss, that is all we ask,” sobbed the weeping man. “Give us somewhere new to go, Son of the Mighty One!”

 

The man’s whole body shook as the voices ripped through him.

 

Then the laughing man’s voice started, a chuckle at first, rising to a hysterical pitch of howling and snorting. Across the graveyard, the pigs began to echo him.

“Let us go into the pigs! Please Yeshua! They love us, listen to them!”

And now his chest was heaving as voice after voice joined in.

“To the pigs! Let us go to the pigs, oh please let us!”

 

Yeshua stood absolutely still, listening intently, fixed on hearing from his Father’s Spirit what he should do next. When he opened his mouth, it was again the words of Scripture, this time of the Prophet Jeremiah, which issued forth. He spoke directly to the possessed man with such compassion, it was as if no one else in the world existed.

 

“‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty,
    ‘I will break the yoke off their necks
and will tear off their bonds;
    no longer will foreigners enslave them.
Instead, they will serve the Lord their God
    and David their king,
    whom I will raise up for them.

10 “‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel,’
declares the Lord.
‘I will surely save you out of a distant place,
    your descendants from the land of their exile.

Jacob will again have peace and security,

    and no one will make him afraid.
11 I am with you and will save you,’
    declares the Lord.   (Jeremiah 30)

Immediately, the voices were silenced, and the man’s breathing slowed to a deep calm. Yeshua, now fully in control, straightened his back and addressed himself to the presences whom it was now time to release.

“Legion! Listen to me. You may enter the pigs, on condition that you leave this man and never return to him again. If you do, then you will not be spared the torments of the abyss. Do you understand me?”

Excited muttering. The little girl spoke for them all.  “We understand!”

“Then Be Released! Leave Him Now!”

None of those whom Yeshua had taken as companions that night would ever forget what they saw.

For Mary, of course, the presence of demons had a personal significance she would have done anything to forget. She was fighting back the memories of the night Yeshua saved her life, the night she almost died at the hands of her neighbours. Where had her demons gone, she wondered? No herd of pigs to take them away, and yet they had never troubled her again. Please God, please God, that this new Legion would not sense in her an open door. She wrapped her arms around herself and prayed.

Simon Peter, James and John had all witnessed the casting out of demons – not least in their own Synagogue, on the Sabbath when Yeshua had so enraged Jairus by releasing a young boy from whatever it was that had possessed him. But none of them had seen anything like this.

The man, unconscious but breathing, rolled on to his back and began to twitch. Every few seconds, his chest heaved and fell abruptly; and immediately after each seizure, the noise of a pig squealing carved through the night air. From out of the caves they came, one by one, shrieking and running and bucking their way back up the hill to the herd who were grazing above them. And it went on and on. How many presences came out of him?  Fifty? Sixty? At the very least. How had he survived it?

As the stampede through the graveyard went on, they became aware of voices above them, startled at first, and increasingly mounting in panic. The swineherds, settling down to doze as usual through the night shift, had been rudely awakened. Terrified pigs were running wild through the rest of the herd, kicking and biting as their bodies were taken over by who knows what. The herdsman were running for cover now, back down the hill towards Yeshua and the man from whose frail body the whole cacophony had been released. And, as they deserted their charges, with no one left to protect them, the pigs ran towards the edge of the cliff and over its sharp side into the lake. It was hard to say which was worse, the screaming, or the silence. Not a pig was left. Together, they had rushed headlong to their fate.

“What have you done?” shouted one of them at Yeshua. “Why have you let them go out of him? He held them all safe. But now . . .”

They kept on running down the path, five of them, heading towards the village.

Gradually, the silence became less terrifying. Mary unfroze herself, checking that nothing seemed to have entered or harmed her. All seemed well. The men too, who had crouched tightly together during the erupting storm, began to relax. It was James who moved first. Kneeling beside the naked man, he took off his own outer garment, lifted him gently under the shoulders and wrapped him in it. Thaddeus was next, kerchief and water bottle in hand, shakily cleaning his face with infinite gentleness and care. Yeshua sat and watched them. Eventually, the man began to stir, and his eyes opened. He looked at them as one who had been asleep for years.

