Cannibal or Mystical? Ordinary 20b John 6:51-58

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

It is interesting to me that the three world religions that have the highest incidence of conflict and war are the three “religions of the book”.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the dubious distinction of having fought most amongst themselves and others.

As one whose initial, adolescent and subsequent experience of God has been direct and thus mystical, I think I know the reason for the conflict. Some things are just impossible to put into words. To presume to capture, or at best. describe the ineffable in language is almost impossible. The most eloquent and reasoned statement of belief is immediately vulnerable to misunderstanding and conflict.

As I read today’s gospel, I was reminded of this difficulty with descriptions. Eating Jesus’s flesh drinking his blood? What on earth (or in heaven) is he going on about?

Whilst having to think coherently about something to say on Sunday, I am also beginning my newest book. Yes a real paper version, with “pages”, purchased last week at my favourite bookstore. It is by Kevin Nelson MD Professor of Neurology at the University of Kentucky and titled, “The God Impulse: Is religion hardwired into our brains?“.
It is early days. I am only on the thirty third page, but already I am engaged. At the moment Nelson is reminding me of the monumental work of William James in “The Varieties of Religious Experience“. It is at this point that the book intersects the Sunday gospel.  Nelson is outlining on page thirty three  the four qualities that James listed for mystical experience. If like me you are grappling with the cannibalistic communion that John’s gospel is describing, these four qualities may help?

According to William James a mystical experience has the following qualities:

  1. It is somehow beyond language.
  2. It imparts knowledge that is above normal human understanding.
  3. It is of brief duration.
  4. The person having the experience is passive.

The first statement above is key to the text this week. The encounter Jesus is describing does, in a sense, defy description. That is why he uses the profound language of mastication, ingestion and absorbtion.
To even begin to take this language literally would be disastrous.
This is exactly the problem the religions of the book have. “Literalism is idolatry” or so says the British Philosopher Owen Barfield.  To expect the already challenged language of our beloved mystical religions of the book to yield literal, utilitarian instruction manuals is not only silly, it is downright dangerous.

So I hope this Sunday, not to explain this gospel passage in any way.

I hope not to give my hearers easy recipes for action.

I hope only to immerse them in the mystery that Jesus is intimately masticable, ingestible and absorbable in ways that defy understanding but which can be life transforming.

What beggars know about bread. John 6:35-51 Ordinary 19b

John 6:35-51

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I find it difficult to understand how the message of Jesus that was so clearly universal in its scope and in its proclamation, could have become what it so often is today.  Narrow in spirit and accessibility.

To Jesus, every person who came to him was already being drawn by the love of the heavenly parent whose desire for union with prodigal children is the very essence of God’s being.

The word “all” features large in the teachuings of our Lord, as it does here, “…they shall all be taught by God.”

Yet the most cursory look at most of the church that claims to represent and embody the Spirit of Jesus, will reveal a club that it is quite difficult to get into and if you do, will teach you early on just who it is that doesn’t belong.

How did this happen?
The simple answer lies with our old friend the ego.
That inner energy so essential in the formation of the indentity that in adult life becomes threatened by anything that could mean its dissolution into a greater Energy of being called the True Self or God.

Ego wants accolades.
Ego thrives on achievement and when the prize of the spiritual enterprize is eternal life, the ego needs to at least feel that it played a part.

Jesus wrecks the ego expectations of his hearers.
There is nothing for your ego to do here.
Salvation, Enlightenment, Eternal Life, Wisdom, are not the products of human endeavour as your bread is.

For you to have earthly bread requires the sweat of your brow. That’s your creature curse carried from Adam.
Yet foreshadowed by the manna of the wilderness and now fully revealed in me; the bread of life is offered to all who are hungry enough to trust that five barley loaves and two fish can feed a multitude.

This bread is me and it is offered for the life of the whole cosmos (world).
There is nothing to achieve or to do. Which means you cannot decide or designate who gets some and who doesn’t.

You are not the baker nor the distributor.
You are just another hungry pilgrim on the hillside or in the wilderness.
Want a slice?

Jesus the Janitor? John 6:24-35 – Ordinary 18B

John 6:24-35

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

So why do people come to Jesus?

