The Good Shepherd, the one who leads us: Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury.
The following paragraphs are from a pastoral letter by Bishop Rose of Dover in response to statements on diverse sexuality and marriage, which generated much ‘noise’, within and outside the Church of England. We are not seeking to add to the volume of noise nor to prolong it, but we did want to share with you Bishop Rose’s concluding reflections which apply to each one of us as we follow the Good Shepherd on our Lenten Pilgrimage.
We have a rich diversity of culture, knowledge and experience. At the best of times, our diversity is one of our great strengths, enabling us to more fully to reflect the beauty and complexity of our world and our Creator. However challenging we may find life together, it is unChristlike for us to use our diversity as an excuse for separation and withdrawal from one another. Our Lord’s command is to love and serve one another. As your Bishop, I will always seek to follow that command and I ask the same of you.
We are all children of God, who created each of us in his image, and we are the followers of Jesus Christ, who reaches out and draws all people to himself. In him our hope is found. In him, our messy offerings may become a blessing to one another and to our world. Let us never lose sight of the one who leads us. Let us never fail to sing with joy for what he has done for us. Let us never fail to share the good news that gladdens our heart, even though the challenges of this world surround us. Let’s do this all with kindness and care, for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
For so our Lord was pleased when
He Fishers made Fishers of men;
Where (which is in no other game)
A man may fish and praise his name.
The first men that our Saviour dear
Did chuse to wait upon him here,
Blest Fishers were; and fish the last
Food was, that he on earth did taste.
I therefore strive to follow those,
Whom he to follow him hath chose.
W. B. (from "The Complete Angler 1653" by Izaak Walton)
Today is the feast of Saint Andrew, fisher, Apostle, missionary, martyr, patron of Scotland. Izaak Walton was the first biographer of George Herbert, whose poetry we read yesterday. Jesus also chose a civil servant in the person of Saint Matthew, and he 'hath chose' you and me as well, so let's enjoy the light-heartedness of this verse!
I feel that this lectio period is reaching its end. If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will scroll back three days to the beginning of these posts and catch up with our reflection on Matthew’s call. This post will be asking what Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call teaches.
Matthew has emerged in an entirely new light for me through this lectioexperience. He didn’t have much personality for me before; now I see him as a dynamic man, capable of great insight and of quickly understanding the core truth in a situation. I see that he grasped the fact that this invitation from Jesus was not going to be offered twice. He grasped that the opportunity to associate himself with Jesus was more important than anything else. Matthew saw that to fail to respond to the invitation issued by Jesus would be to consign himself to the deepest misery. It would mean losing Jesus, letting him pass right out of his life. This, Matthew realises instantly, was unthinkable – it would be tragedy. I see that Matthew wants Jesus to lead. He starts off in his discipleship seeing Jesus’ back and he knows he must keep it in view – the metaphor perhaps for all the unknowns which are an integral part of the experience of every disciple of Jesus.
What else has happened here? I turn to my own life and look into my heart. I am struck anew by the fact that it’s important not to play with Jesus. Matthew doesn’t. Jesus’ invitation to Matthew and the way Jesus handles the entire encounter show clearly that when he calls, it is not a game. It is the privilege of a lifetime. Matthew saw this. Jesus will not tolerate shilly-shallying; he is God, and he expects a life-commitment.
As I look at my life now, I realise again that each day my discipleship will be tested. Am I really ready to drop whatever I’m doing, leave whatever Jesus asks me to leave today, and put my whole heart into following him, without looking back? I see that I cannot rest on yesterday’s good deeds (if there were any) or skate along on yesterday’s momentum. Every day I must push off afresh, keeping Jesus’ ‘back’ in view – or, in other words, accepting all the unknowns that exist in my life with him. Every day I must be like Matthew. And the alternative? The alternative is to lose Jesus, to see his back receding into the distance. He moves quickly.
I return to the thought with which I opened this reflection. Matthew was sitting down in the beginning of the story. But now? He is hurrying along the road, following Jesus. He is never pictured in the gospel as sitting down again. And I realise that discipleship is simply not a sit-down job. Not for Matthew, not for me. Oh, sure – we’re talking metaphor now, and not body language. The Lord may ask one to spend time at a desk job working for the kingdom. But on the most fundamental level, the disciple is always rising up from the inertia of the past – even if the past is only yesterday – the true disciple is always moving quickly to obey the Lord, ready to respond to the Lord’s exciting invitation, “Follow me” – today.
Thank you, Sister Johanna! It’s been good to spend these four days with you and Matthew. Thank you especially for encouraging us to listen out for our call, and to be ready to follow Jesus, today!