“Greetings, friend” said Yeshua at last. “Do you know where you are?”

“Does he even know who he is?” Simon muttered to John. “What’s your name, son?”

It had clearly been a long time since anyone had answered.

 “Adin. My name is Adin.”

“You’re a Jew, Adin, am I right? Do you remember how you came to be here?”

Adin nodded. He looked close to tears.

“Can you tell us your story?”

He took a drink from Thaddeus’ bottle, and collected himself.

“I have been such a fool. Such a fool.

I grew up with my father and brother. I never knew my mother, she died in bringing me to birth, and my father was so grief stricken he never took another wife. It might have made him hate me, but far from it, it made me a favourite in his eyes. Not easy for Dan. My older brother.  We farmed the land just outside Tiberius. Good place; fertile, ready market in the city. It was a good life. But not enough for me.

All Dan wanted was to take on the farm from my father. Married a local girl, settled down on the estate, never expected that I would want anything different. But did I! I was desperate to get out, to see something of the world, to create my own chances, my own story. So when I came of age, I asked to see my father. I knew the farm had done well, would continue to do well. And I asked him to divide his wealth between Dan and me, to let me leave and see if I could make my own way, my own life in the city.

I could see it was a blow to him. But he didn’t try to persuade me out of it. He listened, and he nodded, and later that day, he gave me an enormous sack of gold. Far more than I expected. Then he blessed me, and told me I was free to go. He simply asked that I would come back when my fortune was made, and make him proud of me, as he had always been proud of me.

But I’m afraid I did little to make him proud.

Tiberias, Herod’s new city, was the first place I headed for. But I fell in with a crowd who persuaded me that Gerasa was the place where fortunes were to be made. Fabulous city of Roman culture, Greek philosophy. And eclectic! Even a Jew could make a fresh start there. At least, a Jew with a sackful of gold. But while ever those coins filled my pockets, I saw no need to work. How could my father have trusted such a fool! By the time I saw disaster on the horizon, it was too late to avert it.

When at last I began to look for employment, no one wanted to know. Turns out I’d made a reputation for myself as something of an idiot, though while the cash was still flowing, no one bothered to tell me that.

In the end, this was the only place I found any shelter.  Working with the swine herds. A Jewish boy feeding pigs! They loved that alright. Every day, it felt as though a little more of my soul was being hollowed out. And then, well . . .”

He stopped. Drank some water. Stared into space, as though he’d forgotten that there was anyone with him.

Mary prompted him gently.

“And that’s when the voices began?”

He nodded, his eyes still fixed straight ahead. She nodded too.

 

They were silent for a long time. At last, Adin shook his head, as one who was finally waking up from a long and tortuous nightmare. He looked long and hard at Yeshua.

“Who are you?” he said.

 

When the swineherds found them later, they were even more shaken to see Adin not only clothed and calm, but talking in his own voice, lost for so long, with the strange visitors who had upended their world so completely. Their leader lost no time in making his feelings clear.

“You’ve taken away our livelihood tonight. By morning the stench of pigs will fill the bay, and you’ll be fair game for anyone who goes in pursuit of you. And you talk to demons and command them! If you are still anywhere to be found on these beaches, the whole lot of you will be stoned. So do you hear me? Take Adin with you, and get out of here now. While you still can.”

Adin’s face lit up as he looked into Yeshua’s.

“May I come with you, Rabbi? May I be your disciple? I would follow you till the end of my days. For I was dead, but you have made me alive. I was lost, but you have found me.”

Yeshua smiled. “No, Adin. You have something much, much more important you need to do. You need to go home to the father who has never stopped longing for you and never stopped waiting for you since the day you left him. You need to go and present yourself as his servant, your head covered in ashes, your heart filled with remorse at the hurt you have done to him. You need to go and face Dan’s anger and judgment. And then, you need to start again.”

