|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Today’s Gospel reading (John 12.1-8) brings the song Bread and Roses (and see below) to my mind. This, for me, highlights two key aspects of the anointing of Jesus, and, particularly, the challenges presented by two central figures, Mary and Judas. There are several other significant features. Yet the tension between Judas and Mary is pivotal. For, in the early Jesus movement, this story is revelatory of struggles of identity, of power and gender, of politics and economics, as well as faith and spirituality. All that can hardly be summed up simply in the phrase ‘Bread and Roses’. Nonetheless there are undoubtedly vital feminist aspects, and the themes of ‘bread and roses’ – or body and soul - are highly pertinent…
What is there to eat in the Christian scriptures? It can often be challenging for many people to find answers to that. We live, after all, in very different times from those in which the books of the Bible were composed. It is not, of course, a new question. Decades ago, at theological college, I recall a leading biblical scholar, a Canon of Christ Church Oxford, throwing a similar testing query to myself and my fellow students. If we were to omit books from the Bible on grounds of significant racism, anti-semitism, sexism, and other forms of violence, with how many would we be left? Which books of the Bible would you keep? Canon John Fenton’s immediate answer was only three: Mark's Gospel, the Letter of James, and the book of Revelation. However, in subsequent discussion, he himself agreed that each of those scriptures also had problematic features. As we hear again today part of the Gospel of John chapter 6, what then are we say about, and still more feed upon, in the books we call ‘holy' scriptures?...
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...
I want to talk about craziness and what makes us think that someone is crazy or even demon possessed;
I want to talk about being ‘cracked’ and how inevitable and how life saving that is;
and I want to talk about companionship and who’s at the table. And I have some questions about insiders and outsiders.
So craziness, being ‘cracked’ and companionship
- these are all in our gospel today. But before I come to those three things, I want to point out a couple of things about the structure of today’s reading, because I think that Mark is talking to us through the very structure he has chosen. For Mark makes use of two clever literary devices to tell today’s stories. The first is something technically called ‘intercalation’, that is to say ‘a story within a story’. So what we have here is the story of Jesus’s family and their relationship with him under stress, interrupted by the story of Jesus’s conflict with some scribes sent from Jerusalem. When a writer puts one story inside another like this, it serves to intensify both, and to create parallels and comparisons between the two. By doing this, Mark is also able to create what is called a ‘chaistic’ story, that is to say one that has a shape that goes in and then comes out, a bit like an hourglass. Think of it as going A1, B1, C, B2,A2. So what we have is the first bit about the family, then a bit about the scribes, then Jesus parables and teaching, then another bit about the scribes and finally another bit about the family. What does that do? Well it helps us know that the really important bit, the bit that makes sense of the rest and transforms it, is in the middle, - not surprisingly in Jesus parables and teaching. This is the inside teaching, aimed at making the outsiders the insiders. You will see what I mean as we go along...
As you may be aware, there is a tradition in more Catholic Christian circles of using rose pink as a colour for this Sunday. For the third Sunday of Advent has often been known as “Gaudete’ – or ‘Rejoice’ – Sunday, and rose pink, became linked to it, as rose pink is also associated with Mary the Mother of Jesus. So, being a bit into colours at the moment, especially pink ones, I thought I’d do a little investigation into the subject. The first thing I came across was the Readers Digest guide to rose colour meanings It begins very interestingly. The red rose is said to symbolise love, and, I quote, is ‘Perfect for: freaking out your first date; covering beer stains; wooing a hunky bishop.’ So, something to bear in mind there? In contrast, according to Readers Digest, the pink rose is said to express grace and elegance, as well as sweetness and sympathy: and thus: ‘Perfect for: sick secretaries, (and) the platinum blonde in your life.’ Again, is there something useful for us to remember there? Well, maybe just a teens-weensy bit of gender stereotyping in that, don’t you think?! It is a little like many approaches to Mary, the Mother of Jesus …