REFLECTIONS ARCHIVE

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December 2017

‘We would like to see Jesus!’
John 12.21b

On 30 November we celebrate St Andrew’s day – always at the end of the rhythm of the Christian year. Many of Jesus’ disciples were from Galilee, including Philip and Andrew, who were both from Bethsaida (John 1.35-44), where the fresh water of the lake yielded Andrew and his brother Simon a good living from its abundance of fish. Andrew became known as the first evangelist because ‘The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.’ (John 1.41-42)

In John 12, Andrew is still taking people along with him to Jesus. Jesus’ reply to the news that some Greeks wanted to ‘see’ him was to say “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (v.23) And then He carries on with the paradox of how death leads to glory:
A grain of wheat dies…it produces many seeds (it is ‘glorified’)
Those who love their lives will lose them…those who hate their lives in this world will keep them for eternal life (i.e. be ‘glorified’)

Moses also asked to ‘see’ God, associating it with glory: ‘“Now show me your glory!”’ Exodus 33.18 ‘And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you…”’ v.19 God’s greatest goodness is dying for us in Christ. His greatest GLORY is that goodness! And our own greatest GLORY is also our goodness – that in our being which most resembles God – His image in us.

The 150 Psalms begin in Psalm 1 with a study in contrasts. First is a description of those who are blessed. They are those who do NOT
Walk in the counsel of the wicked
Stand in the way of sinners
Sit in the seat of mockers
That means that in their whole lives they do NOT associate with those who are opposed to God’s goodness. Then there follows a description of the opposite – the wicked! Yes – the Bible pulls no punches. Wicked people do exist, and they are the ones opposed to God’s goodness – have nothing to do with them, because they are wicked and wickedness is insubstantial, like the ring wraiths in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. ‘They are like chaff that the wind blows away.’ (v.4)

The ‘good’ on the other hand, are blessed! They ‘delight in the law of the Lord’ (v.2) i.e. in the expression of His goodness and His guidance about how to be good themselves. And in their families, of course, they impress the same on their children (see Deuteronomy 6.7). The Deuteronomy passage is part of the great Jewish shema – ‘Hear O Israel…’ that remains an important part of our Anglican liturgy.

As Mothers’ Union, we are very interested in how to help families be strong. Here is a wonderful trinity to bear in mind as we teach our own children and encourage other families in their own lives in Christ. GOODNESS – GLORY – LIFE! A trinity of words we have ‘in Christ’, and that, like Andrew, we need to introduce people to. Pray that as Mothers’ Union members we may aspire to be truly ‘good’, losing our lives to gain them for eternal life – our GLORY NOW! – in obedience to His will and teaching our children to do likewise!!

 

 

 

November 2017

When Other Nations Hear God’s Voice
‘Neco king of Egypt….sent messengers to [Josiah] saying….”God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me…”.’ 2 Chronicles 35.20-21

Like his forbearer King David, in his palace taking a ‘rest’ from his many military exploits when he saw Bathsheba bathing, Kind Josiah must have been ‘resting on his laurels.’ Thirteen years had passed since that great Passover feast commemorating the completion of the restoration of the temple, after God’s word to Moses – the Torah – had been found in the ruins. He had done a great work in bringing all of the people of Judah, and many in Israel as well, back to the worship of the one true God (2 Chronicles 34-35.19). And all this by the age of 26!

Did Josiah make the mistake of thinking that he, King of Judah in Jerusalem, had a monopoly on God’s ear, and that he himself was best suited to hear God’s voice? Was he twiddling his thumbs wondering what great exploits yet lay in store for him? And so, when he heard that King Neco of Egypt was going to war in Carchemish, in the region of the upper Euphrates (today on the border of Turkey and Syria) – he slowed him down by challenging him in battle at Megiddo, 753 kms short of King Neco’s goal – thus interrupting the flow of his march against Babylon. A BIG mistake!

But even more important than the eventual outcome of this big mistake of King Josiah’s was the fact that he had been warned! God spoke to Josiah through Neco, but he did not listen! Neco told him, ‘“It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”….’Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Neco had said at God’s command, but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.’

Josiah could not conceive of God speaking through a stranger – an alien. And so he recklessly went ahead with his battle plan and died. This good man, a man committed to God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, made a literally fatal mistake. A mistake that drew the attention of the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to him and his nation, and contributed to its downfall and the desecration of all that he had worked so hard to achieve in setting his people on the right and holy path of God’s ways, re-consecrating everything to Him again.