Adin looked up, tears streaming down his face.

“Come with us to the boat now. We’ll drop you off at the cove where the bay meets the road to Tiberias.”

Mary cut his wild hair with a fisherman’s knife as James and John took the oars between them. The others made sure he was decently clothed and clean, and Mary made him a pouch with enough money to buy him breakfast for his journey. “Not enough gold to tempt you in there!” she smiled. “Just enough to stop you fainting before you reach your father’s house.”

The fishermen were used to navigating by starlight. As the cove at the end of the road to Tiberias began to shimmer into view, Yeshua noticed that Adin had begun to shiver.

“Nervous?”

“What if he doesn’t want to see me, Yeshua? What if he sends me away?”

“Sends you away? A good father send his exiled child away? I don’t think so. My Father in heaven is rejoicing over your return now. And so will your earthly one.”

They pulled the boat up the sand, embraced him, and watched him walk up the beach until he disappeared on to the road.


Text (c) Debbie Peatman 2015

  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Reverse Logic

"Every heresy contains a grain of truth" is something I have heard quoted a number of times, which led me to think of what our modern equivalents to heresies might be. 

Here's a heresy I named this morning: Charity begins at home.

At face value, that has to be true. We can't show authentic compassion and love to the wider world if we can't even love those closest to us. At best it's inconsistency; at worst it's flagrant hypocrisy. For example, you wouldn't have to dig too far into the news archives to find clergy who seemed perfectly good priests to their parishioners, but who treated their families abysmally and even abusively.

But all too often the reverse logic heresy starts to cut in, and so instead of the home being a launchpad for compassion and concern for all our neighbours, it becomes a reason to keep it close at hand. I have heard the phrase used in discussions about overseas aid and support where it was clear that the speaker believed that charity should not only begin, but end at home.

The same instinct for heresy seems to have poisoned some minds with regard to people in poverty, foodbanks, and where responsibility lies.

Across the country, many foodbanks and other charities such as CAP are supporting people in poverty, running sessions on budgeting, planning and preparing cheap nutritious meals, and other similar projects. Many people who are struggling appreciate these sessions, and are helped towards making ends meet week by week. Nothing contentious there.

But along comes an MP who takes that grain of truth (sessions on cooking helping people make ends meet) and reverses the logic to conclude that failure to make ends meet must be down to not knowing how or what to cook, or being useless at budgeting. It is a subtle change of words, yet a completely toxic shift in the argument. I gather that the existence of budgeting and cooking sessions is now being cited as proof that this nasty allegation is correct, and those who challenge will doubtless be dismissed as ignorant or lefties or both. After all, it's happened before:




Let's be clear on this, poverty is not caused by the masses having no catering or budgeting skills (ironically if it was, that would still be the government's fault for not including key life skills in the school curriculum, but I digress) Poverty is something that millions are born into and struggle with day by day, using all their wit to make ends meet, keep the lights on, and look after their families. 

Solutions to poverty are complex, and with the cost of living crisis are becoming more acute and necessary, but I see no real sense of purpose in the current government to address that. Instead they talk of tax cuts (having raised a lot of tax!). But basic rate tax cuts only benefit those who actually pay tax, and everyone who pays tax. They don't target those most in need of relief. Restoring the £20 uplift in Universal Credit would seem to me to be a much better use of money, but the chancellor may feel that won't produce as many votes as a basic rate income tax cut. 

Foodbanks, charities, churches and more will carry on doing their brilliant work, but don't hold their clients culpable for their predicaments; ask those with wealth and power why this situation exists in the first place, and what they are going to do to solve it.


[You may also be interested in correspondence I had with my MP a few years ago about comments he made about the local Foodbank. He never apologised for the incorrect statements that he made.]






Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Six Years On

As some of you may know, today marks six years since Debbie died. I wouldn't say that I have felt particularly sad today, just distracted and finding it a little hard to focus on tasks and preparation. Essentially, I have been in a slightly exaggerated version of my usual state!