One wag has said with relation to personal change, that some people change because they see the light and others because they feel the heat!

Perhaps the crowd that followed Jesus had neither motivation.  Jesus suggests that they were looking for security.

In modern times we would call it food security.  Jesus had fed them without their effort and struggle and that seemed to be something worth repeating.   It was probably worth patenting!

There is a hint of indignation in their enquiry when they eventually find Jesus after a long search.  “When did you come here?”   It is as if they expect Jesus to account to them for his movements.

It is about the same as the modern day dilemma faced by NGO’s and Aid agencies.  The agency begins with a vision and mission.  The vision is grasped by others and funding is made available by donors and patrons.  These donors demand accountability and soon the NGO is hobbled to desks writing reports to justify their expenditure of the donations, to the extent that they find it difficult to do the work that was their mission to begin with!  What is even more frustrating is that the donors have every right to demand good governance and fiduciary compliance. “When did you come here?”  “Account for yourself!”

Jesus, as always, cuts to the quick of the crowd’s  motivations. “You don’t want me, you want what I can do for you.  That is your mistake.You are materialist, utilitarian and pragmatic (all concepts that don’t exist yet, but when preachers speak about this in 2012, they will)” (All of this dialogue I found in an obscure Gnostic Gospel according to The Listening Hermit)*Joke

Despite my spurious and speculative dialogue, isn’t that the problem we have with Jesus and miracles?

The crowd may not have been “materialist, utilitarian and pragmatic”, but we moderns certainly are.  Remember Bill Hybels best seller titled, “Making life work”?

That what we want from our religion.  It must make the life we know and want, work.

When Jesus sees this in us however,  he gets into a boat and sails away.

For Jesus it seems, the Kingdom of God isn’t mere materiality, utilitarian ethics and pragmatic problem solving.  It is a transcending and transforming domain where God is paramount.

In this domain if you have trust in the mere mortal incarnation named Jesus, then your human suffering of hunger or thirst, poverty or humiliation, is merely the context for the deepening of that trust and the loosening of your addiction and dependence on the quick-fix, crowd-pleasing, sensational show, that so much religious activity devolves to.

Demands for signs and miracles are the marks of immature trust.  To provide them on demand is an iniquitous error on the Church’s part.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I want to fix the world and it’s suffering as much as the next person.

Jesus however seems determined to fix humanity first.

Catering for our fears – John 6:1-21 Ordinary 17B

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

If I have a besetting obsession, and I have quite a few, then it is the obsession that there will not be enough.
I am not one of those organised householders who never enter a supermarket without having first written a list of what they need to buy. I tend to find myself in the aisles and then wondering what it is I need to get for the home.
So it was a few months back that each time I was shopping I convinced myself that I needed to get dishwashing liquid, only to get home and discover that I had enough. In fact, thanks to my obsessing, I now have six bottles of dishwashing liquid patiently waiting on the shelf.
It isn’t just soap that can get me obsessing about not having enough. I can do that with just about anything from pencils to my pension fund.
Will there be enough?
Every year I receive a printout from my pension fund. It is a simple spreadsheet that shows what my pension will be if I retire at a certain age. Of course the longer I keep working the higher pension will be.
When I studied the table last year I extrapolated that if I could keep working till I was 98 years old I could retire as a wealthy man!.
Will there be enough?
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is a miracle that addresses our fears of paucity and penury.
The bottom line of the miracle is that there is always enough.
We all know the angle on this passage made famous by that great commentator William Barclay. Barclay suggested that the miracle may be simply explained as the crowd, seeing the generosity and trust of the small lad sharing his lunch, themselves being moved to pool their resources to the point of abundance and twelve baskets of leftovers. (One for every tribe of Israel).
Barclay may not be correct, but however the miracle worked on a material level a few things are clear.

  • Firstly, when Jesus is present there will be nourishment for all.
  • Secondly, simple trust and Eucharistic celebration (took, thanked, broke, gave) are key to communal kingdom living.
  • Thirdly, the divine providence is profligate. There are leftovers.

