Posted in Reflection, Sermon

“Deep, deep as the ocean…”(Season of Creation 1)

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans which contain 97.5% of the water on the planet.

It is estimated that the oceans formed between 4.6 and 3.8 billion years ago.

Life began in the oceans because of the nutrients that were washed into the oceans and provided the content for primitive unicellular bacteria to develop, so one could say that the oceans are the primordial archetype of God as all life emerged from the oceans

It is probably this archetypical power that explains why the sea holds such a fascination and a sense of deep threat to us all. As Joseph Conrad has it, “The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.

At a psychological level, the ocean with its restless surging has often been a metaphor for the unconscious part of humanity. As Carl Jung said, “Consciousness seems like an island surrounded by the sea in which there is a self-replenishing abundance of living creatures.”

The early Hebrews had a deep respect for, and fear of, the sea.

Possibly because they had their origins as desert nomads in the Sinai Peninsula, when they came eventually to settle in Canaan, the Hebrews never became a seafaring nation, despite the fact that their entire western Border was the Mediterranean ocean. The closest the Jews came to seafaring was to be Lake-farers on the Sea of Galilee.

Today’s Season of Creation Gospel locates Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.

At the literal level (always the lowest level of meaning for literature) this is an account of the call of some Galilean fishermen to follow Jesus. That is what I would call the Sunday School level of interacting with the story. Many of us grew up with that level of interpretation and reading the narrative as adults there is the temptation to revert to only that understanding of a nursery bible story. To do that as adults is, I believe, to shirk our responsibility to seek the symbolic depth of this account of human transformation.

What is most haunting in this account is the instruction of Jesus, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” It is a command for the fishermen to trust him at the point of their impotence

Now we need to be clear that in oceanographic terms the invitation to go deeper was not a huge ask. The Sea of Galilee has a maximum depth 43 metres, which is within the capacity of a level one scuba diver. To put it is perspective the deepest place in the oceans is the Puerto Rico trench which drops to an amazing 8605 metres!  However, when you are used to keeping to the shallows, any depth is deeper than where you are.

In order to relevantly access this gospel narrative from the context of 2010, I would like to suggest that this passage has the potential for being a profound map for our own transforming following of Jesus.

Would it be too much to suggest that Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.“; could also mean, “Don’t be afraid to explore the unconscious, for there you will find nourishment.”?

  • Is it not true for many of us that our deepening experiences with Jesus happen when we are resting on the shores of our self sufficiency, thinking the work is finished?
  • Or at times when, Jesus invites us to explore something new, against our better judgement. We follow simply because a deeper authority invites us?
  • Many of us will know that when we have responded to the call of Jesus to go deeper we have discovered a harvest from the depths we have not explored before.
  • Sometimes that invitation has meant that we had to encounter and override our fear and resistance
  • Just like those fishermen, these depth encounters have been an equipping for new life tasks, and all because we risked some depth.

I am blessed to live at the ocean. I see the mysterious depths from my window where I write this. Oft times when I gaze at this ancient mass of water, and hear the voice of the surf, I glimpse that like the ocean, God is an unfathomable, mysterious presence of life giving love. I pray that I will always have the courage to risk going deeper into that abbysal love.

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Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Reflection, Sermon

Hidden in plain sight

Luke 14:1-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I am fascinated by the human mind and its abilities. One such ability, that I have yet to find a satisfactory explanation for, is the one that alerts you to the fact that you are being watched. It has happened to you, I am sure. Standing in a busy street, you become aware of something, you look up and straight into the eyes of a person who is staring at you. I of course have great fun with this the other way around. Staring at people from my coffee shop table I see how long it takes them to realise they are being watched.

In this Sunday’s gospel, it seems Jesus was under multi-scrutiny. Yet the seer who was being watched was also capable of noticing what the watchers were blind to.

Last week I reflected on how Jesus in Luke 13:10ff was able to see in the following ways:

  • He saw the person and not the condition.
  • He saw the potential and not the present manifestation.
  • He saw without prejudice.

This week there is more watching going on, and the seeing contrasts with the characteristic seeing of Jesus from last week.