I nearly put "my first wife, Debbie" in that first sentence, which illustrates the issue I have been thinking about a little bit today. When Debbie died, I was the rector of a church in Morecambe, and in the following two years, I was surrounded by people who had known Debbie, and had experienced her care, wisdom, leading worship, read her writing, laughed along with her, had  fun with Crib Services, Messy Church and more. I could talk about her to the people around me, knowing that we had those common experiences.

Debbie at her ordination as a priest 11 June 1994

A few months after moving to Beverley, I was at a meeting in York with a colleague who had known us both when we were in Nottingham. In a break, I joked with him about what Debs would have made of something that had occurred, he laughed, and I had a sudden realisation that if anyone else in the room was listening, they would have had no idea who I was talking about. On the way home, it further dawned on me that in my day-to-day routine, I met no-one who had ever met her - and that felt very strange. It also made my encounters with those who did remember even more special.

The consequence of that is that in most circumstances I now encounter, whenever I refer to quite a large period of my life, there needs to be some telling of the story, and some explanation of who Debbie is. Sometimes it is necessary to clarify that, in order to explain a situation properly. For example, I have two mothers-in-law! 

In fact, this happens for everyone to some extent. As time goes on, the community we are surrounded by changes, and fewer people remember who and what was there before, including loved ones who have died. Perhaps it is more acute in situations like mine where I have both moved and married again (especially if the new location is one where there are few connections). 

I am sure that is why, for some people, regular acts of remembrance are so important – to keep memories alive and recollections fresh of a loved one lost. For some people that is about regularly tending graves, annually placing tributes in the memorial column of a local paper, or perhaps a Facebook post. I have Debbie’s writings, her blog and her Facebook profile being available so I can ‘hear’ her voice, as well as a wealth of photographs and some video footage.

In other eras, you would need a very different approach to keep that sort of memory fresh in people’s minds. Perhaps that’s why the touch, smell and taste of bread and wine are part of communion - the central act of remembrance for Christians, which we think of especially tomorrow, Maundy Thursday.



Wednesday of Holy Week 2022

 21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

 

On the 17th May 1966, Bob Dylan was performing at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. He had attracted some controversy, as he had moved away from his acoustic folk origins to embrace electric instruments and played an electric guitar himself. “Judas” shouts a voice from the audience in between songs. “I don’t believe you….. you’re a liar” replies Dylan before encouraging his band to play *expletive* loud.


Judas has become a term for betrayer, which has uses well beyond the Christian community. In fact, there are several Judases in the New Testament, including the brother of Jesus, a disciple referred to as Judas son of James, and 3 more feature in the Book of Acts. That would seem to explain why the New Testament often refers to ‘Judas Iscariot’ or adds a comment about betrayal – to ensure we know who they are talking about.

Tragically, Judas Iscariot has been used in Christian rhetoric to support antisemitism, focusing on him being a Jewish man held responsible for Jesus’ death. (That makes the ‘Judas’ shout at the concert especially barbed, as Dylan is also Jewish.) The truth – as ever with prejudice and bigotry – is of course very different. Jesus and all of the disciples are also Jews, as are the scribes, the Pharisees the priests, much of the early church leadership, as well as the writers of the Gospels. Meanwhile, a Gentile governor sentences Jesus to death, and Gentile soldiers execute him.

However, all good stories need a villain, and Judas does more than enough to qualify for that role. John’s account of these events describes him as essentially the group’s treasurer (adding the detail that Judas stole from the purse for himself). As we heard on Monday, Judas is the one who objected to the apparent waste of perfume used in anointing Jesus’ feet, and today we heard that when Jesus gives Judas bread and he leaves, some disciples assumed it was connected to his role as keeper of the common purse.

So, can we understand anything about this act of betrayal? The accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry in the gospels give us a few clues. Mark and Matthew say he was promised money, Matthew adding that 30 pieces of silver were handed over, whereas Luke and John both describe Satan as being the motivator for the betrayal. I imagine some people might say the two are closely related! Judas leaves the Last Supper and eventually brings back a force to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane where he seems to know that Jesus would be praying. Famously a kiss is recorded as the signal that identifies Jesus, Matthew adding the detail that Jesus calls him “friend”.

