Saturday, January 26, 2013


It was hopeless trying to explain it to her sister – she just didn’t get it, and trying to make her understand was an exercise in frustration! “But aren’t you contented to be a woman as the Holy One made you to be?” she would say, as if that clinched the argument.  Everyone knew it was a sin to grumble about the will of the Lord.

Mary would take a deep breath before she replied. She loved her sister, and didn’t want to hurt her or shock her, but how could any woman be so happy to bury her life in pots and pans, when there was so much to be learned and understood? “But was it the Almighty who said that women could not study and learn, only men?”  But it was useless, Martha could not see the difference between the Law of God and the customs of the world, or, if she did, was not prepared to admit it, since the system worked fine, and she did not want to encourage Mary in her scandalous ideas.

It all came to a head one time when Jesus came to visit. As usual, he and his disciples sat in the front room, and Martha, eager to offer the most generous hospitality she could to such a beloved guest, bustled off to the women’s quarters to see how much food she could produce for this sudden crowd of men. Mary suspected that the men would really be perfectly happy with a simple meal of the things they already had at hand, but she knew that this was Martha’s way of saying how much she loved Jesus, so she let her go ahead.

But this time she did not immediately follow, but hesitating, stood at the doorway listening to Jesus’ words as his friends threw their questions at him. His words released something inside her, she felt as if she were dancing (or was it flying?) twirling up into the brightness of an enormous love that reached down to embrace her. She looked across at Jesus and he turned and smiled at her, beckoning her, with a small gesture of his head, to come over at sit with the others at his feet. Greatly daring, for this was an unthinkable act for a woman, she did so, and was rewarded by another smile, which seemed to look right into the hungry depths of her soul with approval. She thought of all the rabbis who would ostracise her for such an act, but then, eyes fixed on Jesus, she simply listened and forgot about everything else.

It was only when her furious sister stormed in, demanding her immediate return to the kitchen, and appealing to Jesus to send her back to her ‘proper’ place, where a decent woman belonged, that flushed with shame, she realised the enormity of what she had done and how far she had transgressed. Shamefaced, she was ready to flee. But it was Jesus himself who took her part. “Martha,” he said gently, reading their hearts, exposing and responding to their secret fears, “You worry about all these things, but only one thing is needful. What Mary has chosen is better, and it won’t be taken away from her.”

And Mary’s eyes were clouded with tears of wonder and joy.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Meal

He undid his little cloth and looked them as they lay there: five little brown loaves, two little silver-grey fish. They were his, his mother had packed them for him only that morning, telling him not to lose them or he would go hungry. And he was hungry now. He had followed the crowd way out of town, then sat for hours and listened to the Teacher, while the sun blazed down on them out a harsh blue sky. He was rather amazed at himself actually; normally he was the last one to want to sit listening to a rabbi talk on and on. There were so many better things for a boy to do on such a lovely day, and now that he was older his father didn’t give him as many free days as before to go out into the hills and simply be a boy, away from the workshop and learning his father’s business. But then, he had never heard anyone before talk the way this Teacher did – and he couldn’t get enough of it.

But now he was faced with a dilemma. He was hungry, as his mother would have said, he was a growing boy and always hungry. And yet, could he sit here and simply feed himself while everyone else went hungry? He twisted the edges of the cloth in his fingers and wondered. The teacher had been talking about generosity, about loving others as much as yourself, and it had all made such marvellous sense when he listened. But now, did it really mean he should give away his own food?

He looked down at the loaves and fishes, nestled on the nearly-white cloth that had bound them. It really wasn’t very much. In fact if he gave it away, it would just mean that someone else had it while everyone else still went without. And there were just so many everyone-elses.  He looked over at the Teacher, who seemed to be having quite a discussion with His closest friends. That was when he had his great idea. The Teacher was standing there, looking tired, and He didn’t seem to have anything to eat. What if he gave his loaves and fishes to the Teacher?

He approached tentatively. There were so many grown men standing around there. But one looked a little friendlier than the others, so he went up to him and offered him the food. “I thought the Teacher might like this,” he said.

The man looked delighted and brought him, and the food, to the Teacher. As long as he lived, he would remember what happened next. The Teacher accepted his gift with a smile that lit up his whole heart, then, having organised the crowd to sit on the grass, held up the food towards heaven and gave thanks for it. Then, as the boy watched, his eyes growing wider and wider, the Teacher’s friends started handing out his bread and fish. It was a meal for one person, maybe a dozen if they had only a tiny mouthful each, yet somehow the food just seemed to keep on coming .. and coming .. somebody counted over five thousand men in the crowd, yet all were fed abundantly. Somebody offered him some, and he ate it with amazement. His mother was a good cook, but no barley loaves ever tasted like this, as if they had been seasoned with the very fragrance of heaven. And at the end there were twelve baskets left over. How was he ever going to explain to his mother that the food she had sent him off with, only that morning, had been the material of a miracle that had turned his whole world inside out?

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Crucifix

Here He is bound as we are bound; His face
Wears our dumb pain. The Word in silence hangs.
Carved from the stone of our own stony hearts,
Burdened by time, He is the Son of Man.

Here, underneath, the shuffling pilgrims come
To gaze, to wonder, or, indifferent, pass.
See, is there any sorrow like to His,
He, to our torment, the reflective glass?

These eyes left blank to pierce, as He was pierced,
Straight through that place where my soul’s tendons meet,
To separate me from complacency,
Decapitating from my self-conceit.