As we get older, after perhaps achieving wonderful things in God’s name, it can be all too easy to ‘rest on our laurels.’ As we ponder past exploits (which should be remembered, and gratefully, too!), we may be tempted to long for more action. But should our plans not be of the Lord, will we listen to someone who is not ‘one of us’ – someone who doesn’t belong and yet claims to have heard the voice of God and knows what’s best for us? Or will we simply write them off, imagining that our own relationship with God gives us a permanent hot-line to heaven?

Who we listen to and how we then act on what we hear, is very important and can have lasting consequences that we ourselves may never live to see. Josiah died and his people were taken into captivity in Babylon, along with the treasures of the temple. The good news is that God then started from a fresh new point in the history of his people – to use those very negative consequences of not listening to Him, in order to teach them about His faithfulness – anywhere in the world! But that still doesn’t mean that we should not listen in order to prove God’s faithfulness!!

The lesson for us personally is to always listen – perhaps especially to those who don’t belong – who may ‘seem’ to be foes – those who may make us feel uncomfortable because we fear the demands they might make on us – the widow, the orphan and the alien, for example. Mothers’ Union has a special heart for these people. In our service for them, let’s not forget to listen to them. We may have even more to receive from them than we have to give to them!

October 2017
All Nations and Gender Equality
‘Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness….” So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them….’ .’ Genesis 1.26-28

Continuing last month’s theme of all nations, in Rose Wright’s letter of 28 September 2017, she reminds us that ‘Mothers’ Union has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, and we endeavour to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March each year, in order to represent the voice of Mothers’ Union across the world, and to advocate on behalf of women everywhere, by influencing various government delegations, and the overall agreed conclusions of the Commission.’

This is very important work, and we should pray for the Mothers’ Union delegates to the United Nations in 2018. They may not be able to open their Bibles and pursue a theological argument based on scripture with others at the United Nations, but their whole demeanour – their thinking and being – should be formed by their own perusal of what it means to be a Christian human being living in a world that is not what God intended it to be but which He nevertheless wants us to work with Him in transforming to what it should be. Unity among nations is a start, but equality of gender in many of those same nations, and the unity of purpose that is its ideal is something that too often eludes us all.

Genesis, the ‘beginnings’, the first book in the Bible, tells us that both men and women were created in the image of God, though different. And God calls all that He has made ‘good’ (Genesis 1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21 and 25) or ‘VERY good,’ in the case of human beings (v.31).

In the same way that Christians believe in God 3-in-one, the Trinity that yet remains the one God, so we human beings don’t reveal the true image of God if we are not united as men and women. Fully expressed in the union of a man and a woman in marriage (Genesis 2.23-4), the mystery of the essence of God expressed in the relationship in the Trinity is imaged in men and women made in God’s image united as one – this is the mystery of the image of God in us!

Unfortunately, a great part of the teaching about men and women in the church’s history has not come from the certainty that Christians have of being a new creation ‘in Christ’ (see 2 Corinthians 5.16-21), as both men and women permit the Holy Spirit to transform them, but rather from what has come to be known as the ‘Fall’ (Genesis 3). God’s penchant for re-creation has not been properly recognised and applied to how God desires us to express ourselves, male and female, in union with Him, through our God-given gifts. Instead, much of Christian theology, beginning with some of the ‘Fathers’ of the Church, has focussed on the continuation of the blame game that is described in the account of Adam and Eve’s encounter with the ‘serpent’. The result is an often vocal undervaluing of each other and a resultant lack of unity.

Thankfully, even in Genesis, that encounter and the resultant ‘Fall’ from grace was, and is, not the end of the story. There is hope. Adam decides to call his wife ‘Eve’ – taken from the Hebrew root meaning ‘life’, ‘because she would become the mother of all the living.’ (Genesis 3.20) Eve decides to trust in God, depending on Him when Cain is born. “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man!” (Genesis 4.1). We also have a decision to make: between living in the light of the ‘Fall’ and its consequences, or living in the light of God’s redemption in Christ Jesus. Do we believe that God is capable of re-creating, without robbing us of the freedom that He himself gives us to opt for trusting in Him or not? When we opt for following Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, do we recognise that in Him we are ‘…a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’ (2 Corinthians 5.17b)? As Christians we are called to live – and that is life in all its fullness (John 10.10) freely received because of Jesus’ death and resurrection…refusing to be bound by the consequences of the ‘Fall’. Such life will affect our thinking about the relationship between men and women. It will affirm the co-equal value of human beings – male and female – created in the image of God.