Afterwards, Matthew records Judas committing suicide and tells us he repented and gave the money back; Luke in the book of Acts has a more grisly version and makes no suggestion of repentance.

So what was Judas doing? Perhaps he was simply a thief who didn’t really ever properly understand who Jesus was – he is only ever recorded as called Jesus “Rabbi”, not “Lord”. Some have speculated that he was sympathetic to the freedom fighting Zealots, hoping for Jesus to be a figurehead for a popular uprising (like his namesake Judas Maccabeus had led nearly 200 years earlier) If that was the case, we can only imagine his horror as Jesus enters Jerusalem on an ass in peace, or washes his followers’ feet. Perhaps he was more of a religious purist who found it unacceptable that Jesus was so open to “tax collectors and sinners”, to the outcasts and unclean, to lepers and Gentiles unacceptable. Finally at the meal, facing what Jesus’ love was really like, he runs out into the night.

Perhaps Judas points us to just how radical Jesus’ message was, and how Jesus refused to conform to any of the expectations that people might place on him. His revolutionary message was one of peace, not uprising; his preaching was for the lost and the outcast, not the in-crowd; his call for faithfulness was about hearts and minds, not about ritual and dogged adherence to laws and regulations.

And whenever that message is heard, whenever it confronts the norms and expectations of this world, it asks us difficult questions too. Do we want treasure on earth or in heaven? Do we want to believe and trust those with earthly power and might, or one with the power of love? Are we more interested in those who have or pursue status and standing, or are we with the Servant King?

 

 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Monday of Holy Week

 121 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.   [NRSV]

 

One of the slightly odd things about the schedule of Bible readings that we use at this time of year is that most of this passage came up as the Sunday reading on the 3rd of April. However, that gives us an opportunity to take another look at the reading and explore some different aspects to its message. We also get verses 9-11 as a bonus.

As we saw last time, the centre piece of the reading is when Mary breaks her jar of perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet, and we considered how investing anything in worship – whether time, energy, skills or money and precious possessions makes no sense outside the context of faith. If there were no God, then the accountants (represented here by Judas – sorry if you are an accountant!) would be right. However, if all things come from God, then of His own do we give Him.

So let’s go back and get another perspective. The Gospels suggest that Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus have been friends of Jesus since before his public ministry began. Unlike disciples (who are friends through becoming followers) they may have known each other since they were young, although that is not recorded. In the previous chapter (Jn. 11), John has reported that Lazarus has been brought back from the dead by Jesus in an extraordinary miracle.

We should remember that women were very vulnerable in that society – often essentially being the possessions of men and depending on them – so it is no surprise that the two sisters were especially distraught when Lazarus died. Not only were they suffering an acute bereavement, but their homes and livelihoods were seriously in question. They were also angry that Jesus wasn’t there. Now, following the raising of Lazarus, all has been restored.

In another incident in Luke’s gospel, Martha is described as the activist and Mary is the one who listens to Jesus (causing tension between them), so it is no surprise that Mary is the one who demonstrates her devotion to Jesus here. She has a very expensive jar of perfume, which may have effectively been an insurance policy. It was something she could sell in an emergency to get 300 denarii (a year’s wages) which could see the family through a difficult time.

Breaking the jar open and using it in this scene means that she is letting go of that potential material security. It is a picture of her saying to Jesus that she places her trust in him over the security she could derive from ‘stuff’. How often do we worry about out material security over and above our spiritual well-being? And note that it is Mary’s to give; she feels empowered to make this extravagant gift and symbol of devotion and love.

