Archive | March, 2020

Deadly celebrations

30 Mar

In Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish occupied homeland, large crowds would have gathered for the celebration of the feast of Passover. In general, but especially during occasions like this, the Jewish leaders were co-operative with the occupying Romans in order to keep the peace and perhaps even more to retain their tenuous position of authority in the area. The Romans were indulgent of many different religions including the Jewish, and of their various practices such as these gatherings of festive crowds and the processions, but they were always wary of the potential threat to authority. Many in this Jewish crowd believed at that time that their God would restore the sovereignty of the land to them in the near future, and maybe even bring to its fulfilment the glory for their race and their Jewish religion.

Many of those gathered who hoped for this reclamation of their land and even expected the climax of their destiny, were seriously considering Jesus as a potential leader in this fulfilment. They were impressed by his speeches and enthusiasm, believing that he might be their liberator and saviour. They would have been encouraged also by his miraculous powers. According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke he had recently, almost violently, demonstrated his opposition to ‘monetary’ transactions conducted within the temple. But according to John’s gospel he had recently demonstrated even death-defying power at a location just outside of the capital (the raisin of Lazarus). Consequently there was serious expectation by many that Jesus would lead them not only to freedom from Rome, but to an apocalyptic and complete fulfilment of their destiny – Deadly celebrations – and of this the authorities were aware. It was especially this attitude of the crowds that led the Romans and Jewish leaders to the decision to eliminate this man, Jesus. What we might now see as a misunderstanding of his message arose from their selfish and this-worldly hopes expressed in their celebrations at this time, which in turn led to his arrest, trial and public execution – public for all to see that he was not their freedom fighter, liberator or saviour.

Now with this in mind and particularly at this time I must carefully consider my own beliefs and hopes as a Catholic and a Christian. I must reflect on my attitude to many of the aspects of Christianity, on the numerous and specifically Christian doctrines, on my attitude to leaders in the church and concerning the many ‘miraculous’ happenings that they might promote and I so readily accept, and may even rejoice in. These reflections and this re-consideration must also affect my attitude to people of other religions and of none, who have their own standards of living in acceptable and civilised ways as much as I do. I must try to avoid my celebrations being the death of the beautiful and all-embracing love that Christ wants of me.

Our risen life!

23 Mar

The story in John’s gospel about the raising of Lazarus (Chapter 11) is very relevant to yours and my life today. I say this because it is too easy just to be amazed at the miracle of the story and have no reaction but wonder at the power of God. Yes, it is a tale about a risen and new life enabled by Jesus – but only an illustration of who He was and is now for us, all because of His entry into humanity at what we call his incarnation, and because of his completion of this with death and resurrection. He is the exemplar of true humanity and acclaims in this gospel (good news) “I am the resurrection and the life.”

In all his encounters with people in John’s gospel Jesus is seen to offer this transformation to a risen reality in unity with God. This is shown in the storeys unique to John’s gospel. The first is symbolic with the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Again he wants to renew the worship in the temple – which needs it. But he also speaks of the temple of his human body being transformed. In his conversation with Nicodemus he speaks of a new life in the spirit – be born again. To a Samaritan woman at the well he can give the water of new life. He restores the life of a sick man at Bethsaida to the almost anger of those in authority, then later at a miraculous feeding of crowds says “I am the bread of Life” if you believe you will have eternal life, saying in verse 12 of Chapter 8, follow me and you will have the light of life. And the cure of the blind man gives a sign again of the new life that belief in Jesus can bring. “Follow me… I give eternal life” he says in chapter 10.  All this in John’s gospel comes to a head with Lazarus and later to a climax with Jesus’ death which in this Gospel is a completion rather than a termination.

The danger of seeing

16 Mar

Young children generally see everything as new, interesting, exciting and a challenge. But gradually as they grow up, become socialised and schooled and then they can loose this vision of everything as a wonder. I sometimes think that this process can happen in religion. At first if exposed to religion with its beliefs and rituals it seems exciting, but soon the ever questioning child becomes difficult to give satisfactory explanations to and is expected just to accept things as they are and as they are taught.

Many as adults, if they are still religious can be stuck at this stage of not really understanding, not wondering why; and in fact not ever being given an acceptable explanation from ministers or teachers – folk who perhaps are just ‘faithful’ to the teachings of the church and see no real beauty and remarkable wonder of it all. Fortunately some believers do see the beauty and the mystery of their religion, and then are like people who come to see – cured of any ‘blindness’ that they previously had.

People who can joyfully celebrate the ‘magic’ and mystery of their church’s teaching can become a nuisance to the ‘rigid’ leaders and ‘supposedly’ teachers of the doctrines of the church. If you have read a number of my jottings you might realise that I don’t always use traditional expressions of ‘doctrines’ but rather see their mystery and challenge. If I am or you are such a ‘childlike’ and active wonderer we might understand a deeper meaning in the story of the cured blind man who meets official opposition. At the end of the story in John’s gospel of a cure of a blind man, Jesus foresees this transformation but also the trouble it can cause, saying “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” John 9:39.

Unity for all

9 Mar

The history of all peoples, individuals and nations, in our own time as well as in the past has a certain pattern.  The words of God especially in the history part of the Old Testament are about this but with the twist that God can always be relied upon to bring brightness and joy after it all.  As well as there being different tribes and nations even in the early church there were divisions among Christians themselves with different takes on what it meant to be a Christian.  Paul writes to such Christians in Corinth.  He says all should remember that it is Christ who died for all and all should work together!  The gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus in the eyes of His chosen disciples picks up on these ideas – seeing Jesus as the light for all.  But it also tells us Christians of discipleship – even those called may be quite different from each other but are called equally to follow Jesus in their new life.

Pass it on

2 Mar

The call that we have (perhaps as Christians) is more like a vocation. But in the long story of the Bible the call that Abraham had, and its development is also seen as a gift and blessing. As in all stories this is expressed in narrative form in order to capture its significance – God says to Abram “I will bless you.”   And thereafter his descendants experienced blessing but also difficulties when this was needed for their progress. Then in the early days of Jesus’ believers this blessing is called a grace which will bring suffering /difficulties and yet lead to life beyond death – immortality. This is the stage we are at now with its grace, its need to move on and its suffering and even death, prior to immortality. It has been passed on and has developed from the earliest times and passed on to us today. The whole earth and its inhabitants is transformed through Christ and immortality is there for us – God is in every positive reality, especially in fellow humans.   We should see God especially in others – as the story of Jesus’ transfiguration revealed His reality to His disciples. We must live aware of this, treat others accordingly and help to pass it on.