September 2017

All Nations Will Worship Him
‘And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord and to worship him…I will…give…joy in my house of prayer….for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ Isaiah 56.6-7

August – It’s quiet in Barcelona. Most of the locals have gone away – many shops are closed – and the centre of the city has been taken over by tourists from all nations, come to enjoy the beauty of a place that is known for its celebration of life and its feeling of relaxed safety (despite the occasional pickpockets!). And then…
17 August – terrorists hit the Ramblas in a van, indiscriminately mowing down people from many nations, endeavouring to send ripples of fear spreading throughout the whole world – to all nations – through their people represented there.
But God has something to say about all nations, too!
Sunday 20 August – the lectionary’s ‘related’ readings for the principal service that day are Isaiah 56.1, 6-8 (as quoted above) and Psalm 67 – the Psalm that is quoted every day in the Benedictine tradition. It begins with part of the famous priestly blessing from Numbers 6.24-26: ‘May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,’…. But then the Psalm continues with a statement of purpose that is directly opposed to the fear-inspiring purpose of indiscriminate killing:
…that all your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.
Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

All the peoples? ALL NATIONS!? Really!?!
Matthew 15.21-28, the Gospel reading for the same 20 August service, tells the story of a Canaanite woman who cries out for Jesus to free her daughter who is suffering from demon-possession. Jesus responds, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ v.24 – but ends up giving in to the demands of this woman from a nation judged as idolatrous. He says, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ v.28a.

What did Jesus mean by this Canaanite woman’s ‘faith’? I believe that her faith consisted in humility; in acknowledging who she was but at the same time making clear that she believed that Jesus wanted her best! Faith, humility and trust are a trinity of attitudes towards God that unleash

His loving power and compassion. The woman is never named – she represents the nations the Jews had been warned against because of their idolatrous practices throughout many centuries. But hearing Jesus’ seemingly harsh response, and yet trusting him, she says, in effect, ‘I would rather be a dog waiting for a wee morsel from my Master’s table than not belong to Him at all!’ That is humility. Jesus calls it faith. She trusts Him rather than demanding a right to be equal to His people. It’s about recognising what’s in His heart and knowing that He loves her.

ALL NATIONS! God is the creator of each and every human being – whatever nation they happen to be born into. This is one of the aspects of Mothers’ Union that excites me most. I love visiting the map in the middle of each issue of Families Worldwide. Four million members come from all over the world, finding ways to creatively support those who need a helping hand – valuing each person as created in God’s image – from whatever nation.

25 August…morning prayer…longing to be more like the Canaanite woman!
But as for me, I trust in you. Psalm 55.23c
He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. Proverbs 3.34
In quietness and in trust shall be my strength. Isaiah 30.15b

July & August 2017

Our God Who Honours Women
‘You shall name him Ishmael [God hears] for the Lord has heard of your misery’….’You are the God who sees me…I have now seen [the back of] the One who sees me.’ That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [well of the Living One who sees me];….Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.’ Genesis 16.11b, 13b-14a and 21.19a

We often study the promises made to Abraham, both in Genesis chapter 12, where he hears the voice of God and answers His call to move and in chapter 15, where God initiates a covenant with Abram, promising that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, later reaffirmed by the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17, when Abram and Sarai’s names get changed to Abraham and Sarah. But we don’t often study God’s promises to and about women in the same narrative. We may have been told that the Old Testament is patriarchal. It certainly describes a culture that could be defined as patriarchal. But that makes the discovery (revelation?) of God’s equal relationship with, and treatment of, women even more stunning! The Old Testament directly challenges our view that it is as patriarchal as the societies of its day.