He has become myself. No words, no song
Lighten the moment. He is there as me,
And I to Him bound fast. Where will this end –
I locked to Him in my small finity?

Under time’s vault there is no certainty,
No neat small calculations to contain
The paths my God will bid me walk with Him.
I only know He carries all my pain.

Even those stretched hands cannot measure out
The boundaries of this vast, alien grace.
I only know that all the love I yearn
Is here configured, uttered in this place.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Treasure

He had everything – more than he could possibly use or desire. As a prince in Pharaoh’s palace, he was denied nothing. There were luxuries at his right hand and his left – food, wine, clothing, jewellery, slaves, and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that the libraries of Egypt could provide. There were teachers he could summon for instruction on any matter that occurred to his curiosity, and companions for any exercise or sport. When he walked abroad people moved out of his way in respect, for he wore insignia that set him apart. Privileged beyond most men who walk the earth, he should have been sublimely content, for what was there left for him to desire? Yet, as his fortieth year grew close, the restlessness in his heart grew.

His whole life was a pretence of course. As a Hebrew, he was born under Pharaoh’s curse, for all baby boys of the slave race were sentenced to death because of Pharaoh’s fear, and, if not for his mother’s ingenuity and the miraculous providence of God, he would never have survived his earliest infancy. But he had been adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and his own mother, playing the part of his nursemaid, had taught him the truth about his ancestry from the beginning. He knew that behind his back the people of the court called him “The Hebrew”, but who dared call him that to his face?

The inner discomfort drove him out of the palace more frequently, to watch, to learn. Who was he to bask in idle luxury while all around him his people toiled and died in the very loathsome slavery that supported his own wealth? And as he wandered and observed, he realised just how terrible the condition of his people was – hard labour in the broiling Egyptian sun, cruel words and crueller whips. They lived in great poverty, but their greatest poverty of all was their servitude. For most of them there was no dignity or hope, only the abject, servile fear of those whose well-being depends upon a master’s whim. It was wrong! These were the descendants of Abraham, the ones of whom the promises spoke, the chosen children of God Most High. Didn’t God care about this injustice? Did the suffering of His own mean nothing? Was He so far away that their cries could not reach Him?

And then the focus of his thinking shifted, and became a mirror reflecting back his own face. Had he himself not spent forty years living in comfort, ignoring the misery of his own brethren, preferring the treasure of Egypt to wearing the identity of God’s people? Yet which was truly the greater treasure?

He was in this frame of mind when he saw an Egyptian overseer mistreating a Hebrew slave. Seeing that no one else was around (he had never run any real risks in his life before), he let his anger and frustration boil over and killed the Egyptian. Now he felt that he had struck a blow for his people!

But his elation was short-lived. It wasn’t long before he learned that his deed was known, and he had to flee Egypt and hide out in Midian, where for another forty years he waited for God’s time of redemption. But he had few real regrets. On that day he had made an absolute choice, and, despite the chafing of the years, he knew, with absolute certainty where his true treasure lay.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

This One Thing I Know

I thought that mine was the only kind of darkness, and everyone else walked in light and could see where they were going. I used to wonder what it was like – to be able to see, to know, to work; to run without fear of falling, to read the expression of a face, to know who was beautiful and who was plain. I concentrated on what I could know: the feeling of heat and cold, of softness and hardness, wet and dry; the beauty or ugliness of voices, the kindness or cruelty of words. That was the compass of my world; those were the boundaries of my life. I heard the words – red, blue, dirty, twilight, stars – but how could I know what they meant? I was blind from birth.

I was used to sitting there begging, hearing both the pity and the scorn of those who passed by; despised by many because they believed that my disability was the sign of God’s judgement on some terrible sin. Can a man sin in his mother’s womb? It made no sense to me, but beggars cannot afford to show pride, so I said nothing.

Then one day a man came and put mud on my eyes. Now, people do strange things to torment the blind, but there was no mockery in the authoritative voice that told me to wash in the Pool of Siloam. So (not exactly having anything better to do) I went and washed, and came home seeing! It was so simple, so complete, so overwhelming!

And then, just when I was seeing for the first time, trying to take in colour and shape and movement until my head was spinning with wonder, I found out how truly blind sighted people could be. Even my own neighbours questioned my identity! But when they got the Pharisees involved, it became ridiculous. First they suggested that the Healer could not be from God, because I was healed on the Sabbath (Does not God make the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the Sabbath as surely as any day? Why should He not restore a man’s sight?) Then they tried to make out that the whole story was made up and I hadn’t been blind at all.

Finally they got my poor parents involved. They knew absolutely nothing about what had happened, but they could certainly attest to my blindness. This did not make the Pharisees happy, so they wanted to see me again. I was getting a little tired of this, had I been given this glorious gift of sight to waste it on their disapproving faces? And when I came, all they wanted to harp on about was that the Healer must have been a sinner. What?!

Their obsession made no sense to me. For many years I have been a beggar, did someone’s act of giving me a coin make them evil if they gave it on the wrong day of the week? Does a beggar even question such things? No, he is thankful for the gift. But now that someone had given me a far more glorious gift for a far worse need I was expected to condemn Him on their say-so? I couldn’t.

Sometimes, in a blinding flash, as sudden as the gift of sight, you know what really matters. “Look,” I said, “I have no idea whether this man is a sinner. This one thing I know: I was blind, but now I can see!” Only a fool would reject the wonderful gifts of God for the crazy theories of men who imagine themselves to be religious experts, but cannot see the mighty works of God when they happen under their noses.