Monthly Archives: September 2013

Better Than The Best

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:7-11 NRSV)

A party trick?

A demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority?

An emergency miracle to save his friends social standing and dignity, and to keep his mother quiet?

This is, of course, a part of the famous story of the wedding where Jesus turns water into wine. To run out of wine at a wedding would have been a social disgrace: not only evidence of incompetent preparation, but also a sign of lack of respect to the guests. The host at this celebration faced considerable embarrassment.

Jesus, by his miracle saves the day. Not only is the supply of wine restored, but that which is provided is of a better quality than before.

But why?

Amongst all the stories about miraculous healings, calming of the storm, feeding multitudes and even of resurrection, what place does this account of the apparent rescue of a social event have?

Here’s the clue: “You have kept the good wine till now.”

The kingdom which Jesus comes to announce will not simply be a replication of our earthly kingdoms, but with different personnel at the head. It will be as different as chalk is from cheese, as tin-plate is from finest silver, or as the finest wine is different from even the good quality every-day variety.

God’s kingdom is one of a different order, and no-one who has tasted this “new wine” will want to return to what was served up before.

Jesus gives us a hint of what can, and will, be.

Jesus,
you give us glimpses
of the gloriously extravagant love
which is the foundation of your kingdom.
Help me to live that kingdom life,
now and always.
Amen

Keeping the Wrong Company

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (Matthew 9:9-12 NRSV)

“You can judge a man by the company he keeps.” So goes the old saying and no doubt there is some value in it as a warning for us to choose our friends carefully.

That certainly seems to be in the mind of the Pharisees as they noted with disdain that Jesus dines with all the people they would themselves refuse to mix with socially. But why?

Almost everyone complains about paying taxes, even when they generally understand the purposes to which they are applied.

But there are tax collectors and then there are tax collectors. Matthew would have had a thoroughly bad reputation, firstly because tax collectors in his time were notoriously fraudulent in their dealings with people.

In addition, Matthew and his fellow tax collectors were working for the Romans. They were collaborators with the hated enemy who had conquered the land.

But Jesus called, and Matthew followed. Perhaps it was a spontaneous decision. Maybe he felt a sense of guilt over the life he was leading. Whatever the cause, he seized the opportunity turn his back on an old life and accept the life which Jesus offered.

Matthew gave a meal for Jesus and he introduced him to his friends. Presumably he wanted his friends to meet this amazing man, and Jesus was happy to spend time with those who were shunned by polite society.

The Pharisees thought they knew God. Matthew knew his need of God.

When we know our need of God Jesus will meet us, whoever we are, in whatever state we find ourselves.

Jesus,
I come to you,
not because I am a “good” person,
but because I know my need of you.
Bring your healing and wholeness
as a blessing to my life.
Amen.

Of Sheep and Shepherds

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. (John 10:11-14 NRSV)

“I am the good shepherd.”

It’s an interesting concept and one which is ripe for misunderstanding when viewed through modern Western eyes.

In many places today sheep are herded by being driven from behind, often with the help of sheep dogs and farm vehicles. It’s a benign practice but it conjures up completely the wrong image of Jesus as the good shepherd.

Instead, picture the shepherd as the one who spends a lot of time in the fields with his sheep, looking out for their needs, tending to the injured ones, protecting them from wolves and other predators, even at the risk of his own life.

The sheep come to know their shepherd and, crucially, will follow him as he leads them to fresh pastures. They don’t need to be “driven” into the safety of the sheep pen. They will follow the shepherd they trust.

This is the word-picture of the ancient shepherd which Jesus is painting.

Those crowds who gathered around him came, not out of compulsion, but because they began to trust that he could fulfil their needs or give them words of hope. Some were fed, some were healed; all experienced the reality of God’s kingdom breaking into their every-day lives.

Today the metaphor of the Good Shepherd can send out mixed messages. We get a bit uppity if we think someone is comparing us to a sheep.

Sometimes it is only in our brokenness that we can have the courage and humility to see that the Good Shepherd waits patiently for us; to realise that he knows us by name and bids us to follow him to the safe pasture of his loving care.

Jesus,
help me to spend some time with you,
so that I may learn
the depth of your care and compassion for me.
Teach me the truth
of life in the fold of the Good Shepherd.
Amen.

Here, have your life back!

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48 NRSV)

Anyone who has experienced a life-threatening or life-limiting illness will inevitably be grateful to the doctors, nurses and health care professionals who have carefully and skilfully nurtured them back to health. Its just like having your life given back to you. You have new hope, and you are deeply thankful.

Now imagine yourself witnessing the scene in this story from Luke’s Gospel.

The poor woman is at her wits’ end. She has suffered for eighteen long years, has no-doubt visited every quack and charlatan in the business and the only thing she has been relieved of is her cash.

To add insult to injury, her culture would have considered her illness to render her “unclean”, as would be anyone whom she touched. She has lived with humiliation as well as illness.

In desperation she reaches out to touch the one she believes is her last hope of healing.
Her trust and her honesty before Jesus are rewarded, not with a lecture on religion and spiritual etiquette, but with healing. Jesus helps her when no-one else could or would. He gives her back her life to live.

For the miracles of healing in the Gospels are nothing less than that: stories of Jesus showing his compassion to the sick and vulnerable in a way which gives them back their lives.

What a gift: to have your life given back to you!

Jesus,
your healing power is amazing,
your compassion even more wonderful.
Help me to come to you
trusting in your life-giving compassion;
your divine love for me.
Amen