So what about Sarai, Abram’s wife, and her Egyptian servant Hagar? Sarai decides to take matters into her own hands (‘The Lord has kept me from having children.’ 16.2), and offers Hagar to her husband, so that she can ‘perhaps…build a family through her.’ But when Hagar becomes pregnant, she despises her mistress who cannot get pregnant. Sarai ill-treats her in return and she flees. ‘Near a spring in the desert’ (v.7) is the setting for an encounter with an angel, a messenger from God, who tells her to go back and gives her God’s promise that ‘I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count’ (v.10). Hagar’s description of her relationship with God speaks of awareness of one another’s intimate presence: ‘She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Note that Hagar was not a perfect person, but she was understandably distraught by the bad treatment she received from Sarai. Sarai, though, was reaping the consequences of taking matters into her own hands. But neither Hagar or Sarai had learned her lesson yet! Genesis 21 reveals that somehow, Ishmael had picked up his mother’s bad habit of looking down on others (…the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking…v.9) but this time, God tells Abraham that he must listen to his wife Sarah (v.12) when she says to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael and reassures him that Ishmael will also be a nation. God tells a man to listen to a woman! And what Abraham is to listen to is the ranting of a jealous woman who wants to get rid of her rival and that rival’s son, because their contempt is unbearable. Jealousy v.s. contempt – not very pretty!!

And yet God is faithful. He had already fulfilled His promise to give Sarah and Abraham a son (Genesis 18), despite Sarai having taken matters into her own hands (!), and now Abraham is reassured that the son of the outsider, Hagar the Egyptian, would also be blessed, despite her own wrong attitude. But perhaps the most astounding aspect of this whole episode is the tenderness of God towards Hagar when she has left her child to die. We read that ‘God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar,…”What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.”‘ (v.17) God instructs her to take the boy and only then does He open her eyes so that she sees a well of water…and all this AFTER reiterating His promise to make him into a great nation – a promise made directly to her as a woman with no man to care for her!

The promise comes when we cannot see how God can possibly fulfill it. So let’s trust Him, unafraid, joyful in spite of our sinful weaknesses, grateful for His forgiveness and moved by His tenderness.