A hand of welcome or of exclusion – most people reject him, but what is Jesus saying to Matthew? We continue with Sister Johanna’s reflection on the calling of Matthew.
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).
Jesus’ sure-footedness here takes my breath away. What a thrilling moment in Matthew’s life. I find myself entering into Matthew’s thoughts, seeing him in my imagination. He’s not adding up figures; he is sitting absolutely still. He’s just heard Jesus speak to him. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Matthew suddenly has a huge amount of emotion to process in no time at all. His head’s in a whirl. Matthew, the despised tax collector, finds that Jesus – this radiantly good and kind man – has noticed him, really seen him, even ‘read’ him.
Matthew feels confused and flustered by this affirmation – he’s not used to it. People rarely even look at him, and now this! From a holy man! He doesn’t quite know what to think. He habitually kept his defences up in order to shield himself from the hostility that was directed against him every working day of his life, but now, this Jesus actually wanted Matthew to be around. Most people couldn’t see too little of Matthew, but Jesus had just said, “Follow me.” ‘Follow him where?’ Matthew thinks. ‘Why? To do what? Nothing is adding up,’ Matthew thinks. But then, in an overwhelming flash of insight in which he sees his entire life in an utterly new way, he realises that things don’t have to ‘add up’ anymore – and Jesus was getting away! Jesus was walking down the road. Hurry, Matthew! Matthew rises from his seat, he stands. He walks, he runs – runs right out of his hated tax office and races down the street following Jesus.
And Jesus? Jesus’ methods are always surprising. Here, Jesus actually gives Matthew an instant ‘open door’ into discipleship. Jesus does not coddle, coax, explain or make lavish promises, but he wastes no time in realising his plans. He says ‘Follow me,’ and then he gives Matthew himself to follow. He turns. He walks. What was important for Jesus was to determine whether Matthew could really leave his chains. Any hesitation on Matthew’s part would have signalled an addiction to his sad situation, a perverse liking for its misery and loneliness – perhaps because of the pseudo-importance it conferred. And Matthew comes through the test brilliantly. He was ready. He follows as soon as he can scramble through the doorway. He becomes a disciple. Nowhere in the New Testament is it suggested that Matthew ever looks back.
Tomorrow, we’ll see what conclusions we can draw from these reflections.
The taxman is needed in civil society. These tokens were issued by German cities between the two World Wars. Money had lost its value and something had to be done to allow people to buy and sell and the city councils to provide the services they needed. We continue reading Sister Johanna’s reflection on the calling of Matthew the taxman.
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).
Something must have been going on in Matthew’s head that day that was different, that prepared him for Jesus’ summons. Maybe he wasn’t as preoccupied as he seemed to be. We’re not told what was in his mind, but I continue to reflect on the short text from Matthew 9:9.
We can assume that tax collectors were part of a crowd that could be generally relied upon to be cynically dismissive of Jesus – this idealistic rabbi who talked about a ‘kingdom’ of his own and travelled around with a group of scruffy, uneducated men. But Matthew was different – or at least, he had the potential to be different, and Jesus saw this. What did Jesus see in Matthew? Looking at Matthew from the outside, as it were, and objectively, anyone might have seen a capable man who was good with numbers. Matthew was, most likely, rather dishonest in the way most tax collectors were dishonest – raising the tax fees in order to skim off the extra for himself. But, with unerring judgement, Jesus intuited that this man, Matthew – Levi, as he was known at the time – wasn’t just a hard-boiled money-grabber. He was inwardly ready for precisely the summons he received. How do we know? We don’t know yet, if we are taking this story step by step. But in a few minutes we will see something astonishing. Let’s wait for it, asking the Holy Spirit to inspire our imagination. Jesus is just coming up to the tax office now.
Jesus knows that Matthew’s professional life did not make a promising statement about Matthew’s personal qualities, but Jesus tells us in precisely this context (see Mt.9:12-13) that he came for people like Matthew – the ‘sick’, who needed the doctor. Jesus also knows the power of his own personality to bring about a change of heart in those who are truly ready to surrender themselves to him. There is no false modesty in Jesus. Again and again Jesus offers himself – he knows who he is, knows that he himself is the pearl of great price. He knows he is the Son, the Son of God and very God. Jesus sees what is good in Matthew.
Let’s come back to Matthew. It’s quite possible that Matthew hated his job. But did he have an exit route? That is highly doubtful. No one liked tax collectors or trusted them Even if he quit his job, who else would have hired him? Matthew was trapped in a trap of his own devising. But is that all? Surely, there were a lot of trapped people around then, just as there are a lot of trapped people around now. Jesus didn’t call them. He called Matthew. Why? Matthew’s unique readiness must have been apparent to Jesus, even though it was almost certainly hidden from everyone else.
