Most of us probably know the old saying about some of the great Australian metropolitan cities: in Sydney, it is said, they ask ‘how much money do you have?’; in Melbourne, they ask ‘which school did you go to?’; in Adelaide, they ask ‘which church do you attend?’; and in Perth, they ask ‘so what did you come here to get away from?’ There is some truth in that even today. What then, I wonder, would be the question we would ask in Toowoomba? My hope is we would ask ‘what gifts do you have to enrich our world?’ This question is certainly at the heart of Jesus’ good news and behind today's Gospel passage about the nature of divine table fellowship. It is assuredly a great question for us on our parish thanksgiving weekend…
So which are we? Bent or arched? Burdened or arrogant? These are the questions posed by today's wonderful story of a healing in a synagogue on the sabbath day. It is by no means the only story about Jesus getting into trouble over his keeping of the sabbath, but it is surely the most touching.
The woman in this story is bent double. She is probably suffering from what doctors now describe as ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic progressive form of inflammatory arthritis that causes fusion of the spinal bones. Even today there is no really effective cure and people continue to be bent over. As a sufferer from rheumatoid arthritis, also chronic, progressive and inflammatory, I feel a deep sympathy for her plight. She has leant forward to relieve the pain, but the more she has leant forward the more the spine has fused, so that now after eighteen years all she can see is her feet. She converses with the ants and the earth, and those speaking to her, supposing they even bother to try, talk to her bent back. In her culture she would have been a complete social outcast. Her very physical being reflects the burden she carries - a burden of exclusion, poverty, and rejection...
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘jihad’ I wonder? For many people the word ‘jihad’ conjures up images of conflagration, disturbance and violence, doesn’t it? Across the world today, there is certainly a very small minority of Muslims who not only think in that way but who actively seek to inflict such images on others and use them to oppress and destroy. The consequence is appalling violence in many places. Of course, that is a hideous betrayal of what mainstream Islam has always understood ‘jihad’ to be. Yes, it has meant active struggle, even active violent struggle, if absolutely necessary, for truth and justice. Yet above all, it means ‘struggling, striving, applying oneself, persevering’ in the way of God. This may mean active, outer, physical struggle (usually nonviolently), but the ‘greater jihad’, as it is has been termed, is the inner, spiritual, struggle of human beings to live in relationship with God. In which case, this, to some degree, is not so far from Christian ideas of what we call ‘discipleship’ or ‘the way of Jesus’. For ‘discipleship’, or ‘the way of following Jesus’ is also a way of struggle: an inner, spiritual, struggle to grow in relationship to God, and an outer, active, struggle to help realise God’s truth and justice in the world. If we see that, then we may be able to understand the challenging words of Jesus in today’s Gospel as a call not to destructive conflict, but to a ‘jihad’, or sacred struggle, for compassion and ultimate healing of our broken lives and world…
Once upon a time, the story goes, there was a court jester. For many years he was very popular with the king. The jester made him laugh and brought joy and well-being to everyone he met. That country was indeed a kingdom of joy and well-being. Then things started to go wrong in the kingdom. The king’s chief advisers, the politicians, became greedy and unjust and the people grew fearful and violent. Their humour they had became dark and cruel. The jester’s wit was no longer appreciated, especially when he spoke in ways which seemed to give comfort to the poor and marginalised. A campaign grew among the powerful to get rid of him. So the king, though he still remembered liking the jester very much, agreed to condemn him to death. To honour his past regard however, the king said that the jester could choose how he was to die. ‘For example, I could have you hung, drawn and quartered’, the king said, ‘or thrown to hungry wolves, or boiled alive, or shot at dawn by a firing squad, or, like the aristocracy, you might have your head chopped off with a silver sword. It is your choice: there are many ways. How would you like to die? You choose and I will decree it.’ So the jester thought for a brief moment and then answered, as quick as a flash: ‘ in that case, my Lord, I would choose to die..’ He paused… ‘by old age.’ And the king roared with laughter and gave the jester his wish.
Now what, you may say, has that to do with our Gospel reading this morning? Well, just this: in a sense, that jester embodied three key aspects of Jesus’ teaching - firstly, by not fearing; secondly. by not clinging to possessions or position; and thirdly, by above all remaining awake to the presence of God’s kingdom, whatever happens at any moment. For this is the gift of Jesus, the greatest spiritual Jester of our lives: the One who shares the divine laughter and the invitation to share in the true kingdom of God’s love...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,