Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Matter of Principle

The corner of Simon’s lip twitched, betraying his satisfaction as derision and delight melded together in a perfect moment. All his long-held suspicions had been justified! This outlandish Galilean, not trained in the proper rabbinical schools or accredited by due, recognised process, was a total fraud! He spoke so eloquently – yes, Simon was a fair-minded man, he could concede that this Jesus was eloquent – yes (he lost his train of thought for a moment and quickly recovered it), he was certainly eloquent enough, talking about God and holiness and the nature of true righteousness as if he had the last word to say on the subject. And he spoke as if he knew better than the Pharisees, the true guardians and protectors of the Law of Israel, as if he, this nobody from Nazareth (Nazareth? Seriously? Could anything good come from there?) … he caught his train of thought again … this upstart Nazarene really believed he knew more about holiness than those who had dedicated their whole lives to studying, and scrupulously obeying, all the minutiae of the Law. And, unfortunately, the common people, with the itching ears of those who found the Law a burden rather than a privilege, would rather run after this Jesus and listen to him and ignore the careful wisdom of the Pharisees

Yet now he was caught out on the most elementary principle of all. All serious students of the Law knew that a man who sought holiness should have nothing to do with women (except his own wife, who should know her place). Women were a snare and a temptation, unholy daughters of Eve the original temptress. No man who was serious about God would allow a strange woman to come physically close to him, let alone touch him. It was a matter of principle. Hadn’t he read the passages in Proverbs about the dangers of the Adulteress? And how could a man make any claim to be a prophet of God, and not immediately see that this was a sinful woman, a woman whose moral failings made her unfit for decent company? Yet here was Jesus, quite unperturbed, while this wicked woman wept all over his feet, wiped them with her hair and then poured perfume all over them! What was he thinking? Surely her hair flowing loose in public was enough to show her indecency? Yet as Simon watched closely, there was not the slightest hint of disdain on Jesus’ face. Instead, he seemed to look at her as if she were wonderfully precious.

Then Jesus raised his eyes from the woman and looked straight at Simon. Suddenly Simon felt a bit less sure. But then Jesus started telling a story about 2 men who owed different amounts of money, and both had their debts cancelled. What did that have to do with anything? He seemed to think it was all about love. Next he was reproaching Simon about a lack of the finer courtesies owing to a guest – did Jesus seriously imagine that a man such as Simon would stoop to wash the feet and anoint the head of someone like himself?  Protecting one’s status was also a matter of principle. Somehow, in Jesus’ eyes this wicked woman had given him the very courtesies that Simon had denied him.

Then, to complete the outrage, Jesus turned and said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Who did he think he was? Only God could forgive sins: that, too, was a matter of principle.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rain (a poem)

Let me unfurl, receive
Blessing beyond belief:
Life where the drought has been
Fatness for tight and lean.

Let these hands opened wide
Accept what You provide;
Kneeling amidst the mud,
Owning Your gift is good.

Let each uncurling flower
Speak Your redemptive power
Green rising through the ground
Where only dust was found.

And through each season’s turn
Yours be the love I yearn:
You make what could not be

Blossomed reality.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

INFP (a poem)

I am the sum of my parts, yet not part of the sums,
The stiff arithmetic of commerce
Bores me with its pedantry;
I cry out “why?”, but no one hears.

Enter the butterfly.
Oh coruscating wings,
Oh love, oh wonder!
Why do they talk in grey while my heart leaps rainbows?
I sing, wing, fling in silence,
Wondering how

To bless the dark-grey thinkers with its beauty.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Patriot

It would have been so much easier to pretend that she knew nothing, that she cared nothing, to sink into the life of a pampered princess, enjoy all the privileges of being Queen of Persia, and let her heart and soul wither and wilt. After all, what could she do? She was a young woman in a world of warriors and intricate power politics and her position and safety were totally dependent on the whims of a king who had already shown himself to be very quick to discard a queen who failed to gratify his every whim with blind subservience. She was, in her own way, despite the silks and golden dishes, the perfumed gardens, and the servants trained to fetch whatever she should desire, more trapped than the poorest free citizen of the empire. Life i8 the harem was a life of cushioned slavery.

But her cousin’s words haunted her. Partly it was the warning: her safety was not guaranteed. If the King, under Haman’s evil influence, had issued a decree (the unalterable law of the Medes and Persians) that all Jews in the realm were to be destroyed on a certain day, then surely some enemy would betray her (and a palace was full of enemies, whether one was aware of them or not). All men live under the shadow of death, all our safety is but a temporary respite from the inevitable. She was more deeply affected by his assurance that God would raise up a Deliverer; from the cradle her uncle had taught her the history of her people: the history of sin, fall, and deliverance played out over and over again. The promises to Abraham still stood; his seed would not be obliterated from the earth.  All of that was truest truth.

But what stirred her very soul, and demolished the illusion of peace she had tried to find rest in were the final words of his message: “who knows but that you have come to royal position for a time such as this?” Her elevation had always seemed the most extraordinary thing to her, despite her cousin’s confidence. She was not the only pretty girl in the world. But what if he were right? What if God had given her this privilege and status just so that she could intervene at this crucial moment (which only God had known would take place) to protect her people, God’s people? What if it was not about an easy life for Esther, but about preserving the race through whom salvation would one day come? What if????

There was only one way to find out, she would have to put the King’s favour to the test. If she approached him and he did not extend his sceptre, it was death, but death was only a heartbeat away anyway. And if he extended his sceptre and gave favour to her plans, then she would have the opportunity, in the right time and place, to make her plea, and the lives of many of her own people could be saved. Put that way, the choice was no choice at all. Tremblingly, prayerfully, she prepared herself to face the king.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Wonder (noli me tangere)

You cannot hold fast to beauty.
It trickles like fine dust between your fingers,
Leaving a sparkle behind.
Like water
Over, into, through us …
We thirst again, but ah! we have been washed.

You might as well catch moonbeams,
Or ride the moment’s breeze into eternity,
Or hold one sweetness lasting on your tongue ..
So we mourn mortality.

We have lived enough to see things fade and falter,
To see bright sunrise dim to plodding day,
To know that tears will dry and laughter fail,
To know so much is fleeting, swift and gone!
To know no hands can hold or flesh contain.
To mourn our weakness.

Yet there is place beyond our hemmed in sky
Where all things lovely rest, and do not die.

And there is grace, and there is place enough –
Oh touch it not! Our clinging hands destroy.
It must ascend and to our Father go
While we sip glory’s drops and wait below.

We wait.

On stiffened knees we wait below. 

Monday, September 01, 2014


During her empty, tear-washed days the small betrayals tormented her mind the most, wriggling through her waking thoughts like worms piercing tunnels through the soil. She felt as if everyone around her had let her down, and her father most of all. How could he fail to protect her? How could he fail to bring down the full weight of justice and its consequences on the man who had violated her? As King, should he not uphold the law of God against a man who raped a virgin daughter of Israel? As a father, should he not support and love his ravaged daughter, giving her back the worth that had so wickedly been stolen from her? She could only conclude that a son was w9orth so much more to him than a daughter; that he saw her as being as worthless as Amnon had made her feel. Oh yes, reports said that David was very angry when he heard what her brother had done to her, but since he did nothing about it she wasn’t sure what his anger was about, or who he was really angry with, and her wretchedness increased. If her own father would not speak healing into her life, or defend her honour as his own, then desolation was all that she had.

It was when she lay on her bed at night, and tossed and turned, longing for the respite of sleep, yet fearing the terrors that returned in her dreams, that the huge betrayal came back to overwhelm her, so that she struggled to breathe as if his hand was still weighing down upon her face to stifle her screams, and her body spasmed in pain as if his violation tore her all over again. The whole bitter sequence of his deception, mindless lust and then furious rejection of her played itself out over and over in her mind. In what way had he not harmed and dishonoured her? In what way had he not treated her, a princess of Israel, his own half-sister, more despicably than the Law allowed him to treat the meanest slave girl? He had gone to so much trouble to gain access to her – feigning illness, demanding that she cook for him, and that nothing less than food from her own hands would cure him (and she blamed herself bitterly for not being suspicious at this point – but did her na├»ve pleasure in his attention really make her deserving of what he did?), demanding that all others leve the room and she feed him alone in his own bedroom (why, oh why didn’t she, or someone else say that this was ridiculous and unnecessary? Was everyone afraid to say ‘no’ to a prince who had been denied nothing all his born days? But then, why should anyone expect such actions from a man who seemed so ill?) and then, despite her vehement protestations, the rape that would haunt her dreams as long as she drew breath. Then came the final, most cutting, humiliation of all: having desired her so fervently, against all reason, decency or sense, once he had sated his lust he now despised her as passionately as he had wanted her, and had her flung from rooms in disgusted repudiation.

She had been betrayed, her very identity as a princess of Israel had been stolen from her, forever. Tamar sat alone and wept, and no one offered her consolation. No one stood by her to tell her that the God of Israel was a Father who would never fail her, that the Redeemer of Israel cared so much that He would one day come and be broken Himself so that Life and justice could be restored.