Categories
Autumn 2020 reflections Reflections

Week 7: Matthew 25:31-46

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Matthew 25:31-46

By Revd Professor Bernard Silverman.

Matthew’s view of judgement seems harsh and uncompromising.   But read this passage in bits, first of all up to the end of verse 36.  Those who are blessed will inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.  But what is required sounds impossible—to have given the king, the Son of Man, food when he was hungry, drink when he was thirsty, a welcome when he was a stranger, clothing when he was naked, care when he was sick, a visit when he was in prison.  How could anyone have done that?   No wonder the righteous are perplexed. 

But, read on—whenever you did these things for “the least of these my brethren”.  Whenever.  In other translations: “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed,” or “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me”.   Whatever you do to the son of man (a Hebrew phrase probably meaning “an ordinary person, nobody in particular”) you do to the Son of Man.  So there’s hope for all of us—so often the most apparently inconsequential thing is what is needed to inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.  And if you believe, as I do, that the kingdom is this-worldly, not just on the far side of history, you are at that very moment living your inheritance. I read: “The Son of Man does not demand supernatural feats, but simple, unobtrusive, charity.”

So now to the harsh bit, verses 41 to 45, the negative of what was said before.  Those who do not do these things go to eternal punishment, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.   Is this just a rhetorical device? Perhaps.  

However, we all live in that grey zone, where sometimes we do right and sometimes we fall short.  Sometimes we do that act of “simple, unobtrusive, charity” and sometimes, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault, we don’t.  So which is it to be, “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”, or “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”?     

The key words are that little phrase “for you”.  The eternal fire is only prepared for the devil and his angels.  The kingdom, if only we will accept it, is prepared for all of us.  Matthew’s wonderful dramatic picture of judgement is not there to frighten or threaten us; it’s to nudge our inner attitudes and our outer behaviour in the right direction.  The ideas of the kingdom are not an add-on to our lives in what is so often a world of darkness, despair, injustice and violence.  They are there, for each of us, from the foundation of the world.  That is God’s will for us.

This Bible passage (rather like counting systems in elections!)  has a theatrical quality that adds to its impact.  Underneath it is the idea that every little action, every little attitude, has cosmic and eternal value.  I’ve never really understood my own vocation.  My own faith drifts at times and I very often feel uncomfortable with and in the institutional church.  More seriously, both in the natural world and in the world and society we have made, there may be points of light, but there is great darkness too, as we have just called to mind on Remembrance Sunday, and as we are living through in the pandemic.  Bad things happen to good (and not so good) people and there is no trite or simple explanation.  But without the idea that every small thing matters, good and evil would be just things that happen, only our own opinion.  I pray that is not so.    

If you would like to be notified by email each Saturday when a new weekly reflection is posted, please make sure you are subscribed to the “prayer & faith” emails from St Giles’ (click here) or St Margaret’s (click here).

If you would also like to receive an email each day with a new “thought for the day” related to that week’s reflection, please sign up below:

Categories
Autumn 2020 reflections Reflections

Week 6: Luke 15:11-32

Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’
Luke 15:11-32

By Eva Walters, Children’s Worker at St Margaret’s Church.

As any child brought up in a church-going family, you come to know the Bible stories like the back of your hand. I remember feeling a deep sense of injustice at this story of the prodigal son as a young teenager. I have a very clever and capable sister who I sometimes felt could do no wrong in our elders’ sight and my teenage angst would often feel deeply for the brother who stayed at home.

And as a child brought up in a church-going family, I have also had to find different way of being able to listen anew to these stories. The Ignatian imaginative practice is one way that I learned a few years ago and that I find extremely helpful. So instead of focusing my righteous indignation on the father and the delinquent son, I want to turn my attention to the others in this story.

You see this was probably a very large household. The father in this parable had a decent amount of land and servants, with neighbours and friends nearby, and we might imagine that he had some status within his community. The shame that the younger son had brought on the family would have been discussed by the father’s kin, friends and servants. So, what did the community think when this son returned?