Here the looking is to judge, to assess and to catch Jesus possibly committing an error. Just the kind of observation we have become so accustomed to in the church. Like internal auditors constantly in search of fraud we scan the lives of others, and also our own for the least inconsistency so that we van pounce and cry, “Fraud!

How contrasting, once again, is the seeing of Jesus. Despite being aware of being scrutinised he does not become preoccupied with that. Instead, he is able to notice the man with dropsy, whom Luke describes as, “Just then, in front of him…“. This description reads like the directions for a stage play, “Just then, in front of him…” For me this cameo is a powerful glimpse into the mindfulness of Jesus who, despite all the drama and projections around him, is able to see what is, “Just then, in front of him…

I find myself desiring to be that focussed in my own day to day dramas.

Is it possible, in the midst of others projections, evaluations, and judgements of my every move, to still be focussed on that which is “Just then, in front of me?“. Jesus shows me it is possible.

The rest of the gospel passage would seem to flow from that moment of concentrated compassionate seeing.

Jesus uses the man’s need to teach the lesson that, in the compassionate Kingdom of the Heavenly Parent, love must always override legal observance. That segment of the story seems to have a logical connection to the mindful seeing of the dropsical man. How though does the teaching on the places of privilege have bearing on contemplative, compassionate seeing?

I would suggest that Jesus is teaching that our vision is refracted through our values.

If position, privilege and power are the values that we pursue, as the wedding guests who scan the seating plan for any sign that they may have been disadvantaged by the wedding planners; to that extent we will be disabled from seeing the humility and humanity of others needs that may “Just then, be in front of us

Once again Jesus’ teaching is a real eye-opener.

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Reflection, Sermon

Believing is seeing.

Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

One hundred and thirty eight times, in the four gospels, Jesus is reported as “seeing”.

Jesus noticed. Jesus was a “seer”.

It wasn’t that others around him did not see, it was the way he saw that contrasted with his disciples, the crowd, the Pharisees and generally everyone else. In last week’s lectionary reading, Jesus accused the crowd of being hypocites, because they were able to see the signs that foretold the changing weather (Lk12:55) but were unable to see the signs that showed that their heavenly parent wanted to give the kingdom to them, the little flock.(Lk 11:32)

There are forty four references to Jesus referring to or working with eyes in the gospels. One of the recurrent miracles of Jesus was to restore sight to the blind. It would seem that the people of Jesus’ day had a problem with seeing. Certainly they did not see as he saw, and thus did not see what he saw.

In today’s passage Jesus encounters a woman who has been crippled (astheneia – a word still with us in asthma and a male infertility disorder called astheno teratozoospermia lit “weak sperm”). The woman Jesus saw had been crippled for eighteen years, long enough I would speculate, for herto be seen by her community as the “bent over crippled woman”. So when she appeared in the synagogue, no one except Jesus, would have seen anyone other than a crippled woman.

What tells us that Jesus, saw something else is that his first words to her are in contradiction of her outward appearance, “Woman you are set free from your ailment“. The next thing Jesus does is to touch her, and it would seem that the contact is simple human contact and not some magical transfer of healing energy moment, as it is often interpreted as being. Just those words, based on unique seeing, and a simple human touch are enough to heal this woman and set her off praising God.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to see like that!

So I ask myself, “What was different in the way Jesus saw this woman that could teach me to see as he saw?”

In answer to my question, I noticed three aspects:

He saw the person and not the condition.

Whenever I have had the really challenging task of conducting a funeral for someone who has taken their own life, I have encouraged the congregation to remember that a person, any person is much, much more than the way that they died. It is a real trap to speak of a person who died by their own hand, as forever after, “a suicide” and to forget that they were also a person, in relationships, with a family, a career, a home.

The leader of the synangogue, in today’s reading saw only the misdemeanour of a healing on the Sabbath.  Jesus saw a miracle of a woman whose cure was imminent (and immanent).

In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the person and not the condition?

He saw the potential and not the present manifestation.

I would love to have the technology to evaluate exactly at what point the healing of the crippled woman took place. Was it when she was seen by Jesus? Was it when he told her she was free of her ailment? Was it when he touched her? I have no way of identifying the moment, but I would like to think that, at some level, the healing began when Jesus saw her as whole and not bent-double.

