|Pen and Ink Reflections||
What do we make of traditions - those of our own and others? Today’s Gospel throws up that question vividly, although it is but one of several significant scriptural texts related to traditions. All of them, not least this one from Mark chapter 7, need to be read in context. Let us come to that in a few moments. Firstly however, we might reflect on what each of us understands by the word ‘tradition’ and on what traditions have shaped us (pause)…. What do each of us have to share together?...
For some of my early years, my heart would sink when I was invited to join a bible study group. My mind would start screaming, and my body sometimes even began twitching. Maybe you, or others you know, have had that kind of experience - of bible studies, or another avenue of faith exploration? For me, it wasn’t that the people who asked me were often a little unctuous, or patronising about my existing faith. Sometimes they were wonderful, beautiful, humble, with an open and expansive love of God and others. It was just that so many bible studies seemed so very narrow. Where they weren’t working with extraordinary assumptions about sin, God, and the way the world is created, they were often, frankly, simply a little boring. My experience in many Christian groups was that the scriptures were typically read as if they were flat in nature: straightforward and easy to interpret. This was because simplistic frameworks, or sets of formulae, were constantly applied to every passage. After I’d been to one bible study, I pretty much picked up the central message. Just repeating it again and again seemed neither interesting nor life-giving. When it was full of shame and guilt-inducing misdirection it was particularly alienating. Yet what an awful misuse that is of the Bible, and not least, Jesus’ own use of Scripture…
What does holiness, and being saintly, look like to you?
Where have you seen and experienced holiness, in the lives of other human beings you might call saintly?
On this feast of All Saints it is right for us to ponder for a moment, and to reflect, perhaps with others, on what we have seen and heard… what, I wonder, do we see, and who and what do we call holy? How does this fit with the patterns and pointers we find in our Scriptures and Tradition?
Every single one of us sees the world differently. That is on the one hand self evident, but on the other something we don't often think about. I suspect that most of the time I am assuming that you are seeing what I am seeing. But it is just not the case. Each of us, because of our unique physiology, psychology, upbringing, experience, context, actually sees things differently. And of course because of all those things there are also things that we simply do not see. So when the Pharisees say to Jesus 'Surely we're not blind are we?', they are failing to acknowledge a basic spiritual truth. We are all blind to some extent...
So when it comes to God, to ministry, to mission, how much is too much? This is a question posed by our Gospel reading today, and perhaps in the back of our minds as we embark on our stewardship campaign this week.
We are only into the third chapter of Mark's gospel. Jesus Ministry and mission has barely begun- and yet already from the religious authorities and his own close family the cry is going up 'too much, too much, he's got a demon, he's gone mad, we've got to restrain him'. What has provoked this extreme response? Essentially Jesus has declared that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the sabbath, and dared to heal on the sabbath day. Promptly the religious authorities sensing a threat to their power base, have set out to destroy him. Moreover they have persuaded his family to take action – probably by threatening them with expulsion from the Jewish community unless they do so. The common people however love him - he is proclaiming a faith that works for them; a faith that is not bound by rules and traditions, but open to the generous movement of the Spirit. So the crowd are pressing in on him so badly that he has had to take to a boat for fear of being crushed, and is finding it hard even to eat. In these circumstances it would have been fair enough for Jesus himself to have declared' this is too much', but He does not do so...