It doesn’t rteally matter if it is dinner, dishwashing liquid or pension funds.
For lilies and sparrows, crowds or individuals, God caters for our every need.

Can you feel the gut wrenching care?- Mark 6:30-56 Ordinary 16b

Mark 6:30-56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things
===
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

As one who has a strong vocational call to solitude and who, at the same time, has spent over thirty years in active pastoral ministry, I feel the tensions of  this passage in my bones.
Jesus and his disciples yearning for retreat, simultaneously seeing the need of the crowd.
How does one balance the tension?
The clue is in the text, but first let me enumerate a few unhelpful responses that I see in the modern church.

The first is professional walling.
I am always deeply disappointed when the first words I hear out of preacher’s mouth when they come to a new congregation are, “My day off is on a Friday!”. By all means take your time off, but don’t make that your first priority! If I read the story correctly, Jesus didn’t. There was something else that gave priority (see the word “prior” in priority?)

The second is avoidance masked as delegation. I am all for mobilizing the laity and every member ministry, but all these systems lose some of their authenticity when clergy use them as an excuse to never engage emotionally with suffering.
By the way this flows the other way too. I am amused at how often I am called by people not even in the congregation and told where a homeless person is to be found. By telling me, the caller thinks they have discharged their duty to care for the person. Let the professional handle it!

So what is it that drives the discernment of Jesus? How does he manage to put the retreat on hold and care for the crowd first?
Well I did say the clue was in the text, it is in verse thirty four.

The giveaway is that marvelously rich greek word σπλαγχνίζομαι (splanchnizomai). You can’t really say it without blasting your sinuses clear!
It is a visceral word, that roots in the sphinctal regions of the bowel. It literally means to feel in the gut.

If we are to have any hope of showing Jesus to the suffering, we are going to have to allow the pain of the world to move us in the core of our being. Simply thinking, intellectualising and theorising in our heads will not do.

This is job for the gut not the nut.

When last did the suffering of humanity feel like a punch in the solar plexus? That is how Jesus felt it. It’s hard to run away on retreat when you have been impacted like that.

Oh I forgot to mention. I am on leave so if you need ministry please call the church (and only during office hours)

You’re a prophet? Have you lost your head?- Ordinary 15b

Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

I like to be liked. I suppose it’s the curse of my temperament and of my profession. Not many people like to be disliked. There is something masochistically deranged about people who like being in the bad books of others. Herod wasn’t one of them. After all Herod was a politician. I am not sure if biblical politicians had to shake hands and hug babies as they do today, but you can be sure they needed to be liked.

Herod wanted to be popular and so he kept in with the religious prophet John the Baptist because it is always a good thing to stay in step with the church. I overheard a member telling another the other day, “Always stay on good terms with your minister and your bank manager. Herod would have understood.

Herod also had to stay in step with his new wife Herodius. She had first been hsi brother’s wife and the circumstances that led to her becoming Herod’s wife are not clear, but John did not approve. So Herod had a conflict of interests. Keep the prophet happy or the wife happy?

Then there was step daughter also called Herodius, and we all know how difficult that could be.

Film makers over the years have portrayed Herod as a bit of a lech. Getting all steamed up by the dance of Herodius and rashly offering her anything in the kingdom, even half the kingdom himself. It is not clear what in the dance pleased him but Herod walked into a classic conflict trap. It was not longer a conflict of interests, it was now a conflict of values.

Herodius’ hatred for John the Baptist forcing Herod to choose between his religious appreciation of John and keeping the peace with his new wife.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  And it wasn’t 2012!

The mistake most preachers make here is to berate Herod as weak willed and gormless. I don’t think many of us would have done anything different from Herod. After all we are speaking about him countering his spouse for the sake of some disposable prophet.

Family values and all the Dr Phil shows would endorse Herod’s choice. He went with his wife and her needs. He was supportive and nurturing of the relationship and after all he was the king.  It was not as if this was the first person whose head he had chopped off!

No the villain here isn’t Herod, nor is it hate filled Herodius. The villain is expediency. For the beheading of John the Baptiser is the forerunner of the greater travesty that plays out in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus some months later.