I’m beginning to answer my question as to Matthew’s back-story – at least to some extent. Matthew was ready for change, fed up to the back-teeth with his life. But let’s think: don’t we all know people who spend their life complaining about their situation and looking woebegone, but should the opportunity to make a change for the better actually be given to them, suddenly they are eloquent with excuses. In fact, such people love their chains and cannot handle freedom and its responsibilities. Jesus wanted to give Matthew the chance to show that he was emphatically not one of those.
Now, Jesus is standing there in front of Matthew. By the power of his mere presence, he gains Matthew’s attention. Matthew looks up from his task of adding columns of figures. He’s looking at Jesus now, waiting for what Jesus will say. Jesus utters the famous words, “Follow me.” Let’s watch. The text indicates that Jesus, after issuing his invitation to Matthew, does not hang around to chat or talk him into the idea. He is abrupt. (Even Peter had been given a small sales pitch by Jesus: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.) Jesus doesn’t even call Matthew by name. Or not yet. By implication, we can be pretty sure that what Jesus does next is turn and begin to walk, giving Matthew the perfect view of his back.
Let’s leave Matthew here till tomorrow. If you had been in his place, what would you have thought?
We now have a little series of four reflections from Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey, this time on Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector. It is his feastday at the end.
The picture shows two of the tools of the trade. They were brought home by a retiring taxman in England. By the time he retired, IT had replaced flimsy paper and Stationery Office wooden rulers, he dug them out from the bottom of the drawer and brought them home. Over to you, Sister!
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).
The writers of the synoptic Gospels rarely relate the same episode in the same way. One notable exception is the account of the calling of Matthew. The three synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all tell the story in the briefest way possible. Jesus just turned up at Matthew’s tax office one day, said two words, “Follow me,” (or the Aramaic equivalent) and Matthew did. Immediately.
We know this text so well that its power to astonish us may have worn off. I, in fact, have always found this text a bit skimpy on description, rather un-dramatic and a little flat. I want to know more about the back-story, about Matthew’s state of mind on that day. Consequently, I probably haven’t given the story enough of a chance to talk to me. So I resolve today to slow way down and try to look at this text as though I’ve never seen it before. This is what lectio divina is about: diving down into a text’s deep pool and, through the grace of the Holy Spirit at work, both within the text and within my mind and heart, finding the story’s hidden meaning – and, yes, even its drama. The exercise never disappoints me. I begin, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
The first thing I notice, then, is that Matthew, the tax collector was “sitting” in the tax office. We don’t usually get descriptions of body-language in the New Testament, but a quick flip through the pages of my New Testament confirms what I suspected: in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew’s physical position is given. It must be important I think, but why? Who cares that Mathew’s sitting down?
As I pray about this seemingly insignificant detail, it occurs to me that a sitting person is not only stationary but apt to be quite engaged on the interior level – more so, anyway, than when charging around busily, focusing on accomplishing tasks. Matthew was sitting because his work usually required it; he’d have been at a desk or table, writing, counting money, adding up columns of figures, absorbed in his intellectual work. He was occupied, even preoccupied – presumably not in the mood for a spiritual event of life-changing proportions. He was also doing things that would have been distasteful to a decent human being. Was he a decent human being? Many of the townspeople would have denied it roundly. He was, after all, taking the tax money from his own people who could ill afford to pay it, pocketing a certain percentage of the proceeds, giving the rest to the Romans, and, even more scandalously, turning the screws on those who did not, or could not, pay. But it was part of the job; he had to do it and he did do it. I see him now, sitting, head down, counting, adding up, writing, not making eye contact with anyone, not smiling, brow furrowed in concentration.
I wonder what this was like for Matthew. Matthew was a Jew in the employment of the Romans – the occupying political power. He, like all the Jews, was in a difficult situation. Matthew, however, had figured out how to manipulate the situation to his financial advantage. But at what emotional and social price? Of what use to him, he may well have wondered, was his financial security when he had no friends? For any friend of the Romans, anyone who voluntarily did their dirty business for them – and particularly, any Jew who did the Romans’ dirty business – was doubly scorned by the other Jews. Matthew was a traitor. No one liked the tax collectors. In Matthew’s case, he was probably intensely hated. But this was a normal working day for Matthew, differing little from every other working day. He was sitting down, adding up figures, getting on with it. Or was it really a normal day for him?
