One Man's Web

For 40 years, this farm kid has read the Parable of the Mustard Seed with a nagging question: who in their right mind would plant mustard? Mustard is a weed. Blinded by my father's love of Dijon and English Hot, it has never occurred to me that the Farmer might not be growing condiments, but might be sowing a weed called Jesus.

And the Woman is hiding yeast in the unleavened bread of Passover.

After this pithy introduction, I am about to embark on a long exploration with lengthy quotations. I think it's worth following through. The parables of the Kingdom of Heaven, here in Chapter 13 of Matthew, and again in Matthew 25  expose a radical reorientation of our way of being. We tend to reduce them to something less, which has lost its edge.

Matthew 13  can appear to be a somewhat disconnected compilation of stories. But what if "he means what he says and knows what he means," as Mark D Davis puts it? What if we read the text as a whole— as having a driving purpose, rather than leaving out pieces,  and reordering our reading of the parables, as the Revised Common Lectionary does? What do we hear then? ... Read on >>>>

I am not writing a First Impressions this week, as I am privileged with a few days leave.

I have listed previous posts on the text, and offer this short excerpt from James Alison, which informed much of my post Pigsty or Paradise from last week.

James Allison on Judging
He is speaking of the changes in the perceptions of the disciples after they meet the crucified and risen Jesus

It is very difficult for us to imagine the huge change of perception underway here, but it could be described as to change from a perception of a god in which the deity has a double face, saying "yes, but…" or "yes, and no," or "yes, if…," to the perception according to which God only and unconditionally says, "yes." Another way of putting it is as a change from a god who is both good and bad, who loves and who punishes, to a perception of God who is only love, in whom there is no darkness at all. Jesus had begun to teach this to his disciples, but it had been incomprehensible to them until after the resurrection. Consider Jesus' teaching that God makes the sun to shine on good and bad alike and causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. This has the effect of removing God completely from the sphere of reference of our human morality, excluding him from any participation in judging and condemning humans. The same thing happens in the parables: we are not to separate the wheat from the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) in this life, because we cannot judge adequately, and God's judgement has nothing to do with our own. (Raising Abel pp42-3)

It is not so much that we will pull out the wrong plants, good seed instead of weeds. Rather, as human beings, we do not perceive God's categories of judgement. We do not know what weed and good seed actually are; our whole enterprise is based on exclusion and personal/group safety underpinned by human violence. We do not know how God sees us. We cannot conceive of a God who is "all yes."

We wish to judge. But "… there is no ambivalence at all in God: God is not "love, but also vengeful justice," but purely and unambiguously love." (pp43)

Alison goes on to note that Paul's comment in Romans 1

they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools… (1:21-22)

and the rhetorical trap of Romans 2:

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. (2:1)

In some of the posts below, I address how one might keep people safe, but not exclude or judge those who we find difficult, or even evil. I have no concrete answers here, except one: If I exclude you, I have failed the Kingdom to which God invites me to enter. Perhaps failure is the best I can do to keep some who are vulnerable safe, but it is always failure.

Andrew Prior (2017)

Matthew 13:24-30 - Weeds and Bad Seeds 
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - Feeding on Thistles  
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - Keep your hat on!  
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - Welcome the Weeds

There is a farm house out in the Hills which stands in a 30 acre paddock on some of the prettiest land in the state. Over the years, the owner has collected car bodies and old farm machinery which lines the farm drive, and is also scattered in a couple of hundred random clumps over the whole 30 acres like a demented mechanical cemetery.

I often wonder how some farming families can stand to have a dozen pigsties lining the drive up to their house— this place has pigsties as well, but this farm takes mess to a new level. 

Most likely, the cars, and the pigsties, are invisible to the owners. We become habituated to the place where we live, and blind to the features which seem most obvious, and even appalling, to fresh eyes. My wife could be tempted to suggest, at this point, that instead of talking about my desk, I simply clean it up! We are all like this.... Read on >>>>

We all know how hard life can be. I think most people have times when they'd just like to throw in the towel; it all gets too hard.

There are a couple of ideas floating around which really don't help us when life is hard.

The first idea is that some people have life all together. They are living the dream. They don't have problems. Everything is easy for them. Why can't I have that? In fact, we can beat ourselves up over not doing the right thing to get there,
...   or we can drag ourselves down with resentment.

There can be a grain of truth in the idea that some people are more fortunate. Life is easier without arthritis ... than with arthritis. It helps a great deal ... to have enough money to pay your bills easily. And it's far better to live in a place  where you are not being abused.

But what I notice, is that some folk who live, or have lived,  in absolutely terrible circumstances, seem remarkably at peace. They even have a level of ... contentment. And other folk who have everything--  it seems--  are miserable.