Meanwhile Judas is a complete contrast. The Gospels are never going to give him a good press, but John seems especially keen to point out all of his shortcomings – that he would betray and that he had already stolen. But here Judas objects to the valuable perfume being used in this extravagant way. But notice that use of the perfume is not his to decide, and the anointing costs him nothing. I get a sense from this scene that we have a man with little regard for women, who thinks he should decide how they should act. And I think that’s why Jesus’ first response is “leave her alone” to defend her freedom. It’s easy to decide what other people should do when we don’t have live with the consequences or pay the cost. This was Mary’s perfume, Mary’s gift, and Mary’s worship. It was none of Judas’ business.

His defence is to point out that the poor could have been fed, so Jesus responds with the much misunderstood “8You always have the poor with you” (John 12:8)

In fact, Jesus’ words come from the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 15:11

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

The context makes it very clear that the permanent presence of the poor is not commended or in any way defined; it is a reality. This legislates for generosity and support sitting alongside rules about cancelling debts every 7 years. We should note that this is in the legal code of the Israelites, so it isn’t just a moral lesson for a minority of charitably minded people; it’s legislation demanding a response from everyone with the capacity to do so.

To me, Jesus is saying that there is an ongoing responsibility for all to be generous to the poor that will never go away, and which we have a lifetime to fulfil. Quibbling over Mary’s act of devotion misses the point: the poor are always with you, so always be generous to them.

This was Mary’s moment to show what Jesus meant to here, and furthermore the symbolism of what she did points forward to his burial in the tomb. Luke (23:56) reports that women prepared spices and perfume for the burial of Jesus’ body after he had been crucified, but the Sabbath meant there was a delay in using them, and the resurrection meant they were no longer needed. It is almost as if this moment is an anticipation and almost a substitute for that moment.

Mary is empowered – deciding to use her most precious possession and her insurance to show her trust and love for Jesus, and yet paradoxically also anticipating something that was to come. Judas tries to control her – as men frequently have – and for a range of dubious motives. That reveals his lack of understanding, his lack of grace, and perhaps some clues as to why in the end he gives up on Jesus, whereas the women will be the ones standing at the foot of the cross, staring the pain of it in the face, and tending to Jesus' body in the aftermath.

 

 

 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

The Best Songs Featuring a Key Change?

This quest was prompted by a conversation I had with Carol a week or two ago. We were trying to think of a decent track that includes a key change. We could think of several examples of where they are deployed to try and improve a song that's running out of steam. It is an essential trick for the power ballad that insists on going round its chorus one too many times, and what boy band didn't had a key change that was the moment to get off those ubiquitous stools and take two steps forward, just as we were getting bored with the song.

Having asked Twitter and Facebook friends for suggestions, here's a small selection of the best tracks we came up with - in no particular order of course. 

My Girl - The Temptations

This gets a mention first on the list, as it is not only a classic Motown track; it also features a key change bravely inserted half-way through the song, rather than in the dying embers.


You Don't Have To Say You Love Me - Dusty Springfield

I love Dusty Springfield's voice, even though some of the songs she performed were not exactly my cup of tea. In this case it's a track where the song is good, even if the arrangement is "of its time". Here is a live version from her TV show.


Afterglow - Genesis

Someone suggested Supper's Ready, but as it is the entire side of an album, made up of several songs in one epic track I decided on this rather shorter offering. Key change is towards the end, but it is far from running out of steam.


Penny Lane - The Beatles (who else!)

The Beatles seemed to manage to avoid key changes on the whole - the songs were good enough anyway. However, this classic does contain one. Seems entirely justified.


Livin' on a Prayer

It's the 80s, hair is big, stage sets are huge, everything is a bit over the top, so a key change at about 3 1/2 minutes is inevitable. 


Mac The Knife - Bobby Darin

This gets a special mention, as it is a serial key-changer. Loads of versions out there, but I am going with my good friend David's recommendation of Bobby Darin.



