Thursday, 20 June 2013

Jesus crossed the lake for me.

The 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Luke 8:26-39

The headlong rush of a herd of demon-possessed pigs down a hillside into the water attracts the attention of the village elders in a small community on the southeast corner of the Sea of Galilee.  They ask Jesus to leave their community - to get back into his boat and return to his side of the lake.  It's all too much. 
Our story began with an encounter between Jesus and a highly disturbed man who ran up to challenge him the moment Jesus got out of the boat.  From there the account got noisy - with shouts of defiance from the demons, the bit with the pigs and then some sort of argument with the local townsmen. 

If we had listened last week we might have seen a similar "shape" to the Gospel reading.  In last week's story an unhappy woman enters the room and conflict (or at least unsettling questions - depending on the version of the story) result.  Then, Jesus turned to Simon the Pharisee and said:  "Simon, do you see this woman...?" and ends with words of forgiveness directed to the woman.

In this week's story, once the pigs are gone and the noise dies down, both Mark and Luke refocus the attention of the reader upon the young man now sitting at Jesus' feet with his clothes back on and "in his right mind".  
"Do you see this woman?" asked Jesus last week. 
“Do you see this man?” Mark and Luke seem to be asking this week. 

What was reported by the city fathers, no doubt, was a story of social disorder and the loss of valuable livestock at the hands of a troublesome prophet from across the lake who had no business in this community.  What is explicitly reported, however, by the young man - now clothed and in his right mind - is that through the ministry of the man Jesus, God had visited an individual in his misfortune. 
Jesus crossed the lake for me.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

It will all come pouring out

Luke 7:36 - 8:3
(cf. Matt 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-8)

This Sunday's Gospel takes three slightly different forms in Matthew and Mark and Luke and a completely alternate retelling in John's Gospel:

A woman of ill-repute breaks into a dinner party made up of worthy people. She anoints Jesus with costly and fragrant ointment and weeps. The onlookers are aghast that Jesus should allow someone so sullied to have physical contact with him or (in Mark and Matthew's version) that expensive ointment has been so extravagantly wasted.

Is it only my imagination or do notorious sinners secretly save things up: money in numbered accounts or bodies buried somewhere? They accumulate people - confederates to keep their secrets and friendly policemen to turn a blind eye. They keep a pot of expensive perfume at home to make their world smell better. They save up alibis or excuses which they rehearse. They must even convince themselves. They collect a series of routes home which bypass the people who know them and could denounce them. In the long run the lies they tell to hide their misdeeds become complicated and interlocking and hard to maintain.

Even those who may not consider themselves particularly notorious sinners will recognize this accumulated burden which they bear around in secret upon their shoulders. It may all become too much - as it did for this woman who, one day, decides to end the pretense. She hears the buzz in the market that Jesus is in her neighborhood and will be eating with Simon the Pharisee at his house. She knows the place and that Jesus is a perceptive prophet. There she will be known and exposed. She will come clean.

It will all come pouring out.

When we love, testify or confess we spread our riches about. We empty our account. And rather than leaving us bereft, the perfume fills the room. Until this point the road has always carried us away from community, away from friendship and away from confident commerce with strangers. Jesus’ very presence can coax us from the tree where we've been hiding, up from the beggar’s corner that has been our lot in life - into community, into friendship and into forgiveness.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The grief of widows.

The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Luke 7:11-17

The household and the affairs of a poor widow need pretty much to be dragged into the history books.  Poor widows rarely figure amongst the "great and the good" - that collection of soldiers, legislators, kings, presidents, scholars and business moguls - who historians prefer to write about.  Poor widows tend to anonymity.  They and their poorly-fed children pass from the scene largely unnoticed.

Not, though, in the two stories we will read this Sunday:  In these two stories God's grace pays a visit to the economic and political hinterland.  Health and restoration take place in humble surroundings.  We are reminded - we small and finite people - that our unremarkable lives are the sort of "earthen vessels" well suited to contain God's Spirit and that where we live is an appropriate stopping place for Jesus.

The faithful across the centuries have laid before God their lives and the lives of their children - their jobs, their moods and their marriages not only because God in his omnipresence and omniscience "has his eye on the sparrow" (and therefore us as well) but because God took human life, human flesh, human speech and human community as the appropriate vehicle for the salvation of the world.  Our lives matter - the human flesh which aches and the hopes which are dashed are all part of that physical and affective world which God in the Incarnation "inhabits". The small is infinitely larger than we might admit and there is no place or human person so small and mean as to be forgotten or overlooked. 

We may, as well, emulate such grace in our relations with each other - in our care of the quiet and the poor and the suffering in our own communities - and be channels of that same careful and comprehensive love.