Just as quantum physics is teaching us that our expectations of outcomes in the experiments we are observing can determine the data we observe in the experiment, so too I believe people often become and manifest what we “see” them to be. In South Africa where we are still working on the fallout of our Apartheid heritage, there is a question asked in anti-bias workshops. The leader asks the group, “Why is it that when we see a white person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is late for?‘” “When we see a black person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is running from?‘” What effect does our shadow projection, or by contrast our light projection onto people do to the experiences they and we have of each other. The work of Carl Gustav Jung has shown that the effects are significant.

In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the potential in the seemingly suffering individual before me?

He saw without prejudice.

It would seem that Jesus had the wonderful gift to see exactly what was before him in its full kingdom potential and not be swayed by obvious externals and past realities that might contradict what he was seeing at a deeper level.

Prejudice affects us all. The word means to “judge before”

I remember a case that was told me of a teacher who was given false information about the intelligence and learning abilities of a class of children. After just one semester the children were actually performing according to the false profiles she had been given. Her prejudice had created real behaviour in the classroom.

In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the reality of the person rather than be swayed what I have been told or experienced of them before this moment? Can I act always without prejudice?

When I think of my work as a healer, (I believe all ministry is healing at some level) I realise that healing begins when people are seen as Jesus would see them:

  • With Unconditional Acceptance
  • With appreciation for their person and not their problem.
  • With vision for their potential and not their limitations
  • With insight into how my prejudice could keep them in bondage to suffering, or if I could let my prejudice go, to their liberation.

A dear colleague of mine, Don Scrooby, has a wonder-filled blog called Seeing more Clearly.  I like that.

Believing is seeing…. as Jesus does.

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Reflection, Sermon

The cost of values

If this was a soap opera script it would begin as follows…

“Last week on ‘Following Jesus‘”

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

“…and now to this week’s episode of ‘Following Jesus'”

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Last week I was reflecting that there is a shift of mood in the gospel that we read from Luke 12:32-48. The passage begins with a beautiful theme of blessing for the crowd. The “little flock” are to be the recipients of the basilea, the reign of a parental God, (contrasted with the despotic turannis of Rome). [I have coloured that text green] I suggested that perhaps the latter half of the passage [which I have coloured red] reflected the mood of an abused and despondent church at the time Luke wrote: a church that was being abused by leaders that had lost their way and their focus.

To enter fully into this week’s passage (verses 49-56) we have to connect it to the preceding passage for it is the same dialogue, and I have coloured the text for this week to continue the mood from “last week”.

I can’t remember where it was that I first learnt of the two levels of Jesus’ teaching, so forgive me for not referencing my source. My memory is becoming a forgettery! It is however an interesting dimension to bear in mind when reading the teachings of Jesus. When he is with the crowd, strangers and foreigners, he proclaims the Good News of God’s unconditional acceptance and universal compassion. When Jesus is with the disciples, his teaching is far more demanding and often blunt. “How much longer do I have to put up with you?!“, kind of sayings. The point is that the Good News brings us to the place of commitment and discipleship, not the other way around. I am dumbfounded when I hear preaching that implies that only when we have done the “hard stuff” will we experience grace. “No! No! No!“, I want to scream, “We do the hard stuff because we have experienced grace!

Jesus is continuing, this week, to answer Peter’s question, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”. His initial response is to warn the douloi (slaves) of the Bridegroom not to become lax and abusive of their fellow servants whilst waiting for the return of the Bridegroom. (I asked last week if this was perhaps Luke’s editorialising of the narrative as he saw the abuses of the ninth century church?)

In the final part of that answer to Peter, Jesus speaks in graphic terms to the disciples about the division his proclamation will bring, and then he ends with a final challenge to the crowd.

Firstly Jesus speaks of bringing fire to the earth. Here is a possible allusion to Elijah, the conqueror of the false prophets in his day. In similar ways Jesus understands his mission to challenge and confront the lost and erroneous worship values of his day. An ironic insight comes from the Greek, where the word for fire is “Pur” could this be a etymological root in our word “purify”? None of the etymological dictionaries I consulted gave that but it’s a nice little hook for this discussion.

He goes on to talk about his baptism, his initiation. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Once again dipping into the Greek text discloses that Jesus is again using the word telesthei which is the same word he cries from the cross when “It is accomplished“, “Tetelestai” For more on this see (my blog from last week.)