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Gareth Davies-Jones in Concert at St Nick's, Beverley

 


Gareth returns to Beverley playing songs from his new album Truth, Tradition, Prophets & Loss along with a selection of material from previous albums.
Tickets are £10, available online using the button below (booking fee applies). You can also buy them in-person after services at St Nick's, from St Nicholas Church Centre office, or from Jacob's Well charity shop on Ladygate, Beverley.
We have an ongoing range of concerts taking place at St Nick's, and you can find out more and follow links for tickets from our new concerts page on our website here.
With over eighteen years of graft and experience as a professional musician - writing, recording and playing his way around the UK & Ireland - Gareth Davies-Jones has earned a well respected pedigree in the British roots/acoustic music scene. An artist who has served his apprenticeship well and gathered a discerning following.
To discover more about Gareth, see his website https://www.garethdavies-jones.com/
A licensed bar will be open at the interval, along with an opportunity to buy CDs and merchandise.
Please note that we are recommending everyone attending to do a lateral flow test within 24 hours of attending. No-one should attend if they are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus.

Buy tickets with WeGotTickets



Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Mark 3:20-35 The Sin Against the Holy Spirit

Written for our weekly Diocesan reflection video. You can watch it on Vimeo here

Mark 3:20-35  (click here to read passage)

Most of us have had an experience where we wondered if a slip of the tongue has spoiled things. A job interview, a tricky meeting, maybe even a first date can all contain that fear of blowing it by saying something wrong.

The gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Mark 3:20-35) has prompted that thought for many Christians over the years. They have been troubled by Jesus’ words that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin and have then lived in fear that they might have blown their salvation by a slip of the tongue. And even if that isn’t your worry, it seems inconsistent with the rest of the teaching of Jesus that something might be unforgiveable. So, what is going on, and what did he mean?

First, this is addressed to scribes from Jerusalem, who are persisting in saying that Jesus’ words and actions come from an unclean spirit within him (3:22,30. In the Greek, the verb "say" is in the imperfect "were saying", suggesting persistence.). As scholars, they knew the scriptures better than anyone, and yet they had been persistently saying he was inspired by evil. We therefore need to understand this apparent harshness in that context. After all, we know that Jesus’ family were worried, and the crowd said he had gone mad, but only the scribes get this reproach. And even then, Jesus doesn’t directly state that they have already committed this terrible sin.

We also forget that Jesus sometimes speaks like one of the prophets of the Old Testament. Those prophets of old often seem to be foretelling doom and destruction, and yet the fulfilment of their prophecies aren’t always seen through those apparent predictions coming to pass. This is best illustrated in the story of Jonah, who reluctantly ends up in Nineveh to predict the demise of the city (Jonah 3:3-5), but they change their ways and the destruction doesn’t happen – much to Jonah’s disappointment (4:1-3). His prophecy was fulfilled, not by a prediction coming true, but by producing change in the hearts of the citizens of Nineveh.

I think we need to see Jesus’ words in that way here. I believe he is seeking change in the scribes – here his harshest critics - by confronting them in the role of a prophet.

Therefore, we need to turn this passage round. Rather than see it as a limitation, or a catch-clause in a kind of divine contract, we need to look at it differently and more positively. This is really about how difficult it is to escape the reach of God’s grace.

God’s grace, his love, his forgiveness, and his offer of reconciliation are available to everyone, always. In Jesus, that offer is made in person. The text indicates that the only way to place yourself beyond the reach of that infinite and inclusive offer would be to consciously, wilfully and persistently identify that offer with something evil to the very end. Only that can be described - in Jesus’ words – as eternal sin. This is not about a slip of the tongue, or a bad day at the office, or even a difficult spell that we all have in our lives; it is about being completely and permanently closed to receiving anything of the light, love, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation of God represented in Jesus.

A good panel at a job interview do not judge on one comment in isolation from everything else they know about you; they look at the whole picture. A relationship with real potential doesn’t crash with one wrong comment on a date – it works at it to understand. Likewise, our relationship with God doesn’t hinge on a slip of the tongue, a moment of doubt, a mistake in life.

I’ll conclude with some wisdom from Charles Cranfield, who wrote a classic commentary on Mark’s gospel:

“It is a matter of great importance pastorally that we can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that they have committed this sin, that the fact they are so troubled by it is itself a sure proof that they have not committed it.”