|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Most of us know the story of Zacchaeus - little guy, can't see Jesus, climbs a tree for a better look, Jesus invites Himself to dinner with him. We remember it perhaps from school days with affection. It has an almost cartoon like quality to it. But there is more to this story than meets the eye - which is not surprising as it is all about seeing and being seen. And it presents us with a personal question - what are the sycamore trees that we climb, and is it time to come down?...
I wonder how many of us love the story of Mary Poppins? When one of my daughters was young, Mary Poppins the musical was her favourite film. I also once stayed for a week, in a hard-pressed northern English mining village, with a loving old couple for whom Mary Poppins was a great blessing. The old woman had had a stroke and was bed-bound. Every day however she would watch Mary Poppins and the magic of love and life came back into her soul and that of her husband. Mary Poppins, like all great stories which touch our hearts and souls, can have that effect. It shares and nurtures what we might call ‘the wind of the Spirit’. This, the Holy Spirit of God, is profoundly transformative, as we hear powerfully today in one of the greatest promises of revelation in the words of the prophet Joel…
Have you ever noticed how much conflict there is the Bible? I don’t mean so much those horrible stories of war and sanctified violence. I mean conflict between people of faith over issues of understanding God and how to live in this world. Take the writings of St Luke for instance, not least the Acts of the Apostles. If we think we have some lively debates today - over such issues as the valuing of lesbian, gay and gender variant people - that is actually quite in line with the conflicts in the early Church which Luke writes about. It seems that, spiritually speaking, Christians have always had differences about how to relate the eternal truth of Christ to time-bound cultural issues of philosophy and morality. Luke however assures that this is not something to worry about but rather it is an opportunity to be grasped...
Lepers stuck out from the crowd. They were obliged to do so by edict that demanded that they ring a bell or call out 'unclean, unclean', and that they separate themselves totally from the rest of society. They would have done so anyway, as the horrors of their progressive illness disfigured their bodies, and the smell of their rotting flesh repulsed any who came near. They would have been acutely aware of being different. Leprosy in the days before modern medicine and antibiotics was a death sentence, but an horrific death by inches over many years. The ten lepers in our story today had clearly become bound together by their common tragedy. In its face other social barriers were set aside. Yet in the midst of this group that stuck out from surrounding society, one stuck out even more. The question is: 'what made that tenth leper stand out and how can we be like him?'
..The apostles said to the Lord 'increase our faith!' The Lord replied 'if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.'
This exchange invites a question, 'how much is enough?' How much is enough of anything - faith, love, food, work, information? We live in a culture that is dominated by the excess of many things. Yet as human animals we are driven by a seemingly insatiable appetite for more. While this may be a part of our biology, our scriptures and traditions teach us another way that may help us off the treadmill of more, more, more. God in Christ invites us into another way of seeing the world and our needs within it...