A whole life... a good, peaceful, purposeful life, doesn't necessarily correlate with fortunate physical circumstances-- you have probably seen the magazine articles about how winning the lottery often does not make people happy... Read on >>>>

anotherwayhomeI thought I might title this photo, "There's always another way home!" But sometimes, when you think you'll go a little further up the hill, and take a wider loop around to rejoin the route home, you miss the track that looked so obvious on Google Maps....  Read on >>>>

Subtitled: Reflecting upon the costs and consolations of discipleship in Matthew Chapters 10 and 11.

From the text:

Not even John the Baptist can see this new future! In many ways, his reform was about restoration rather than newness. Repent can mean to turn again, go back, do it again better, rather than do something new. Do it properly according to the law. Shoulder your burden, and God will be faithful. So the fasting John is himself suspicious of Jesus, who, eating and drinking, looks to John like one who is not shouldering the burden of faith at all.

Jesus said, "Among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." There is a leap, a fundamental re-visioning of life, if we are to enter the kingdom with God. Matthew leaves us to wonder if John ever made that leap.

Unless we can take that leap of imagination, unless we can see Jesus' call as freedom, he presents us with an impossible burden! For his program of love and discipling in Chapter 10 undermines everything, provokes hostility from those who feel judged and destabilised, and simply makes us less secure in the world.... Read on >>>>

From the text:

When the lawyer tested Jesus— what must I do to inherit eternal life— Jesus replied, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ (Luke 10:26)

 James Alison says that this verse reflects the fact that the law, or any text, is never read in a vacuum. We read it through someone's eyes. There is a Rabbi, a teacher somewhere, who has taught us what it is that we read in a text, and how to read it. "And that meant, as they well knew, “Who is your rabbi? Through whose eyes do you read this text?” (James Alison Jesus the Forgiving Victim, Essay 2)

When we read the story of God testing Abraham, even when we warm to the insights of one commentator over another, we are reading through the eyes from which we have learned: that is, we are reading according to a Rabbi who has taught us.

I experienced our recent Synod here in Adelaide, with the usual mixture of being moved to tears of joy at the riches  we are given in life, and despair at our falling short in our life together. There is within us a conservatism which insists its view of the world is the only correct one. At our best we live, and let live, and even build each other up, within our churches. At our worst we are defensive, dismissive of others, immersed in our own pain and blind to the pain of others, and judgemental.

I recognise this because it is where I come from, and because it is still too much of what I am. I grieve that I might thrust upon others the blindness and the judgement which has so often kept me from the joy of a deeper and fuller life. How can I read according to my Rabbi, Jesus who is Christ? How would Jesus, for example, read Genesis 22, today? How would he preach it? Would he preach it? Read on >>>>

I am reluctant to work with these texts. What do I know about violence and persecution? I only know about fear. The text says "have no fear… do not fear… do not be afraid." (10:26, 28, 31) It is in confronting my own fears that I find some way into the text.

Matthew tells us that persecution begins as a response to the healing work of disciples. (10:1, 8) At its best the church is healing, not judging or condemnatory. But it is the healing and the love behind it which triggers the persecution! Last week I showed the close connection of love to forgiveness. We cannot love without forgiveness, and forgiveness highlights the destabilising nature of love. I said,

James Alison says of the text, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16)" that

rather than this being an instruction about prudence, as it is usually made out to be, I suggest that this is what acting out forgiveness in the world looks like: it looks like knowing that you are dealing with dangerous people, who are more than likely to be deeply destabilized by your innocence and because of that to seek to lynch you. On Being Liked

Why are we sometimes destabilised, as Alison puts it, by love and forgiveness? What frightens us so much? To love and forgive is to accept loss of privilege, power, and possessions, rather than seek reparation. It is easy to scoff at this idea, but if it is put into action, then to love and to forgive is to cut across the good manners of family loyalties and vendettas. It ignores and undermines the established hierarchies of power.  Love and forgiveness sometimes frightens us so much that we cannot be healed. We can think only of self-preservation; that is, the maintenance of the false security that comes with privilege, so love and forgiveness does not bring peace to the earth but a sword... Read on >>>>

We could read this text as a kind of summation of the teaching and healing Jesus has been doing in Matthew since Chapter 4. It is there he first says the kingdom is at hand as a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy

that 6 the people who sat in darkness
   have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
   light has dawned.’ 

Jesus now lives this out in "all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness." He models Kingdom, and directs the disciples to do the same. The wholeness of the kingdom, its restoration, and its coming fulfilment are symbolised by the number twelve, which is highlighted and repeated. Israel is  becoming what it was meant to be; the disciples are sent first of all to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. There is also a reminder of incompleteness and loss, for among the twelve is "Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him." One of those sent to have compassion upon the flock turns out to be on the side of the wolves, and in the future, (Matt 28:16-20) there will only be eleven. I take the reference to the eleven in last week's text to be a reassurance that even though we betray the kingdom, the task is not beyond us.

And then we have the great contrast to Kingdom, for those who are going out, moved with compassion, are told they will be hated because of their love.

I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves… they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me… 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name.

How does this work? How is this kingdom?... Read on >>>>

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