Those who’ve read my posts before know I’m apt to leave certain things dangling for twenty-four hours so that the reader has time to pray over the text and perhaps ask questions of the Holy Spirit. I hope you will come back tomorrow for the continuation of our meditation.
Here is a recent sermon by Rev Jo Richards of Canterbury, from the texts: Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16. Luke 12:32-40. It makes for another reflection on life, death and what faith means.
The Train has come and I’m on my way,
I didn’t need a ticketAnd there was nothing to pay.
My lass will be waiting, on that I am sureWhat a wonderful meetingWith a future that will endure.
On Thursday I took a funeral of a local man; Bill and he wrote poems; he asked that The Last Poem, be read at his funeral, which was read in full just before the commendation: I have read to you with the family’s permission the opening verses.
I knew Bill, and in his writing, there is such a sense of moving from this mortal life to the next, that is eternal life. For Bill was assured of things hoped, for the conviction of things not seen. Bill had a deep Christian faith
Bill had a sense of the hope, of knowing that one day the train would stop, he would get on board and continue his onward journey to eternal life.
Abraham was also a man of deep faith and also on a journey. Here we have someone in his mid-seventies, who heard a call from God to up sticks with his barren wife Sarah and leave home. Obedient to God’s call they became nomads, setting off from Harran, which is in modern day Iraq, travelling through Syria, down to Egypt, and then up to the land of Canaan, which is in the present-day West Bank, in Palestine.
During this time, directed by God, Abraham gazes at the night sky trying in vain to imagine his descendants as numerous as the stars, whilst Sarah, his wife remains heartbreakingly barren.
I wonder what Abraham and Sarah must have been thinking; surely they must have had doubts along the way, of perhaps being cross with God, who has taken them out of what has been familiar and comfortable and sent them on this journey into the unknown, and then telling them they will have children, but despite this they had faith in what God said and set off and set off.
I want us to think for a moment what does our faith mean to us? Would we have done what Abraham and Sarah did?
Perhaps like Bill and Abraham we are on a journey of faith; assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; but that is not always easy to describe when asked what your faith means to you.
Some might describe their faith in terms of creeds and as we do when we recite the creed; From a doctrinal or theological perspective. At baptism either the godparents or those who speak for themselves are asked about their faith and what they believe.
How do you describe your faith?
Faith is perhaps turning our heads and looking at the stars that sense of awe and wonder, that sense that there is something far greater than what we can see, feel or hear, yet we are still loved and cherished by God our creator.
Faith is perhaps that sense of knowing deep within ourselves knowing that we are not alone, that there is a greater presence of which we get glimpses of from time to time;
Faith is perhaps that longing for the eternal home – that place of peace, love and joy where there are no more suffering or tears. That place we call heaven, eternal life. That feeling of longing, and desire; for Abraham and Sarah their faith took them on a perilous journey, to take them where God was leading, not that they knew where they were going or how they would get there.
Faith is not a destination, more like a journey, and we often say we are all on a journey of faith, with each of us on a different point of that journey; some are just setting out whilst others more established but we can all sometimes be thrown off course, just as Peter was when he was walking on water. He took his eyes off Jesus and sank in the sea, but Jesus put his arm out and caught him.
But I am sure like Peter and doubting Thomas, our faith may have wobbled, and we may have had doubts. Thomas was with Jesus for three years and yet he doubted that he had been raised from the dead, which perhaps gives us permission to question or even doubt at times.
And perhaps when we do question or doubt then something might happen that reaffirms our faith; just this week I heard of how someone had their faith restored by an act of kindness; it is often the little things that we do or say that can have such a big impact on others. Time and time again we hear of people saying I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my faith.
Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt, but apathy – of not being alert and awake, as our Gospel suggests, of staying put and not willing to journey forth; Faith in a way is a response to an invitation to a journey of adventure; it’s not blind faith. We nurture our faith through worship, scripture, talking to other people, praying and for those small what I call God moments – moments when we sense God’s promptings and act on them.
Twice in this week’s readings we hear the words do not be afraid, by nurturing our faith it gives us the strength to face things that may frighten us or make us anxious. We can draw on these moments of remembering that God is with us in the everyday stuff as well as the ups and downs of life. As did the servants in our gospel reading, who were faithful doing the everyday mundane things, and ended up as the master’s guests at the great celebration.
Faith is perhaps a knowledge of God and a deep rooted heart felt desire to want to know God better – to find out what God is doing and join in, just as Bill did, Abraham and Sarah did, and the master’s slaves did.
