Monday, August 28, 2017

MT 16: 21-28 
Matthew in the Margins… 13th S. After Pentecost…Revised 2017

Oops! Peter’s in trouble! In deeper water than when trying to walk on water awhile back. Oops! Jesus has just called him ‘Satan’ after he tries to dissuade Jesus from going through with what will be required of Him as the Anointed One. Not long before, Peter’s recognised Jesus as the Christ, though clearly not fully understanding what this will entail. Who did? Who does?

Peter will soon be in trouble again - Oops! again -when he suggests prolonging Our Lord’s Transfiguration (in a reading that won’t recur as we’ve already celebrated that in preparation for Lent). The water will get deeper still in the High Priest’s courtyard when Peter will actually deny Jesus. Several Oopses!! [But the end of John’s Gospel tells of reconciliation that’s taken place.] To return to today’s passage, in calling Peter 'Satan' is Jesus seemingly shifting the ground towards today’s common understanding of Satan as God’s enemy? Away from the H.B. (n.b. Job) understanding of Satan as what in Australia we might call ‘Counsel Assisting a Royal Commission’? Whose job it is to get to the truth of a matter by teasing out the evidence in a case.

Our passage & what’s going on in it, centres on v.23 where Jesus dresses Peter down for ‘thinking in human terms, rather than God’s’. One lesson from Jesus & Peter today is that the more we discern 'the mind of God' on any matter with each other, the less we’re likely to experience a Satan-like fall from grace in lonely splendour. Today it’s Holy Spirit, not any human or other Satan who helps us discern the mind of God.

 Kosuke Koyama put it long ago1,There is no convenient way to carry a cross....if we put a handle on the cross to carry it as a businessman carries a briefcase, then the Christian faith has lost its ground. Jesus didn't say “Take up your lunch box & follow me”. A cross is a juggernaut, an out-of-our-control consequence of discerning the unfolding of the mind of God in human affairs. Trying to get a handle on the cross can make us as much a stumbling block to God's Rule through God’s mind as Peter is accused of being here.

Jesus demonstrates that He must enter His Passion, as he demonstrates everything else - by going through with it! That's how we're called to follow, too; by going through with what we, in concert with other faithful, discern God’s mind for us to be. There are no handles on the Cross, or on Resurrection, for us any more than for Jesus.

Too much concentration on the Son of Humanity’s apocalyptic role can lead us into escapism. The very opposite of the engagement in human affairs that the very-much- earthed Son of Humanity represents. Take heart! God Rules in our margins as well as in religious centres & one day, in clouds of glory. The Son of Humanity brings the way God Rules to a head in His death & resurrection. Could any future coming, no matter how glorious, really challenge, up -stage that greatest of all Cosmic Events?

1 No Handle on the Cross, SCM, London, '76, p.7] 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

MT 16:13-20
Matthew in the Margins…12th S. After Pentecost…Revised 2017

Our local government rates (taxes) arrived today. Never welcome, but at least we can afford to pay them. Others in our community are asking questions like, ‘How am I going to pay them?’, ‘Where’s my next meal coming from?’, ‘Am I ever going to get a job?’, ‘Which bridge can I safely sleep under tonight?’, ‘Should I leave my abusive partner?’, & many more. We all live, & maybe, die, with big nagging questions of our own. Questions important in our own lives may help us preach questions important to Jesus. Like today’s, ‘Who are people saying I am?’, then, “Who do you say I am?” Questions can be more enlightening than some answers!

We’re in Caesarea Philippi, where Herod (undeservingly called ‘Great’!) had built a temple in honour of Augustus. ‘Sucking up’ to Caesar!’ Raising the question, ‘Who really rules?’ Caesars, or would-be’s, strutting the stage where we live, or somewhere else? Or, God? Answers to Jesus’ 1st question show people struggling to recognise the God in Him. Despite YHWH pointing towards Him for centuries. A question for us is, ‘Would we have recognised this unorthodox Messiah with His unique rule from the bottom up, rather than the top down, back then?’ A second question for us is, ‘Do we recognise Him in our lives right now?’ Which is where Jesus’ own 2nd question kicks in.

Peter’s confession that God’s Kingdom, Power, & Glory are implicit in Jesus - though later events show he’s a bit shaky about this  - is the rock on which God builds His church & His world. Anything less may become a mill-stone that will drown us or grind us down, rather than the rock on which our faith is built!