The stress that Jesus says he is experiencing until his “baptism” is accomplished is the same word Paul uses when he writes “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14

From this point Jesus launches into a disturbing discourse about the divisions that his coming will bring about on earth. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” What does this all mean?

Firstly five is never going to divide equally. Odd numbers never do! Is this the origin of “being at odds with someone”?

Secondly, I must confess that the specific relationships Jesus points out are the ones which, in my experience, are most naturally conflicted! Think about it…

  • Father against son.
  • Mother against daughter
  • Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and vice versa

These are the classic conflict lines in families.

Note he doesn’t say :

  • Father against daughter
  • Mother against son
  • Brother against sister

These great primal and psychological bonds that are the subjects of a thousand human dramas, on and off the stage, are not part of the list. Why is this so? Why are the most common lines of conflict used by Jesus to illustrate the division he is going to bring?

Is Jesus, as reported by Luke, choosing these three examples of natural conflict very specifically to illustrate the crisis that following Jesus will bring? I think so.

Firstly in the reference to the “Father and Son” conflict Jesus is making the following clear. Conflict is natural, and the conflict between the followers of Jesus and the old order will be a natural consequence of his kingdom’s (basilea’s) reign against the turranis (despotic power) of the established political order and the cult of Emperor worship imposed by Rome. The Pariarchal power of old order dominance and oppression has no place in the kingdom of Jesus. We must never forget, especially in these perilous political times, that the first Christians were persecuted not for dogma, but for devotion. They refused to bow down to the image of the Emperor as was required of all Roman citizens and people in occupied territories.

Secondly, relating to the Mother against daughter, the conflict is not only going to be against the powers and principalities of Rome. The Jews of Jesus day had a similar opposition to Emperor worship yet they too came into conflict with the values of the Kingdom of the Heavens. That is because the kingdom crisis reaches into Matriarchal energies and strongholds. It is worth remembering that the Jews were and are, a Matrilineal culture in the time of Jesus. Matrilinearity had been developing in the Hellenistic world not from the Torah, but in the oral tradition which was codified in the Talmud by the 2nd century CE, which means it would have been active in the traditions and times of the Jesus and the early church. See Wikipedia . Having illustrated the crisis the Kingdom will be to Patriotism (you did see pater in Patriotism?) with regard to the Father- son conflict and Rome. I suggest that in the Mother-daughter conflict Jesus is now illustrating the conflict the kingdom crisis will bring for the established matrilinear religion of his day. The old evangelical adage, “God has no grandchildren” which was used to emphasize that each generation has to make their own decision for Christ, is helpful to illustrate the Mother-daughter conflict. Claiming religious lineage is not a kingdom value.

So finally the Mother-in-law / Daughter-in-law, reciprocal conflict; what can this mean? I must admit I was stumped with this one at first until I fired up ISA2 once more. [No it isn’t a NASA rocket, it is Interlinear Scripture Analyzer 2 a really useful program that makes my Greek look much better than it is.

What I discovered is that the literal words in the Greek text of Luke don’t say Mother-in-Law / Daughter-in-law. The literal words are “Matri penthera epi tein Numphein auteis”. Translating word by word, that reads “Mother mother-in-law on the BRIDE of her”. The big AHA for me was that what we translate as daughter-in-law is the word Numphein ie Nymph which literally means bride. Numphein is used only in the Gospels of Matthew Luke and John where it refers to “bride” and then in Revelation where it refers to the Bride of the Lamb, which is the church! I would suggest that in this third example of the conflict the kingdom will bring Jesus is acknowledging that his kingdom will not only bring conflict between Church and State; nor only between Church and the originating Mother of the Church, the Judaism of Jesus’ day. The mother-in-law will be in conflict with the bride. Law and grace, forever in tension.

Could it be that Jesus was teaching the disciples to be aware that within the church itself there would be division and discord caused by the crisis of the new values of the kingdom of God’s reign?