June 2017
‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).’
How do you feel when you’ve eaten a good meal? Not overeaten, but simply had your fill of good, wholesome food? Relaxed?…Tired – sometimes feel like resting?…Content?…Satisfied?…More energetic?…Like a need has been met?…At peace with the world? When we call food ‘wholesome,’ ‘whole’ is important! It has the connotation of survival – when a person is ‘whole’ they have everything they really need. Shalom means to be whole. Shalom in Hebrew or Salaam in Arabic, is blessing the person with wholeness. It’s saying, ‘May you always be content.’ That is the stuff of life in all its fullness! The apostle Paul says in Philippians 4.11: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’ This is more than just food giving Paul strength. This is life to the full! Paul uses the analogy of food to tell us that there is more to life than food!
There is a great comfort in eating – and often when we feel needy, we turn to food for comfort. In our society, that is subtly rejected. So we get the twisted phenomenon of people seeking to bring security into their lives by controlling that most basic of needs for food – they try to control what their food does to and for them. They become anorexic or bulimic, or often both at the same time. They can no longer find comfort in food – it is their greatest enemy. They become self-destructive without realising it, by considering it ‘sinful’ to partake of that which gives them life – FOOD! People’s penchant for control extends to their relationship with Jesus, too. We tend to want to reject His Lordship over our lives. We don’t trust that He alone knows what’s best for us, and so we go our own way, as Frank Sinatra sang in ‘I did it my way.’
Bread is one of the thematic threads that runs through the Bible. When Jesus referred to Himself as the ‘…bread of life’, people of His day who read the Bible would have immediately thought of the OT book of Ruth – and they would have known that He was connecting Himself with the line of King David. They would have remembered the story of Naomi, a widow from Bethlehem, Hebrew for ‘House of Bread.’ She had moved with her family to Moab during a great famine in Judah. They would possibly have thought about how, though she was called Naomi (‘my joy’), when she returned to Bethlehem, having lost her husband and her two sons (they died in Moab) – she told everyone to call her Mara (‘bitter’).
Jesus’ mother Mary carried the same root – ‘bitter’ – in her name. Simeon said of her – ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, ‘House of Bread,’ she not only found bread to eat, she was given a whole new life! Through her daughter-in-law’s marriage to their kinsman Boaz, she became the ancestress of both King David and Jesus! Mary and Joseph also went to Bethlehem, ‘House of Bread’, to be counted for the census, so that the Roman Empire could decide how people would be taxed (sound familiar?), and Mary, too, received more than her daily bread – Jesus the BREAD OF LIFE, was born! Jesus, who alone can give us the fullness of life that God desires for us, was born in the town named after that most basic of food that gives bodily life.
Having fed 5000 people, Jesus tells his disciples. ‘I am the bread of life’. The passage in John 6 tells us that “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Jesus was deeply concerned both about the bodily needs of human beings and about their complete wholeness of life, which was only possible in relationship with Him – God in Christ.
When we do good deeds that include provision of food and water to needy people, let’s not forget that there is more to life than food. ‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.35).’
May 2017
Prayer for the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese in Europe
”I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24.49)
During the annual ICS (Inter-Continental Church Society) Conference held last week near Interlaken, Switzerland, I had the great pleasure of being able to speak at length with the MU treasurer for the Diocese in Europe – like me, a relative newcomer to the MU in this diocese!
So this month I would like to use this monthly reflection to ask you to pray!
We are told that the Diocese in Europe covers about 1/7 of the world’s land mass, and is represented in 43 political entities. What a huge privilege…and what an awesome responsibility! Many countries have Anglican chaplaincies that include a large number of Africans and a growing number of Indians, who come from countries where the Mothers’ Union is huge. To quote from the Church Times article by Bill Bowder posted on 2 November 2006:
India swells Mothers’ Union membership
The Mothers’ Union has trebled its numbers in the space of two years, from 1.1 million to 3.5 million. The figures were due to be presented at the MU’s general meeting on the Isle of Man yesterday.
The increase is almost entirely accounted for by the arrival of the 1.9 million members of the Church of North India’s Women’s Fellowship for Christian Service and the Women’s Fellowship in the Church of South India, who joined the MU last year.
The first international audit, completed this year, shows that the MU’s traditional power base in Africa still holds strong. Rounding the figures, the audit shows that Tanzania has 680,000 members, Zimbabwe 15,250, South Africa 55,000, Kenya 500,000, Malawi 12,850, Burundi 7200, Zambia 6100, and Madagascar 4300.
PRAY that the MU in Europe will know how to work with fellow Christians from these countries and more, to contribute to a growing and vibrant MU in the Diocese in Europe.
PRAY for yourself and the members of your MU group, that you will have a clear sense of what God is calling you to be and to do – that God will give you both a definite sense of direction and a loving and joyful desire to see it through.
PRAY for those who have been given positions of responsibility in MU in the Diocese in Europe – that we will:
know how best to communicate with each other and with you
be able to develop a strategy that unites and strengthens all the groups throughout the Diocese in Europe by listening to God and to you, in order to have a sense of what God is already doing through you and to continue to grow and develop a Christ-honouring and people encouraging Mothers’ Union in Europe!
And above all, PRAY that everything will be done in God’s time and in God’s way – including waiting for God to ‘clothe us with power from on high’ before we jump into any project or activity.
Thank you and God bless you!!
April 2017
A God who enables women to be radical
”I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” (Ruth 3.9b)