What Herod did is what Caiphas did.
Here is John’s gospel: So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

Prophetic witness and personal or political expediency do not have a good history of co-existence. It is most often expediency that wins.
It is no different in our day. Herod the King, Caiaphas the high priest, Presidents and Popes, Mayors and Ministers.

Who on earth would want to be prophetic and challenge evil?
You must have lost your head to be a prophet.

Familiarity breeds CONTENT – Mark 6:1-13 Ordinary 14B

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Coming home is usually a mixed blessing.  There is the consolation of familiar faces, nostalgic dishes, and all those triggers for our memories of days that have wrinkled into time.

So what are you doing?‘, friends ask when we meet them in the old store or restaurant.  For Jesus it was easy to answer, ‘Come to Synagogue on the Sabbath and see.’

There he was, the local boy come home with wisdom beyond his years and the temerity to teach new insights and understandings.  He should have realised that the people who had stayed in backwater Nazareth were there because they didn’t like new, nor different, nor anything but the same as last week.

Meat, rice and two veg.

He offended them with his novelty and the nous to expose their stuckness.  They didn’t care for either.

It seems that the reaction was reciprocal.  Jesus as amazed at them as they were at him.

So he sent his disciples elsewhere.

Don’t go in power and pretense, rather be with people in vulnerable simplicity.  No fancy clothes, weapons, nor support teams.  In fact nothing logistical at all.  Not a church growth strategy nor mission statement in sight.

A simple instruction. Remain with the receptive and quit on the contentious.

Proclaim radical change to everyone.

They did, and the kingdom grew and grew.

I have heard it said of Jesus in Nazareth that, “Familiarity breeds contempt”.  I am not so sure.  If I look at the modern church it seems that familiarity breeds content.

I wonder if we can recapture the heart winning, soul changing simplicity those early apostles exhibited.

God knows it will be unfamiliar and may just be the packaging our proclamation needs.

A friend recently alerted me to a wonderful set of principles used by that heroic organization Alcoholics Anonymous.  Most famous for their twelve steps, their twelve traditions would make a wonderful charter for change in the “submerging church“.

See how they line up with the Gospel this Sunday?

Note: I have taken the liberty of substituting “Church” for every reference to “A.A.” (From Page 564 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.)

  • One – Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon Church unity.
  • Two – For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority-a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  • Three – The only requirement for Church membership is a desire to stop drinking.  ( for drinking substitute ” failing to follow Jesus”)
  • Four – Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or Church as a whole.
  • Five – Each group has but one primary purpose- to carry its message to the alcoholic (Christ Follower) who still suffers.
  • Six – An Church group ought never endorse, finance or lend the Church name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  • Seven – Every Church group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  • Eight – Church should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  • Nine – Church, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  • Ten – Church has no opinion on outside issues; hence the Church name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  • Eleven – Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
  • Twelve – Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Works for me.

Are we ready for recovery?

Jesus has no time for triage – Ordinary 13b

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

It’s a narrative of two healings.
A dying little girl, the daughter of  synagogue leader Jairus, and the no-name, hopeless nobody woman who has been that way for twelve years.
It is also a narrative of the man of power. The healing rabbi from Nazareth.
Could it be a narrative about who is most deserving of his attention?

Given the views of sickness and suffering as outcomes of God’s judgement and prejudice for the righteous in Jesus’ day, it may well have been.

If it is, then there is no contest as to who is more deserving.
Jairus’ daughter wins.

She has her whole life ahead of her and anyway she is from the correct family with the correct connections. At twelve years of age she is ready to begin being fertile and menstrual.

The woman in the crowd is a hopeless case. Already judged by the futility of her expended resources and the duration of the disease that renders her permanently unclean, she is a waste of the master’s time and his limited power. Her life is finished.

In fact, the very guerilla tactic she employs by sneaking up on him under cover of the crowd to be healed, is in itself grounds for her disqualification.

With all the drama of a novel rushing to its climax, Mark inserts the older hopeless woman into the story of Jesus’ mission to heal the just girl. The old bleeding woman is an interruption and an energy thief to boot!