I believe he was. Simply supporting the church status quo is not a kingdom value. Self criticism and constant measurement against kingdom values is essential. As evidence of this need I would cite the following:

  • Within a few centuries the Church had acquiesced to the power of the state and the Pope was the Spiritual Emperor. The Father son conflict was papered over in a political truce that has never really worked.
  • The Patristic councils effectively expunged all Matriarchal forms of Christianity in its Gnostic formulations and with the hatchet job done on Mary Magdalene. This feminine energy has only recently been replaced by the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary promulgated in 1950 and celebrated by our Catholic friends this very Sunday. Subsequent strides in Feminist theology still strive to restore the balance within the church.
  • The Reformation and Counter-reformation were shifts and shakes in an organism that constantly has to be self-reflective and by implication self-critical.
  • In our own day the Emerging church is a form in which that self-critical assessment continues to strive for context relevance in tension with honesty and obedience to Jesus.

We would do well as church to not be afraid to constantly asses the state of the predicted Father-son, Mother-daughter and Mother-in-Law to Bride, conflicts of our day.

In conclusion Jesus turns to the crowd and accuses them of hypocrisy. He reminds them of their ability to read the weather and yet at the same time to avoid seeing the blatant truth of God’s values juxtaposed with political, religious and organizational power.

I wonder if he would say the same to us today? It seems that the values of the kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate and which he accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, are still in tension with the values of our politics, our religions and our organizations.

Are we prepared to bear the cost of Christ’s Kingdom values?

Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Reflection, Sermon

Why are we delaying the party?

Luke 12:32-48

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded

It would seem that this passage breaks down into two parts, paragraph one is the declaration and paragraph two the dialogue.

In the declaration of paragraph one, Jesus puts his hearers at ease. Daddy God, Abba, wants to give you the kingdom where he lives, with pleasure. So you can get rid of all your possessions and give alms to the poor because your investment is in the kingdom of the heavens, far from robbers and inflation. Do this because wherever you invest your life is where your attention will be.

The master is coming soon to celebrate his victory and even his slaves will be blessed in this celebration. The master will serve the slaves (douloi = slaves who were born in slavery, not enslaved), the only condition is the slaves must be awake and recognize him when he knocks at the door. It might even be in the middle of the night so vigilance is necessary so as not to fall asleep and miss the arrival of the master.

As I read this first section, the sense of immanence and urgency is palpable. The kingdom, the basilea in Greek  is already here!

The second half of the passage has a different feel. The energy shifts and it seems that the immanence and expectancy dissipates. Could there be some delay between the writing of these two paragraphs?

The detective in me wonders why it is Peter who is asking the question? Could this be the voice of Early Christians being put into the mouth of the Petros (stone) on which Christ said he would build his church? The reference to the abuse of other slaves, eating and drinking and getting drunk are all the result of the master being delayed. Is this not a dramatization of the Early Church trying to deal with their crisis of expectations? They had believed, lived and preached that Jesus was returning soon. Luke, writing after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, would have known the dynamics of this crisis only too well.

If that is the case, how much more acute is the crisis for us as modern Christ followers, if we are still holding out for a physical return of Christ in time and space?

Allow me to say out loud what many of us have may been thinking for some time. Given what we are discovering about the Universe, its origins, scope and scale, it seems very unlikely that the Apocalyptic visions of the book of the Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and all others that have been mustered to determine the details of how it is all going to end, will be realised. It seems reasonable to believe that the information streaming from The Hubble Telescope and from the Large Hadron Collider on the macro and micro fronteirs of our exploration demands that we acknowledge the universe doesn’t work like the Mayans, Nostradamus nor even the early Christians thought it did.

In fact, what I have come to realise as I navigate this ocean of opinion in the quest for mainlands of meaning, is that admitting that we have not fully understood all that Jesus was trying to communicate, may open us to a fresh perspective which in turn might be our real hope.

So let me make some statements that might be co-ordinates as we chart our course towards a more integrated and intellectually honest understanding of this Bridal feast teaching.

The first statement is about scripture. If we are to be intellectually honest we have to allow our understanding of the levels of scripture to grow. That journey begins by recognizing that in any text, be it prose, poetry, mythology or science, the literal meaning is the lowest level of understanding.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And Eternity in an hour.

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

Why is it, when we read William Blake’s words from “Auguries of Innocence” we do not demand from the words literal veracity that we demand from similar words of scripture?  Yet it is this very suspension of any demand for scientific and historic accuracy that makes his poem and any other capable of moving us most deeply. I wonder what it will take for us to see the words of Scripture as the profound truths about reality that they really are, despite the fact that they may not square with current scientific information. Truth is truth when it moves our hearts and not merely when it makes us nod our heads.