The ‘keys of the kingdom’ are in our hands now, not Peter’s! To use to open the world’s closed situations up for God & God’s people. To open us up from what we’ve locked ourselves into. To release others from what they’ve been locked in or out of.  Keys like love, joy, peace, openness, forgiveness & others like them are all in Jesus’ bunch. When God asks, “Where are those keys I’ve given you?” it’s no use us fumbling in our pockets for them, hunting around for them, looking to see if we’ve locked them in the car, or even asking others, “Have you seen those keys God gave me?” Lose them, or just not use them & they soon rust up & become unserviceable.

We once used to pray, maybe still do, to the God ‘whose service is perfect freedom…’ but our freedom only comes when we use the keys of God’s kingdom to set ourselves & others free from things that lock us in - or out! 

Monday, August 14, 2017

MT 15: (10-20) 21-28 
Matthew in the Margins…11th S. After Pentecost…Revised 2017

Within the brackets, Jesus poses another riddle. Parables are riddles. Meant to be puzzled over. This time about what’s clean or unclean, allowed or not permitted, all that kind of thing. His attitude to such things, &, more importantly, to the people involved, flows on into the story that follows. People always have a face to Jesus. Those who espouse narrow interpretations of Law (whose law?) & seek to impose their own law over Love, beware!

Jesus says it's what comes out of us that defiles, rather than what goes into us. I take this to mean that devil, demons, evil in general, all too often emerge from the dark side of myself.  'Demons in the air' is as unhelpful an approach to life's ills as 'Reds under the beds’! Scape-goating demons may be a facile avoidance of issues simmering & festering inside our own skin. Scapegoating anything, or anyone doesn’t equip us to confront on-the-ground issues where we live & move have our being. Nor does ranting about that kind of thing in public. (Or in church!)

The rougher side of Jesus' tongue (we’re fooling ourselves if we don't admit it has such a side) has come to the fore earlier, as he talks about ‘weeds’, & ‘blind’ people, & rebukes Peter. Perish the thought of being a ‘weed’, ‘blind’, or ‘thick’, in the things of God! 
Let’s call the Canaanite woman ‘Canea’ to give her a name, show her respect. She’s an important  figure in the Gospel. Canea doggedly keeps at Jesus. At first, He's silent. Which doesn't mean he's not ‘taking her on board’. Not at all! He tells the disciples, & Canea, by implication, in curt terms where His priorities lie. When He speaks to her so brusquely, likening her to a dog, Warren Carter1 quoting Ringe, in ‘Gentile Woman's Story’, puts it: ‘Jesus seems to be caught with his compassion down’.

But can’t we also see a smile on His face as He picks up on her doggedness? Canea’s shrewd enough to keep the joke going, & claim a kind of honorary citizenship in Israel by admitting to being just like one of their dogs. She breaks through Jesus' defences & He welcomes her, &, by extension, her sick daughter, as one of his own. It's a great story, & illustrates how relating seriously to God may take all the doggedness we can muster!

There’s more in this encounter than that. In His exchange with Canea, Jesus finds a kind of  healing of His own, too, humanly speaking. Resolving His dilemma about extending His ministry beyond Judaism. Resolving serious life-dilemmas is also a kind of healing, surely?  

If Canea can be an encouragement to Jesus Himself, she can also be  an encouragement to any of us who feel disregarded within or outside Church or other social structures. If we are finding it hard to embrace ‘outsiders’ by our attitudes, rules, practices, & traditions, Canea can also encourage us to persist - doggedly - in showing God’s all-embracing love in Jesus, & in recognising Bonhoeffer’s point that grace isn’t cheap.

1 Matthew and the Margins, Orbis, 2000, ad loc.  See also David Lose..In the meantime, ad loc

Monday, August 7, 2017

MT 14: 22-36
Matthew in the Margins…10th S. After Pentecost…Revised 2017

Jesus eventually gets the quiet time He missed out on last week! Now, He sends the crowds home, & sends even His disciples back across to the other side of the lake. If we don't engage with God in the silence, deeply & meaningfully, can we ever be well enough prepared to engage with others? As Jesus makes Himself available to others then, & us, now? As when Jesus feeds the crowds last week, when we make time & space apart, we find when God fills, God fills!

We can rationalise the walking on water miracle if we want: bad light, shallow water low tide, sand bar, etc., but note v. 24! (I once read of a tourist spot in Israel where a jetty’s been built just below the waterline so tourists can walk where Jesus walked!) Or we can accept, teasing as it may be, that God-in-Jesus does what God's got to do, & does whatever it is when & where God’s got to do it! The same goes for us!

