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jesus the gardener: an easter sunday reflection

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalenewent and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

It is far too easy for us to overlook seemingly minor details in the biblical text. Perhaps this happens because we have become overfamiliar with the stories and no longer read them carefully, or because we have not been trained to pick up on subtlety.

Whatever the case, in John’s account of the Resurrection story such subtlety is apparent, though we must pay careful attention to perceive it.

Recounting the day of the Resurrection John opens his story, “Now on the first day of the week.”

Of what does that remind you in earlier biblical tradition? Read the rest of this entry

“there’s always hope!”: pete seeger on hope for peace

From Fr. John Dear in his book Put Down Your Sword:

For years, one of my friends, the legendary folksinger Pete Seeger, has questioned friends and audiences who feel hopeless. “In the early 1970s,” he asks, “did you ever expect to see President Nixon resign because of Watergate?”

“No,” people answer.

“Did you ever expect to see the Pentagon leave Vietnam the way it did?”

“No, we didn’t,” everyone answers.

“In the 1980s, did you expect to see the Berlin Wall come down so peacefully?” Pete asks.

“No, never,” they respond.

“In the 1990s, did you expect to see Nelson Mandela released from prison, apartheid abolished, and Mandela become president of South Africa?”

“Never in a million years.”

“Did you ever expect the two warring sides of Northern Ireland to sign a peace agreement on Good Friday?”

“Never.”

“If you can’t predict those things,” Pete concludes, “don’t be so confident that there’s no hope! There’s always hope!”

We do not know what the future will bring. We cannot see where the road is leading. We know the sufferings, wars, and injustices tearing us apart, but we do not know the outcome. And so we cannot presume that there is no hope of a new world of peace.

We only know our mission, our vocation, our duty is to proclaim God’s reign of peace and resist the anti-reign of war.

We know that the God of peace is alive and active among the struggling people of the world. We know that if we repent of our violence and take up God’s way of nonviolence, the world can be transformed into a haven of harmony for everyone. We know that if we stay on the road to peace, one day we will enter God’s house of peace and meet the God of peace face-to-face.

The key, then, is to remain faithful to the journey of peace, to take the next step on the path of nonviolence, to join hands with one another and walk forward with hope.

I regularly need to be reminded…

MCA

q&r: luke 19 and the parable of the minas

A Facebook message I received today read simply:

Luke 19 – parable of the 10 Minas. Please explain?

Straightforward. I like that.

The Parable of the Ten Minas is a well-known parable whose popular interpretation has God as the nobleman and Christians as the servants. In this reading faithful servants are those who are productive. We all have different levels of resources, and this is taken into account by God. Ultimately though the faithful are rewarded and the unproductive are punished.*

The problem with this reading is that it portrays God as a cold, cruel, greedy elitist. It assumes that the nobleman in the parable, who is a wealthy character, should be equated with God. As I have said previously this is a mistake; Luke consistently portrays the rich in less than flattering ways throughout his Gospel:

  • … he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (1:53)
  • … woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (6:24)
  • … the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God. (12:21)

It would be strange if Luke suddenly equated God with a rich man.

If the nobleman is not God, and the story is not about productivity, what exactly is going on in this parable? Read the rest of this entry

mental disability and praying for logie awards

Last night I went along to a church service with friends while staying in Brisbane. The group I joined was made up of 60% people with mental disabilities.

I was told that a number of the people present had previously attended particular Pentecostal churches, but having been prayed for for healing over varied periods of time without success some had been ostracised by these communities.

If order and predictability were what someone was after in a church service this was not the place for them – some congregants danced alternatively in the middle of songs, other shouted out comments during the proceedings and one blessed soul prayed that God would make them famous and give them a Logie* award. Two members even declared their marital engagement during the announcement time, though I was told that this was a regular occurrence, often between different people.

In the midst of such “chaos” I must tell you that I sensed the presence of God more potently than I have in a long time. Read the rest of this entry

what is eternal life?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16 is possibly the most famous verse in the Bible. It is so often said that its promise is life everlasting for those who believe in Jesus.

Certainly in our modern vocabulary the word “eternal” means “forever” or “everlasting”. Eternal life is almost universally understood as everlasting existence, immortality or life “in heaven”.

(Type “eternal life” into Wikipedia or Google and you’ll see what I mean. It does, however, also yield the song “Eternal Life” by Jeff Buckley… sublime.)

But is eternal life (zōē aiōnion) really the same thing as “everlasting” life? Is that what is meant by the phrase in the Gospel of John? Read the rest of this entry

what is a “fisher of men”?

Mark 1:17 and Matthew 4:19, in which Jesus calls Andrew and Peter to be “fishers of men”, is a well-trodden piece of biblical narrative, at least as heard from the pulpit.

Many a preacher has exhorted their church or audience to be “fishers of men”. This normally refers to their evangelistic efforts, whereby fishing for men means something like bringing them in to the faith, in the same way you might land a swordfish on a 30-footer (fisherman may correct my ignorance at this point…)

But let me cut to the chase – is that what Jesus meant? Read the rest of this entry

ekklesia: why exist?

Imagine for a second that the CEO of a business decides to expand the company.

He takes a group of fairly plain workers and trains them for the purpose of eventually leading this planned expansion. He spends a number of years teaching them to do what he does, and to emulate it in the context of a new expression of the business. The point of this chosen group is that they would embody the vision of the company, and that they would enact the implications of this vision in terms of their daily business.

The CEO then sets them off on their own as the expansion occurs.

Not many years down the track things begin to degenerate. This chosen group begins to forget why exactly they were chosen. Rather than existing as a group for the sake of the vision of the business they begin to exist solely for their own benefit. They still do some of the things they were entrusted to do in the expansion, but as a whole this group is not fulfilling the full vision of the CEO.

Rather than existing for the purpose for which the CEO created them, this group now exists largely for its own welfare, and for its own survival as a unit.

It is probably fairly obvious by now that this illustration is intended as an analogy for many churches. Not all churches, but certainly many of them. Let me explain why I say this. Keep Reading…

transforming society

“Students of social change tell us that it is better to aim at consensus within a strategic minority rather than to waste time and breath at soliciting the conformity of the majority. Since a movement for change involves vision and sacrifice it is not possible to start with the many. Very few people can see ten steps ahead of them. Most are too enclosed in the realities of the present to be able to imagine an alternative future. It takes a lot of imagination to believe that with the coming of Christ, a new order has come into being.”

Melba Padilla Maggay, Transforming Society: Reflections On The Kingdom And Politics, (Quezon City: Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture, 1996), 121-122.

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