Moving on from there, my second statement is premised on the first. The kingdom of our Heavenly parent is real and experienced in every moment that we allow peace, compassion and love to suspend our judgment, opinion and our demand for the power of always being correct. I need to pause for a moment, to explain that “the kingdom” is a reign (basilea). The opposite of basilea (reign, dominion, kingdom) is turannis a monarchy, or sovereignty. It is worth noting that the word turannis occurs nowhere in the New Testament. How I wish to basilea that some members of the Fundamentalist Christian Taliban would understand the subtleties of this! It suggests that if I can stop my own fear based tyrannical demand for control of everything and everyone in my world, I can live in the readiness that I am going to hear my master the bridegroom, knocking on the doors of my experience multiple times a day! I will celebrate providence and perfection in multiple moments when I know that I am already feasting with my Lord.

From this place of realized eschatology where I recognize that Jesus has already returned, (in fact he never left) I will relax from always having to judge and discern who is in the Kingdom and who is outside the Kingdom, because Jesus is here and he is the way the truth and the life and not me, nor my doctrine nor my denomination.

“But what about the end times?” you cry. Allow me an attempt at a concluding statement. There are two ways that we can understand “end”. The first is the Latin word Finis I am old enough to remember seeing that word as the final title on the movie screen. “It is Finished” This is the end of the movie. The film has spooled out of the projector.

There is however, another word for “end”. It is the Greek word Telos.
This word means end in the sense of everything being accomplished. It is the root for the word that describes Jesus knowing that all things having been accomplished (tetelestai) then says “I thirst.” (John 19:28) And later himself says, “It is accomplished (tetelestai)” and dies. (John 19:30). It is this word that allows me to suggest that what many Christians still see as only coming in the future, End (finis) times, is already here in these End (telos) times. You see, telos time is like the “whodunnit” mystery novels, it makes sense of the clues that we have been glimpsing all along. The things we suspected all along, but were too afraid to ask or that the Church was too afraid to let us believe lest we would no longer be controlled, attend worship and pay our tithes!

The disturbing second part of our scripture passage, that I suggest are the words of a later, well developed church, point to a community that is beginning to obfuscate the direct experience of Jesus by neglecting and abusing their fellow servants in the belief that Jesus is not going to be around for a while and so the leadership have to take over control and dominate the membership. It is the beginning of the Christian Taliban that has blossomed at various times of history and is in full bloom all around us at the moment.

Exclusionary, xenophobic, ethnocentric, separatist… how many words have we found in our modern vocabularies to describe the horrific clues we have been witnessing in the church but are not confident to name or challenge? At the heart of the abuses of the second paragraph abuses in our passage, lies the drift from a telos understanding of end to a finis, understanding of end. Jesus proclaimed the telos had happened. The church realised that only with the threat of finis, could they keep control. So they switched the focus!

Fortunately, not everyone was fooled. In very generation and thankfully in our own, there have been saints and sages who have lived as if the echoes from the cross were true. “Tetelestai!” they cried as they lived in the reality that the Kingdom is already amongst us, and the challenge of our Gospel first paragraph life is possible. For them, despite severe opposition, from the finis camp, the telos of a loving Father’s kingdom made the present moment vibrant and pregnant with grace and redemption.

Would you like a checklist of the clues they discovered?

  • Reconciliation with God? Accomplished.
  • Binding of Satan? Accomplished.
  • Defeat of evil? Accomplished.
  • Freedom for all? Accomplished.
  • Emptying of Hell? Accomplished.
  • Living in paradise? Accomplished.

But why can’t we see it?” we whine.

Because we are blinded by our dogmas and our devotion to outdated and increasingly irrelevant creeds (If we demand they be understood literally)

But for those who know what the Master wants, who understand that he requires compassion and care for every one of his servants; those who know a lot and those who know very little, if we will do what he told us to do in the first paragraph we read…:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

… for these who can look above the literal and see the mystery of heaven already present and breaking through into present time, those will understand exactly how…

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

TETELESTAI!!!!