We hear from the passage that the servants took their master’s lead and sprang up into action, beginning to prepare for the celebrations of the return of the lost child. This child had meant something to this community. Had they wept with the father as he left? Had they felt anger at his apparent betrayal of the father? Had they stayed by their master and friend’s side when he looked to the road to see if his beloved child was coming home?

To me these verses now speak of a Father, perhaps in one of the most vivid depictions of what God is like, whose love overflows onto those around him. This community and belonging, cemented in the foundation of God’s love, is integral to the Church. When our church communities mirror our Heavenly Father’s love, our children and young people can feel a true sense of belonging and acceptance that is unusual in our world’s understanding, outside of their families. If a child or young person feels that the church is a place where God’s love is tangible, then there will always be an invisible string that can and will lead them back.

If you would like to be notified by email each Saturday when a new weekly reflection is posted, please make sure you are subscribed to the “prayer & faith” emails from St Giles’ (click here) or St Margaret’s (click here).

If you would also like to receive an email each day with a new “thought for the day” related to that week’s reflection, please sign up below:

Categories
Autumn 2020 reflections Reflections

Week 5: Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
Luke 10:25-37

By Revd Canon Andrew Bunch, Vicar, and David Longrig, Licensed Lay Minister in the Benefice.

Andrew Bunch:

When I was working in industry, I learnt the value of working as a member of a team; different people bring different insights and thus expand the understanding of an issue. This has been one of the factors which has shaped my ministry. Right from the start of my time in Oxford, we have had a weekly Bible Study where all members of the ministry team share their thoughts on the Gospel for the coming Sunday.

Our appreciation of the parable of the Good Samaritan demonstrates this point very well. I asked David Longrigg for his reflection and he came up with the very positive view in the poem below:

David Longrigg:

“Are you hurt?” I asked him.
A silly question really, as he lay
In pain, distress, his pockets slashed
And emptied, his body bruised and broken,
His clothes spattered with  the mire
And mud of the footpath in the wood,
The trees seemingly nodding and whooshing
In sympathy with the derelict state
Of this broken man.
“Please help me!” he cried.   “I  can’t move!!”
I did my best to help him to his feet,
To ease him somehow onto my mule,
A four footed beast that was, so to speak,
From my Samaritan village my travelling fuel.
“I’ll take you to the nearest inn,” I said.
“Look after him, “ I told the landlord.
“Give him food to eat, wine to drink,
A pillow for his head and medicine for his wounds.
Here is enough money to cover all the costs.”

And left.

The landlord said, “Who was that man?”
“I don’t know,” the robbed man replied.
“He was a man so modest and kind,
To let us know
The value of loving your neighbour,”

Andrew Bunch:

David is very much a man who sees the positive view in any situation, a man who sees “the glass is half full”. But I have a more critical view and hence another side of the parable comes out to me, as I see “the glass is half empty”. There is a huge criticism in this parable of the priest and the Levite. They were going down on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. As Jerusalem is up a hill and Jericho is below sea level, you can tell they were going away from Jerusalem, going home to Jericho (where many priests and Levites lived) after serving their period of duty in the Temple. So, they had no excuse not to help the injured traveller, they were simply responding to the fear that they might be attacked too. In the words of the “Black Eyed Peas” … “Where is the love” in their response? Where is their faith? Where is the evidence that they practice what they proclaim with their lips?

This parable reminds me that there needs to be a consistency between what we profess and what we do if we are to be believed and trusted. Yes, we will fail from time to time… but we have got to strive to get things right and live with a sense of both integrity and humility in our lives. Luke consistently makes the point, throughout his presentation of the Gospel, that this is lacking with those involved with the Temple. He sees the Temple authorities as complete hypocrites, not acting out what they say they believe… starting off the gospel with the priest, Zechariah, not believing the words of an Angel in the Holy of Holies!

In a team approach to Bible study, we all gain from the different understandings offered by each other. To enable this to happen and bear fruit, there has to be Love in action. This is what I hope you have witnessed from your ministry team over the years.

If you would like to be notified by email each Saturday when a new weekly reflection is posted, please make sure you are subscribed to the “prayer & faith” emails from St Giles’ (click here) or St Margaret’s (click here).

If you would also like to receive an email each day with a new “thought for the day” related to that week’s reflection, please sign up below: