Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Crime

The king sat and listened carefully, as was his wont. It was his responsibility to listen. As a king he must listen to the stories of his people so that he could lead them in the right way; for how can there be wise leadership without understanding? And as a man who sought to honour the Lord, and not fall away and reject God’s Spirit, as his predecessor Saul had done so miserably, he must give his full attention to the words of God’s prophet. But as he listened he felt indignation swell up inside him, making it harder to concentrate. This was a crime that should never have been committed in Israel! Yes, of course, sin was everywhere there were human beings; but this kind of sin flew directly in the face of how God’s covenant people were supposed to live and reflect his character. God’s people were called to be both just and generous, and the man who oppressed others because his wealth and power allowed him to get away with it – behaviour considered normal, and even admirable in the pagan nations around them – was absolutely, heinously wrong.

The story, in and of itself was ordinary enough. It could have happened anywhere in Israel. And, oddly, the prophet gave no indications of place or tribe or lineage. Instead, referring to “a certain town”, he spoke of a rich man who had abundant flocks and herds, yet when a traveller arrived at his house, he did not take a beast from his own plentiful possessions to feed his guest, but took from his neighbour instead. Now this neighbour was a very poor man, and all he owned was one little ewe lamb, which he loved as dearly as a daughter. And it was this ewe lamb which the rich man took from him, leaving him bereft, and without any payment or compensation.

The king was so angry. “The man who did this should be put to death, and he should have to pay back the value of the lamb four times over!” (as the Law declared for thieves) “He has done great wickedness and shown no pity!”

For a heartbeat there was silence in the room, and the king puzzled over the way the prophet looked at him so sadly. Then the prophet looked upward for a moment, like a man gathering strength from beyond himself, stepped forward, raised his arm and said, in ringing tones. “You are the man!”

The court was shocked into total silence. The king sat there looking completely bewildered. Then, as the prophet continued, the court saw the king’s face change from confusion to a bleak and terrible sorrow. For the prophet explained how the king, richly blessed with wives and concubines and wealth, honour and favour had set his desires on the wife of one of his own loyal soldiers, Uriah the Hittite and taken her to his bed, in very truth a rich man stealing from a poor man. Then, to compound matters, when Uriah’s wife became pregnant, he solved the potential scandal by plotting the man’s death! Everything the king had said about the rich man in the story was true of himself, and out of his own mouth he had condemned himself.

In great distress, King David exclaimed, “I have sinned before the Lord!”

Saturday, January 10, 2015


They wouldn’t take his money back. Somehow, more than anything else that had happened in this last day or so (he had lost all track of time), that single detail undid him. He had thrown the money at their feet and stormed out. That moment of contempt was the last shred of his self-righteousness, and now even that was gone. His mind, his heart, his whole being, had become a dark and terrible void in which events and thoughts and feelings swirled without meaning or connection, then rearranged themselves into something so terrible that he shrank from giving it a name.

He could not even clearly remember his own motives now. It was almost as if they had come from outside of him, and slunk in, masked and hooded, never offering their names, to take up residence in the nooks and crannies of his psyche as if those gaping holes of doubt and fear had been made to measure for them.  He had been walking in a strange fog and now the fog had lifted and he was horrified to find himself in a quicksand – filthy beyond description and inexorably sinking.

He remembered when the agent of the priests had first approached him. Oh, they knew their man! He could imagine the blazing scorn with which Simon Peter would have responded to such a suggestion. And as for John? The love he felt for Jesus left no room for that particular disloyalty. So why himself? What made him, Judas, so different? Why was he so greedily eager to soil himself with their plots?

It wasn’t any one single thing. There was always the lure of money, of course. Any sane man needed some security for the future. And there was the dull, throbbing jealousy eating away at him because Jesus always seemed to favour some of the others, like that oaf, Peter, or that idealistic simpleton John, even Thomas, the perpetual pessimist, above himself. Did no one care that he was smart, canny, a good tactician, and a great networker? And there was the feeling, never quite defined, that things were getting off course, that Jesus’ campaign (whatever exactly it was?) was floundering and needed a nudge in a new direction. Surely, if they cornered him, he would do something amazing and the crowds would return?  When Jesus had told him to go and do what he had to, he had somehow almost convinced himself that Jesus was in the conspiracy too. Only now did he see how ludicrous that was. Besides, and it had never occurred to him till now, he had been flattered that the great men of Israel had noticed him and confided in him.

It was no use. There was no excuse, no justification for what he had done. This rejection, by the priests and elders was the ultimate rejection. He had betrayed the innocent, and sent him to death. There was blood on his hands. And when, desperately, he had sought absolution, they offered only scornful indifference. There was nothing left. He did not know that the very one he had betrayed was, himself, the sacrifice for sin, and the source of forgiveness and reconciliation for all mankind. 

So Judas went out and hanged himself.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

After the Siege

Sink slowly sun, we need your last, long light
Now, more than ever. Harrowed is the night
And long beliefs lie shattered like the glass.

Fragile our kingdom is, more than we ken.
Fragile, alike, the peace we trusted then;
And jagged pain has rent our coverings.

Flowers bedeck, we know no other gift
For pity to lay forth in sorrow’s rift:
And fumbling fingers lay them patiently.

And tears flow easily, a hidden stream
With which to wash our trampled, bloodied dream.
Hands clasp, for hope does not so simply die.

And Christmas lights shine out across the land
Mirroring what we barely understand
Dark night, dim faith, but ah! the angels sing!

Peace and goodwill sound like an empty tale.
How could a newborn baby here prevail
Against the madness when the beasts run wild?

Yet “Hallelujah” still the ages the sing
The while we tramp round history’s land-mined ring
And the eternal stars weep down on us.

The sun shall rise till suns shall rise no more.
No sun, no moon, no tears, no death, no war

Shall drag us back. The promise is so sure.