The mantra ‘my body is my own’ is being used in a variety of ways. It has become an essential part of educating children to enable them to defend themselves from physical abuse. It has been used by women marching for the freedom to decide what to do with ‘their own bodies’ when it comes to sex and abortion – witness the images of placards shouting ‘My body, my choice!’. For Naheed Mustafa, a young Canadian Muslim woman, ‘my body is my own’ means that she is free not to pursue the prevalent emphasis on physical beauty as the norm for self-esteem. So she wears a hijab and other clothes that cover her body.
But there are other possible interpretations to ‘my body is my own’. Such a statement can carry with it the connotation of disbelief in a creator who has formed our female bodies in the first place. Or it can indicate a lack of trust in the creator if such a one is acknowledged. Submission of our beings to God or any other person is a fearful thing if we cannot trust that person to want the best for us.
I have been preparing talks on the biblical book of Ruth. It begins with the circumstances that cause Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi to call herself ‘Mara’ (bitter). She seems to have every right to be bitter. And yet…she is willing to give God another chance to prove Himself to her. As her creator, she had no one more powerful to depend on. What she didn’t realize was just how loving her God was – this God she was staking her last breath on!
Ruth is a love story first and foremost – and there is no love without submission. Love must include the giving of one’s very self to another person. And, in the words of Walter Trobisch’s book Love is a Feeling to be Learned, the feelings don’t necessarily come first! Submission is also the giving or oneself to another person…another person you know you can trust!
The outcome of submissive love in Ruth is the marriage of two good people and the birth of a son who would be the ancestor of Jesus. But that outcome would not have been possible without Ruth’s submission. The following three examples illustrate Ruth’s loving submission to Naomi:
Ruth 2.2 Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to do something which will be good for both of them by providing food.
When Naomi asks, ‘”My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?”’ (Ruth 3.1) and gives instructions to Ruth about how this could come about, Ruth replies (3:5) ‘”I will do whatever you say”’ (Ruth 3.5).
As the relationship with Boaz develops, Naomi advises Ruth to ‘”Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today”’ (Ruth 3.18).
Ruth is also submissive to Boaz:
‘So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled”’ (Ruth 2.8-9). Boaz is being directive here, but it is clear that he has only Ruth’s best interests in mind. And that is what communicates itself to Ruth, because she is enormously touched by his kindness and responds in a classic sign of submission (Ruth 2.10). Ruth’s values were such that she appreciated Boaz’s kindness (2.13) and responded to the protectiveness he displayed. Men in those days were no different from what they are now, and he made sure that none of his men touched her; while she was working in his fields she would be protected and cared for (2.9, 22).
Ruth submitted and it has brought good to all of us in Christ. One could say that as an essential part of the history of Jesus, God in Christ, her submission was of cosmic importance. This is radical! It takes courageous trust to relinquish all claims to one’s own country, one’s own people, one’s own ‘gods’ and one’s own body to submit to a new life. But it blessed everyone, filling them with JOY! (Ruth 4.14-15)
March 2017
A God of Motherly Compassion
‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’ (Isaiah 49.15).
Father George Morelli explains that, ‘Compassion differs from empathy. The critical element in compassion that differentiates it from empathy is its behavioral component. Empathy is thinking and feeling what others are thinking and feeling. Compassion combines the deep awareness of the sufferings of others with a desire that leads, eventually, to an action to relieve the suffering.’ (www.antiochian.org/compassion-forgotten-virtue)
Our readings for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten season of discipline, remind us of this aspect of God’s character, and of the importance of being more compassionate ourselves. We are not asked to wallow in our grief at sin, but rather to remember that God is compassionate. His character is above all one of feeling for us, of wanting the best for us.
In Joel 2, there is a movement from God the righteous judge who comes on the appointed day of the Lord; God who is ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (v.13b)’ to human beings, to whom He says, ‘”Even now, return to me with all your heart.”…Return to the Lord your God (vv.12 and 13b)…’ The movement continues and comes full circle to God again: ‘Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing… (v.14).’
This movement was experienced by the Assyrian Ninevites when Jonah was sent by God to preach judgment to them. They believed God, turned away from the sin that would have brought them judgment, and God ‘repented’ (he changed course). ‘When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3.10).’
Today we live in a world where compassion is increasingly in short supply. We might say we suffer from ‘compassion famine’. We are often very much like Jonah, in fact. We find it hard to feel compassion for others when we judge that they have done wrong. And we find it even harder to act on their behalf out of compassion when we judge that they have done wrong.
Jonah got angry! He was angry with God for His kindness to a city that he had proclaimed disaster to. Was he ashamed because what he had prophesied did not come true in the end? He was angry with God for allowing him to suffer physically rather than be at ease under the vine. Was his own comfort more important than the lives of all the living in Nineveh? Do you identify with Jonah?
In the account of the ‘adulterous woman’ in John 8, Jesus does not humiliate the teachers of the law and Pharisees by pointing out the person who had been caught in adultery with the woman. Compassion (in human beings) includes the conviction that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ – ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace (Romans 3.23)’ – I have missed the mark – I have failed to be the person that God created me to be in the first place.
Jesus let ALL of the men go, before he let the woman go: ‘”…neither do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin (John 8.11b).”’ Compassion may mean ‘letting things go’ – not feeling that we have to do God’s work of judgment for Him, but rather leaving judgment to Him in His time – accepting that He is more compassionate than we are! At Christ’s death on the cross, compassion became ‘passion’ – the fulfilment of what it meant to give His life so that others might live. Lent is a time to remember that is takes both compassion and Christ’s passion for each one of us to live life to the full!

 

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