Yet, as the story unfolds both are healed. The young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless.
There is enough time, power, compassion, and grace to go round so that no one needs be written off.

I wonder when our selective, cozy, judgemental congregations will learn that?

We just cannot determine who Jesus should prioritize for his attention.

At times of great disaster medical personnel are trained to practice triage. To decide who is most in need of medical attention and care.  The injured are tagged with tape.  Green for not serious. Yellow for serious. Red for critical. Black for terminal.

If Mark’s edit of the gospel tells us anything it is this…

Christian, pack away your tape and labels.
There is no need for triage in the kingdom of God.

And behold there came a great…SMILE! – Mark 4:35-41 Ordinary 12B

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Storms are a phenomena of nature and not just on our planet.

Let’s be grateful we don’t live on Jupiter where the winds can reach 360 kilometres per hour(225 mph)! To put that in perspective, consider that we measure wind on earth according to the Beaufort scale.  On this scale 0 is calm and the maximum of 12 is a Hurricane gusting at more than 118km/h(74 mph). Jupiter’s winds are more than double that force.

The strongest wind gust ever in South Africa occurred ironically at “Beaufort” West (Western Cape) on 16 May 1984 and measured 186 km/h.

Storms are part of nature.

We don’t like nor choose them. We whinge about the wind, yet were it not for the wind the rains would not come.

That great Islamic navigator of the spirit Rumi, said, “..smiles come best from those who weep. Lightning, then the rain-laughter.

Storms of the heart are similar.

In the gospel story of Jesus stilling the storm, there are two interesting phrases.  The first describes the storm as being ανεμου μεγαλη- great wind or more literally, great animation.

The disciples are deeply disturbed by this storm that animates their fear.

Jesus then stills the storm and the state after the storm is described by the second phrase , γαληνη μεγαλη – usually translated great calm, but it can also be read as great smile. When I think about the inner storms of spirit, I like the alternative translation.  Smiling after the storm has blown over, no matter the damage, is for me a sign of trust.

I can imagine Jesus smiling as he settled down in the boat.

Here is Rumi again,  “I do not know who lives here in my chest, or why the smile comes. I am not myself, more the bare green knob of a rose that lost every leaf and petal to the morning wind.”

According to a classic text attributed to Japanese Soto Zen Master Keizan Jokin (1268-1325), The Transmission of the Light (Denkoroku), one day the Buddha silently raised a lotus blossom and blinked his eyes. At this, Mahakasyapa smiled. The Buddha said, “I have the treasury of the eye of truth, the ineffable mind of Nirvana. These I entrust to Kasyapa.”

Zen practitioners have for centuries contemplated what it was that made Mahakasyapa smile when he saw the flower twirl in the Buddha’s hand.  They know it was the moment of enlightenment.  It is for them the prototypical koan. What was it it?

Perhaps he saw what Rumi saw.

When the storm has stripped us and we have passed our fear of drowning in the chaos.  When all prettiness has been stripped away and only the naked rosehip is left, we who understand Spirit will still smile.

The smile of Mahakasyapa, of Jesus, of Rumi.

The smile born from wonder at the mystery of Spirit.

Sorry, got to go.

The wind is coming up.

So one last line from Rumi.

When your love contracts in anger, the atmosphere itself feels threatening. But when you’re expansive, no matter what the weather, you’re in an open, windy field with friends.

The rhythm of organic kingdom growth-Ordinary 11B

Mark 4:26-34

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Living as I do in the second half of my life, I recognise looking back, that I really didn’t make much happen.  Somehow my life unfolded.

Was it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.”?

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been occupied and obsessed with trying to strategise and organise, manipulate and manage the direction and flow of where my life was going.  Somehow though, the really good things that have come my way have been more organic and opportunistic than my plans would have plotted.

Knowing this makes me really appreciate the teaching of Jesus for this Sunday.  The kingdom of God happens. It is organic. Alhough we can co-operate with the processes of God we should never think we can control them.

Thank God. Mystery will always triumph over our manipulation.

I love Jesuit Fr. Anthony de Mello’s definition of enligtenment.

“Enlightenment”, he says, “is complete co-operation ith the inevitable”

That is the Kingdom.