The Devil's Peak in the dusk, 2014, looking south from the Hawker Road.

One Man's Web

The crowd who follow Jesus to the other side of the lake are ordinary people seeking satisfaction for their hunger. But those who get into the boats from Tiberias end up becoming what John calls οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι. This text has been translated, disastrously, as "the Jews."   The scapegoating and murder of millions of Jesus' people demands we do not use this translation.

James Alison speaks of "the return of the “Judahites” from Babylon."

It is these “Judahites” – that is an observant religious party, that gives its name to the subsection of the Hebrew people known as the “Ιουδαιοι” to whom St John refers, and which we typically translate as “The Jews”. We thus confuse a modern ethnic term with an ancient term closer to a partisan ideological grouping, one that was originally a subsection of the ethnic group of the “Εβραιοι”. 3 Cf John 10, 36. (James Alison "What sorts of difference does René Girard make to how we read the Bible?")

Quoting this article last week I noted that "the iudiaioi read Exodus differently to Jesus." Throughout John we are dealing with arguments between "partisan ideological groupings" within the one people.

While working my way through the verses for the week in the commentary below this reflection, I have remembered the grief of finding myself far distant from some friends and family. Once, we were "one people." These are good people who see large parts of the world in ways which seem an unbridgeable distance from the way I see the world. It is difficult not to let these differences harden into what James Alison called a "partisan ideological grouping," demarcated by walls of scorn and contempt. These are the groupings which are shown, blind to compassion, in John Chapter 5.... Read on >>>>

This post contains material about a method for Bible Study. It may be followed up by more reflection on John 6:1-21

Stargate was mandated TV viewing by the teenagers in our house. In one dire situation, one of the team cried out to Col. Jack ONeil, "How will we get out of this, Sir?" To which he replied something like, "How do I know; it's not like I can fix it with a pocket knife!" I asked why my son was so amused by this,  and was told with that eye roll known to all parents of enlightened teenagers: "It's Richard Dean Anderson." Such replies seem designed to show up parental ignorance— don't answer Bible Study questions in this way— so I buried my pride and asked, "So?"

Sigh— "He's the same actor who played MacGyver."

Well, even I knew MacGyver can escape from any situation with a box of matches and a pocket knife, so I finally got the joke. We know that literature is written for a purpose. If we were given Animal Farm in High School, we will have learned how the surface story of the animals is, at least, an extended allegory about Russia from the time of the Revolution through to Stalin. But somehow we seem to forget that the biblical writers might have their own literary style. It does not seem to occur to us that the stories are not simply facts, but are interpretations. They might even have the equivalent of MacGyver jokes!

The "whole style of biblical literature is that the numbers and details are not simply a description, but a hook on which to hang meaning,"  (see below) yet we too often fail to look for the meanings dangled before us or, worse, get into arguments about the literal truth beyond which we may not go.

We need "to go beyond the literal,"

 we need to go beyond reading the story like children who correctly hear that something marvellous happens— and begin, also, to read the symbols[; for example, Jesus ] asks them to start feeding with what they have— What have they got? Five loaves. Five... is the number of the books of the Law. They have the words of God to feed the crowd. (What will you see?)

And we need to give the text time to work on us! ... Read on >>>>

There is a long tradition in the synagogue and the church  that when Moses saw the burning bush, there were other people with him who did not see anything! In fact, the bush was always burning; (eg Jeremiah Whitaker C16th) it is a symbol of God who simply Is, without beginning or end. The only question— always— is whether people will see, whether we will perceive that which is before us and around us, or whether we will walk, un-noticing, past the holiness that always burns, and which gives the universe warmth, and light, and being.

God is. God loves. But what we will see will depend upon our perspective.

In the Gospel of Mark, the author has shown us two feasts; two stories of life. Last week the Lectionary directed us to The Feast of Herod the King, a luxury feast in a palace. This week, we have arrived at the other feast, The Feast of Jesus, out in a desert place... Read on >>>>

The panorama: I say to myself, "Surely you can make this shorter!" But there is a panorama here which is too important to ignore, and our reading is at its centre...
The centre: I want to sharpen the problem of being too busy to eat. We have contrasting feasts in the text of Mark; those of Herod and Jesus. If we do not eat of Jesus' banquet ourselves, we will inevitably find that we are sitting at Herod's table... Read on >>>>

Suddenly the death of John the Baptist is injected into the story of Jesus. It has always felt slightly out of place to me. Just as the disciples begin to succeed, we are told of John's death. And the story "is the one scene in all of Mark's Gospel in which Jesus makes no appearance." (Lohse)

