Monthly Archives: March 2017

Blind/Not blind

Readings
1 Samuel 16.1–13
John 9.1–41

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.—C. S. Lewis

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In the readings we heard today from 1 Samuel and the Gospel of John, we find one striking similarity: people are talked about as if they are not there. Instead of speaking to them, people act as though they are somehow invisible.

The disciples talk about the man born blind:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

His neighbours talk about him:

Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?

Finally, he speaks himself:

I am the man.

It reminds me of that line in the film The Elephant Man, where he has had enough of being treated like an object of fear and pity:

I AM A MAN!!!

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The Samaritan Theologian

Reading
John 4.5–42

God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to go offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.—Henri Nouwen

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When we read the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, we should first remember and retain one thing: it follows straight on from his encounter with Nicodemus.

I was told I was a bit harsh on Nicodemus last week. So let me give you my opinion, rather than the various opinions of scholars; my opinion is that Nicodemus did come into the light by the end of John’s story of Jesus; I think he came in a series of steps through progressively lighter hues of grey. But like so many of us, he took his time. He listened to his fears, like the Israelites in the wilderness story. That’s not the way forward.

Yet here, today, when we meet the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus is still in the darkness. He hasn’t yet walked into the light. So here’s the thing: the Samaritan woman is a total contrast to Nicodemus. Walking from chapter 3 into chapter 4 of John is like stepping into another world.

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Deeper Meanings

Reading
John 3.1–17

I believe in order to understand—St. Augustine

I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand—St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Today, I want to begin by talking about how to read John’s Gospel. Reading the scriptures more intentionally is part of a good self-discipline for Lent, so I hope this may be of help. Here’s the point I want to make:

There are double meanings all the way through John. You’ll find a superficial meaning and a deeper meaning. And the deeper meaning is the one John wants us to ‘get’. But the people around Jesus often see the superficial meaning first.

Today the Lectionary gives us the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus ‘by night’.

Nicodemus was an educated man, but also an educated clot. You see educated clots all over the place. I am one: a degree in medicine, a PhD in theology, can’t fix a tap.

Today, I’d like to ‘unpack’ a few things about this well-known story.

Firstly, and most importantly: Nicodemus just doesn’t get it. He’d be great at Advanced Moses Studies, but he can’t ‘get’ this teacher from—of all places—Nazareth. When Jesus says

I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.

Nicodemus responds,

How can a grown man be born again? He certainly cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time!

All Nicodemus can get is that superficial meaning. You can just see Jesus doing a face-palm.

You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this?

Jesus is of course speaking of a deeper meaning—a new birth, a birth he describes as a birth of water and the Spirit.

It’s not about tapping dear old mum on the shoulder, sitting her down with a cup of strong sweet tea and explaining an entirely novel idea to her.

Let me say it again: all the way through the Gospel of John this happens. People don’t get what Jesus says. They think he’s talking about earthly realities, but in fact he is speaking of spiritual truths.

The very deepest meanings of John reveal to us the heavenly Father, and they reveal the Father through the words and works of the Son.

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Tempted

Readings
Genesis 2.15–17; 3.1–7
Matthew 4.1–11

Every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice. Lyman Abbott

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The First Sunday in Lent begins as usual with the story of Jesus’ temptations. This is how Jesus begins his ministry, tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I’ve seen the Judean wilderness; if you’ve seen it too, you’ll know it’s pretty desolate.

I wouldn’t want to spend forty days there. Certainly not without food.

Yet Jesus didn’t go to this bleak place by accident. He didn’t take a wrong turn on his way back to the Galilee after his baptism. Matthew tells us ‘Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’. Luke’s Gospel also says the Spirit ‘led’ him; Mark says the Spirit ‘drove’ him there.

It was deliberate; Jesus was there for a reason, and that was to be ‘tempted by the devil’.

Now, Jesus had just been been baptised; the Spirit had come upon him, and a voice from heaven had declared

This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

‘This is my Son…’

But instead of receiving a right royal welcome as God’s beloved Son, Jesus is ‘led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’.

Strange way to treat the Son of God.

The Royal Road for the Son of God is the descending way of humility.

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