If Jesus can't walk on water, neither can Peter! Not even briefly! Whatever we preach about Peter's role in the story, at least credit him with getting out of the boat! Preach the positive! Would I have ventured out there? I very much doubt it! Are there other 'boats' representing relative safety, we mightn’t want to get out of to 'walk to Jesus' across today’s stormy seas? Jesus, John’s ‘In-the-Beginning-Word’, can still bring order out of chaos. Bring good to birth out of the most unlikely situations. When we trust Him! Let it happen His way.

Peter’s big ‘If’ (v.28) is right up there with the biggest of life’s ‘Ifs & Buts’. Let’s not draw too hard & fast lines between our 'physical' situation & our ‘spiritual’. Nor twixt the things of heaven & those of earth, as those of us with Celtic back-grounds may appreciate. Where are our own fears seated? And the fears of those to whom we're preaching? Of those we’re called to pastor? God really can reach out to save us from our demons, no matter what deep water we’re trying to tread! Providing we first call to Him to call to us. More, we can always count on Him reaching out a hand to save us as He does for Peter, & Peter himself later goes on to do for others.

Did that terra-firma at Gennesaret feel good under their feet, or didn't it! We can find God in Jesus in all kinds of places, situations, needs. Remember, though, that God has always found us before we realise we’re lost, or in danger of being so! Touching the fringe of His cloak' sounds a bit superstitious today. Can we recognise, though, lots of folk on today’s ‘Gennesaret' shores? Those who feel as close as they can get is only ‘touching the fringe of God’s cloak’ as it were. People who feel they can’t, or shouldn’t, or just plain don't want to touch God. If, that is, God, in some form, exists for them. Let’s accept & welcome anyone who does attempt ‘touching God’s hem’ if that’s the best they can manage at this point. Their very attempt may be the start of something bigger!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Matthew in the Margins…Pent+9…Revised 2017

Jesus never draws too firm a line between soul & stomach. True religion always feeds both. To feed the hungry may be justified by theology, but to feed the hungry is to do theology!

John’s death puts Jesus himself at risk. Herod will be after him next, if, the priests, or the Romans don’t beat him to it! Jesus is a threat to the status quo; still needs to be today! He goes out there by the lake to give Himself some personal space to come to terms with John’s death & its implications for His own life & ministry. Warren Carter1 says withdrawal is 'to …..make space for a different reign’.

But crowds get wind Jesus is coming their way, & when they see Him heading for the other shore in a boat no doubt crewed by fishermen friends, they set out on foot to race Him to the other side. When JS sees what a sick & sad & sorry lot they are, He’s so moved He puts His personal need for space aside & heals the sick among them. When, late in the day He’s told the only food they have between thousands of them is 5 pieces of coarse barley bread & 2 tiddlers. He tells them, “Bring your bread & fish to me!” What follows is a miracle, a sign of the Very Presence of God among them. Someone (Weatherhead?) long ago suggested a way of ‘understanding’ this miracle / sign based on John’s account. A boy hands over to Jesus the meal his mother has packed for him. When Jesus accepts the boy’s gift, blesses the bread & fish, & begins to pass them round, people every-where catch on, & produce food theyve brought with them from their pockets & bags. Sharing it with others round them. And it’s more than enough to go round. Who, except God, knows how the miraculous feeding takes place! But since hearing that idea years ago, I’ve sometimes thought, ‘If it did happen that way, that would’ve been as great a miracle as any other.’

Think of it like this: As Jesus gives up the personal space He’s out there looking for, & shares His healing gifts with the sick in the great crowd, so the boy gives up his lunch & shares it with Jesus, who shares it with the crowd. Who then share with each other, as the above view suggests. For that spirit of giving up something personal: space, bread, fish, whatever, & for sharing to explode among the great crowd, wouldn’t that be an amazing, mind-blowing sign of God in their midst? What are the signs of God in our midst today? Can we expect to find any if we’re not doing our share of sharing? By the way, there’s evidence that in some parts of the early church, fish, as well as bread, became part of the eucharistic celebration.2 In memory of this event, as of that Other One?

One aim we, today’s church, could take from all this for today’s sick, hungry world is that we not keep to ourselves, for ourselves, any of the gifts God graciously shares with us, but pass them on. Pass them around. Make them go around! The Gospels meticulously record there were left-overs. When God fills, God fills! What about next time we have something, anything at all we can share, we offer it to God to pass on to someone who needs space, healing, or is hungry in any way at all? And see what God will do with our gift. See how far God can make it go around.

1 Matthew & the Margins, Orbis, 2000, p.305   2 Andrew B McGowan, Ascetic Eucharists, Oxford, 1999, p.127+