I first began to understand John's death as the one of three feasts; a feast which stands in appalling contrast to Jesus' two feasts with the crowds in Mark 6:30-44, and Mark 8:1-10. Jesus' feeding of the crowd is everything Herod's banquet is not. His feasts are for the common people rather than the top end of town; all people, even Gentiles, are included.  His banquets are not characterised by violence and murder; rather than the coveted place to be, they are an image of blessed life in the presence of the shepherd of Israel, in green pastures far from any palace. In those two feasts, Jesus is a shepherd rather than a Herod.... But Mark's artistry and inspiration goes far deeper than this beginning. He contrasts the feasts of the kingdom with something at once ordinary and terrifying. And seemingly inescapable.... Read on >>>>

20180708mansplainingThere was a joint meeting of two regions of our denomination. There were to be speakers. I went in anticipation of some visiting authority who would bring us wisdom to take home. And found that the first, and main speaker, was a still baby-faced colleague who was in the first year of his first parish. I was ambushed by resentment. Why had I not been noticed? I felt belittled. Why had I not been asked to speak? All the hurt of my childhood home town— not so far from where we were meeting— flared up. It was a great grace that my competitor for honour turned out to have been very well chosen. His key point remains with me after twenty years, and he is a good friend and colleague who continues to bless me, rather than someone to be rejected and unheard.

The Individual
The text of Mark 6:1-6 could be seen to say something about home town issues, but I think it is also a summary of a greater section of Mark, and viewed as such, it is much richer.

A colleague wrote of  last week's text that

It also reminds me how much more all people were understood in terms of their relationships and less as individuals in that time and culture.  Women’s identity was even more derivative of their relationship with a primary man, but even men were defined this way.  I’m thinking of Bartimaeus, which means son of Timaeus…

And she notes correctly that the same happens to Jesus

[But it was also said of Jesus:] “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”  (KD)

What is happening here with the use of names?... Read on >>>>

This is a sermon which deals with violence. It speaks about sexual assault, and all the other violent exclusions we commit against sisters and brothers. I wonder if I have any right to speak about these things, but maybe a male voice is needed; we don't listen to the women.

The text starts with Jesus and a leader of the synagogue… Sometimes it's called the Healing of Jairus' Daughter, but if we look carefully we can see the story uses his name only once… and keeps calling him the leader of the synagogue.  I think it might be called The Enlightening of the Leader of the Synagogue, because it just so happens that the leader of the synagogue is called Jairus: Jairus means enlightened one. Do you see it?—at the end of the story he really is an enlightened one.

Jairus' daughter is an unnamed little girl, but the daughter of a leader of the synagogue is also… the community of faith… This is a story about the death and resurrection of a faith community; it could be our spiritual leader— John— coming to Jesus and saying about us, "My little daughter— my little congregation— is at the point of death."

The story of the little daughter has another story in the middle of it, and that's the story of an unnamed woman who has been ill for 12 years. She has been bleeding life for 12 years. She is slowly dying, too. ... Read on >>>>

I spent too long in the emergency department yesterday, and last night. It is beyond ironic, after witnessing a person suffering under many doctors, seeing them made no better, but rather grow worse, that the lectionary should open this morning to the story of "a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years."  It is almost the worst thing to sit hours in hospital and be able to do nothing. The worst thing is to be turned away.

Jesus has faced down the savagery of the elements, which were always suspected to be driven by chaotic and evil forces. (Mark 4:35-41) He has faced down terrifying evil which is eroding and brutalising people from the inside out. (Mark 5:1-21)  And now we come to intractable illness; a slow bleeding death which is sandwiched by Mark inside a story of the final injustice of premature dying. (Mark 5:21-43) The sudden dying of a "little daughter" has at its heart— comes from the same place as— a long bleeding of energy and life from the nation and from its people. (And, ultimately, from all of us.) The number twelve links child, country, and the bleeding woman at the centre of this healing of illness. And the beloved daughter links the spiritual leadership of the nation, the synagogue, to the same loss of blood; that is, the part of us which carries life... Read on >>>>

There are two ways to look at this story of Jesus calming the storm on the lake. Since the story was first told, there have been people who believe it is literally true: He commanded an actual physical gale to stop and it did.  And since the story was first told, there have been people who understand the story to be about a deeper truth than the mere calming of a physical storm; true in another, perhaps even deeper, way. They see that Jesus will take us safely through all the storms of life when we are about to be drowned. He will empower us to live in the eye of the storm, to live well, despite evil, destruction, and death, raging around us. We will be able to live in a way which is good for us and in a way which God desires— which is the same thing, even though it seems impossible and too hard.... Read on >>>>

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