Wednesday 12 February 2014

John 9:1-19 - Seeing the light!

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Blindness is normally caused by a problem with the eyes, the optic nerve, or the part of the brain that processes visual information. But just as we may be physically blind, we may also be spiritually blind. In this case a person is unable to grasp or process spiritual things.

According to Jewish religious teaching, only the Messiah would be able to heal a person who was born blind. This was one of the ways the Messiah might be identified when he came, so such a miracle should have persuaded an open-minded Jewish leader. But the Jewish authorities had already decided that Jesus was not the Messiah so they had to satisfy themselves by finding fault in some way.

The disciples wanted to know why the man was born blind. Most people think this way, the blindness must be punishment for something the man or his parents had done. But Jesus knows that it's not a matter of sinful behaviour, but is rather an opportunity to glorify the Father who heals.

Jesus does not, in fact, heal the man. He merely puts mud on his eyes and tells him to go and wash. When the man is brought to the pharisees, they listen to his story and quiz him but are confused. Either Jesus is a law-breaker or he is the Messiah. It almost seems that he must be both and surely that's quite impossible! The blind man's own opinion is that Jesus must be a prophet.

Who are you most like in this story? Are you like a person who was blind but now sees? Do you obey Jesus in the things he tells you to do? Or are you like the disciples, thinking that bad things happen to people who do bad things? Perhaps you are like the Jewish teachers and can't decide whether Jesus is the real deal?

Or are you like Jesus? Do you want to bring glory to the Father, be a channel for his love and healing [Tweet it!], and open up dark places to let in the light?

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Monday 10 February 2014

Mark 16:1-8 - Jesus is alive!

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This is the final chapter of Mark. Early manuscripts contain only the first eight verses, the rest of the chapter seems to have been added at a later date. Not only that, there is an obvious conflict between the older and later parts. In verse eight, the women say nothing because they're afraid. But in verse ten, Mary of Magdala tells what she has seen.

In the evening (Sabbath ends at sunset), the women buy the spices they need. As soon as there is enough morning light they head for the tomb to anoint the body, wondering how they will move the heavy stone. Seeing the tomb open and the young man sitting inside makes them very anxious and they run away. And although they have been given a message to pass on, their fear prevents them from doing so.

Can we see ourselves in these grieving women? I think we can.

Look at it like this. Their world has been turned upside down. The one they trusted and followed has been killed, and now all they know to do is follow tradition. They buy the necessary materials and do the right thing. But they find something unexpected and disorientating. The body is not there!

A stranger tells them what to do next but they run away and are too afraid to say anything. The message makes little sense to them, they're distraught, nobody will believe them, they'll be ridiculed. So they say nothing.

When we are in default mode we revert to doing the traditional, habitual, familiar things. When we are afraid we freeze up and do nothing. Like these women, we need time to process the unexpected and the distressing. The fear passed and they told their story eventually; it is recorded here in Mark's gospel for us.

To be of value to the Lord of the harvest we will need to act in new ways that are appropriate to the new circumstances [Tweet it!]. The old, familiar, traditional thoughts and actions are rarely what is needed in a time of great change. Maybe the short article 'Fail to succeed' will help to move you forward. Be of good heart, be very excited and very bold. Jesus is alive! Nothing can hold him down or hold him back. Be like him!

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Tuesday 4 February 2014

Mark 15:21-47 - Dead and buried

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In Mark 15:21-47 we read about Jesus death on a Roman cross, and his burial. What more, really is there to say?

Let's look at some of the details.

Simon the Cyrenian - The Roman soldiers would have commandeered anyone nearby to help them when extra labour was needed. Simon was from North Africa and was called to assist; it would have been foolish in the extreme to argue.

Myrrh - Myrrh is the dried gum from a spiny Mediterranean tree. Mixed with wine, the resin acts to relieve pain and was used in this way in ancient medicine. Jesus refused it and therefore died from crucifixion without anything to reduce his suffering. Myrrh was also used in the Jewish holy anointing oil as well as the incense used in Temple rituals. It was used by the Egyptians in embalming the dead.

Insults were added to his suffering as he hung there naked and dying. Clearly the Jewish religious elite thought he was finished with once and for all.

Jesus was  crucified at nine in the morning and died six hours later. Darkness fell on the land halfway through his suffering, at midday. There is much symbolism in all of this.

His last words were in Aramaic, the ordinary language of the people in Galilee and still spoken in a modern form in certain parts of this region. 'Eloi' means 'Almighty' and is closely related to 'Elohim' in Hebrew and, indeed, to 'Allah' in Arabic. The confusion with the name 'Elijah' is understandable, particularly if Jesus' voice was indistinct as it might well have been just before he died. At this moment he had clearly lost the connection with the Father, a connection that had enabled him to say 'I only do what I see the Father do' and 'I only say what I hear the Father say'. He really felt abandoned and perhaps confused in this awful moment of death. He is every bit as human you and me.

When he died, the Temple curtain was ripped in two from the top to the bottom, surely symbolic of a new relationship between the Almighty and us humans. It is a new relationship that comes from the top, Yahweh initiates and completes this act of opening. The holy place is now visible to anyone in the inner court, a dreadful thing for the Jewish religious leaders to see.

There are plenty of witnesses that Jesus really died that day. There are the Roman soldiers, the centurion who was so impressed at the manner of his death, the onlookers who had been abusing him verbally, and many other men and women who were his followers and were watching from further away.

The body was taken down promptly after one of the religious leaders asked for it to be done. Joseph was one of Jesus' followers and dealt with the body properly and carefully, placing it in a rock-cut tomb.

Jesus came to live amongst us, and he was prepared to die to bring us into a living relationship with his Father. Are we willing to follow him? Will we live among the people around us? Will we become part of their culture, their daily lives? Will we be truly present for them? And how far are we prepared to go in blessing them and helping them? Are we willing to give our lives? Will we give our time, our resources our wealth, our abilities to touch their lives?

Or will we remain distant and aloof? Will we separate church from the world and make it an institution? Or will we, the church, take the love of Jesus and the presence of Jesus into the brokenness that is all around us? [Tweet it!]

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