Archive for September, 2004
We dig the ditch, we build the walls, we try our hardest to keep them at bay as best we can—poverty, disease, terror, discomfort. We do not want these hideous things in our lives. No one wants to be sick. No one wants to be poor. No one wants to be afraid. We dig the ditch. We do not want to see. We do not want to know. We do not want to remember.
That’s the story today. Not about wealth in itself but about the gulf we fix between ourselves and those we call ‘unfortunate’, those touched by what we fear.
This is a parable, a story with a twist, and the twist is this—by the time we have dug the ditch finally deep enough to fix the gulf between ourselves and what we fear we find we are on the wrong side. We thought we were keeping ourselves safe and in fact we were walling ourselves up.
We’d all like to be called compassionate. But com-passion means suffering with, suffering alongside. And isn’t that what we protect ourselves and our families from—from being in the same boat as those who suffer? Who wouldn’t? Suffering is wrong. That’s our deepest instinct—that this world was made good and suffering is a mistake, a horror, an evil. Compassion makes no sense.
And yet we know it does. But only in the context of desire and attraction and of love. There are already those we would not hesitate to suffer for—those we love in sickness and in health, for better or worse. Love bridges the gulf as nothing else can. Love is our only way out.
How does this help? How do we stop digging the ditch? Only by loving indiscriminately the way Jesus did. The way God does. But maybe that is too hard for us, any of us. Maybe it is enough to know we are loved indiscriminately by our indiscriminate God. Maybe that is a taste of our own medicine—to know what it is like to be on the end of that kind of love—to find for ourselves that God doesn’t shun us the way we shun Lazarus; to find that God knows our name.
Maybe we might find we are already on the wrong side of that gulf, already among the poor, the flawed, the weak, the unworthy. Maybe when God loves us we’ll find whose side we are on. Maybe Lazarus is already our brother.
September 25th, 2004
One thing the book of proverbs has going for it is clarity. Collections of pithy sayings that always sound like reminders of things you have always known. You heard them at your mother’s knee: be good; be kind to others; don’t be resentful; be careful of the company you keep.
Schoolteachers spent their breath repeating these things. I dare say priests a-plenty have underlined them since. Religious superiors, too. By now we accuse ourselves with them in our sleep.
Jesus by contrast is often unclear to the point of confusion. What he says doesn’t collect well. I think I grasp what he means about the lamp and the lamp-stand. And I almost follow him when he warns about secrets coming to light even though the link is really only in the image of light. But what that has to do with taking care of what we hear I do not know. I’m not even sure I know how to take care what I hear. Let alone how it then follows that the one who has will be given more …
And yet … and yet, there’s something like poetry in the package. There’s a meaning in the whole that I can’t find in the parts. I can’t articulate it—but it’s there to contemplate, to touch.
As I listen I’m not sure I get to know what he means but I get the strange sense I’ve been listening to someone real. Someone I want to know better. Someone I would take care to hear.
September 20th, 2004
In my bible it gives a title to these two gospel stories: the lost sheep and the lost coin. I think they should be called the “The Crazy Woman” and “The Bad Shepherd”.
What kind of shepherd leaves the 99 at risk to go seek the one? 1% is an acceptable loss; 99% is a ridiculous risk. And what kind of shepherd forgets the flock entirely and takes the stray home for a party: a bad shepherd!
And why does the woman seek the coin so earnestly? Because it is a tenth of all she has, which is already very little. That might explain her thoroughness but she wastes a day’s wage to find a coin worth a day’s wage and then spends god knows how much to celebrate the finding…
What do we learn about God? God is crazy, reckless and immoderate. Oh and God likes a party. If you listened to parables like these you could only imagine heaven as one long riot of laughter and rejoicing.
The gospel begins with a po-faced complaint along those lines: ‘this man welcomes sinners and eats with them’. So Jesus tells them these stories but, where the complainers were talking about sin and propriety and the making of judgements, Jesus talks about finding what has been lost. All question of blame passes out of frame—you can’t after all un-lose yourself—and what comes to focus is the disproportionate value of the lost coin or the lost sheep and the intemperate joy of the finding.
We are that lost sheep; that lost coin. If we’ve got any nous we should be happy to be perpetually lost so that can be continually finding us. But we struggle to pretend we can find ourselves, that we can bestow some worth on our selves. Our value in God’s eyes has nothing to do with the worth we seek for ourselves. Our value lies in being lost, our joy in dropping the pretence of not needing to be found.
I don’t think Jesus was any different. He knew where he belonged. He welcomed the lost, feasted with them, rejoiced, partied. He knew his own value in his father’s heart. His life was one long being found and he revelled in it and he let others revel in it too.
September 11th, 2004
‘Who do you say that I am?’ Today’s scripture gives challenging hints. Look at Jesus. Jesus is someone who doesn’t fit into our religious categories. He didn’t then and I don’t think he does now. Every attempt to tame him harms him. Or harms us.
‘If you see the Buddha on the road kill him’, says the Buddhist proverb. The God we think we have nailed down is only ever an impostor.
That doesn’t mean that God isn’t real and present and sometimes obvious to us. It means God is too real to be pinned down, too real to be wrapped in rules. He breaks through our boxes. She crosses our church boundaries. God won’t be contained.
But God wants to be known; wants to be with us; wants to surprise us; wants to know us in return.
In the end that’s the only way we’ll ever know ourselves, either. As Paul is saying, our own lives often baffle us. We don’t turn out to be who we thought we were. Our lives don’t turn out the way we imagined. Sometimes the pain of that or the joy of that is too much to bear alone. But we are not alone. When we find ourselves outside the box—we find ourselves with Jesus. When we are edged out of bounds—we meet the God who has already taken the risky journey before us.
God is offering us not understanding but companionship.
September 4th, 2004