So, we venture forward on our journey of faith may we give thanks for what we have already experienced of God’s love for us and what is still to come…and give thanks for the gift of faith, as we reflect upon what our faith means to us.
We are continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Jesus and the rich young man. She advises: ‘If you’ve just joined us, I hope you will scroll back to yesterday’s post to see where we’ve come from and where we are going.’
Today, I return to the beginning of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 in order to read it again more slowly, to see if I can answer the questions with which we ended yesterday’s reflection. And maybe, with the Spirit’s help, I can. I take my time, allowing my imagination gently to engage with the words of the text. I notice that, first, Mark tells us that Jesus is about to start on a journey. I slowly picture it. It’s always difficult to get started on a journey, no matter what century you happen to live in. Somehow organising yourself and others for the trip and thanking hosts and saying good-bye to dear friends and family always takes much longer than planned. When you’re finally ready to leave, you’re loath to be delayed again. If something happens to interfere with the departure it is usually dealt with as quickly as possible and with more than a hint of exasperation.
Enter: the rich young man. The fact that Jesus’ journey is about to begin places the young man at some disadvantage; nevertheless, he bursts onto the scene and ‘runs up’ to Jesus (Mk. 10:17). Some people, afraid of causing inconvenience, would have given up before they began and gone home without meeting Jesus, and ordinarily, this might be the wise thing to do. But not in the judgement of the young man of our story. He seems to realise that meeting Jesus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be thrown away. Perhaps because he is a rich man (and people are usually rather in awe of the rich), no one there tries to circumvent this encounter with Jesus in order to spare Jesus the inconvenience. Nor does Jesus indicate that the delay is a problem to him. Indeed, we see again and again in the gospels that Jesus is always ready to talk to someone who is sincerely seeking him. And the young man is nothing if not sincere.
So, the young man ‘runs up’ to Jesus. This is another detail that is in Mark and not the other gospels. I try to enter fully into Mark’s experience of this event. I see the young man. He looks an intelligent person, he’s attractive–as the rich often seem to be because they can afford the best clothes and the best, most skilled people to groom their hair and skin; he is, therefore, well dressed, but at this moment he’s actually rather a mess. He is hot and breathless from running–he has, for now, forgotten his usual rich-boy persona and slick appearance. He has, in fact, forgotten himself entirely in his desire to see Jesus.
And Jesus? He is silent at first, according to the text. He lets the young man state his business. But Jesus cannot miss the earnestness in him. Moreover, the young man immediately kneels before Jesus. Mark’s touch again. The kneeling impressed Mark, and I can see why. The rich young man could have presumed upon the status conferred by his wealth. He could have stood before Jesus, eye to eye, man to man. But he does not. The rich man puts aside all privilege and kneels down. He has grasped something essential about Jesus: he has grasped Jesus’ greatness.
I’m looking, as I said yesterday, for what the rich young man can teach me. Jesus will look at him with love in a few minutes. Why? Many reasons have already been given here. The young man’s urgency and his determination to see Jesus, his self-forgetfulness, his sincerity, his awareness of Jesus’ greatness and his own comparative littleness, his spontaneous decision to kneel down.
I want to give this opening scene time to become fruitful in me and allow these reasons for Jesus’ love the space they need to locate themselves within my heart and prayer. I want to be that young man for a little while–a full day. Tomorrow, we will continue.
Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey has been getting to grips with the Gospel of Saint Mark, and that old question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? You’ll find the next few days’ readings well worth spending time with; thank you Sister!
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these since my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, ‘You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth (Mark 10:17-22, translation: New Jerusalem Bible).
Some biblical passages are particularly fertile ground, and for me, the story of the rich young man is one of them.* I find it a haunting tale; it is hard to let go of it; it is always in my mind, always pulling me back to itself. So I want to give in to the pull and return to this story now.
All the synoptic gospels tell the story of the rich young man (see Luke 18:18-23; Matthew 10:16-22; Mark 10:17-22). The reflections for this post will come from my reading of Mark’s account because Mark has some important details that don’t appear in the other accounts. And I’m grateful that Mark’s memory seized on these differences and wouldn’t let them go; his account of the rich young man’s meeting with Jesus has changed the way I view him. Previously, I had found myself reacting strongly against ‘that rich boy,’ as I tended to call him: I wanted to tell him off! Because of Mark, everything’s changed.
So, what does Mark’s story have that is so important? I want to start with something he says at the end of his account; he tells us that Jesus looks at the young man with love (Mk 10: 21). Neither Matthew nor Luke mention this; only Mark. Mark clearly wants us to notice this and so I follow his lead and allow those words to affect me deeply. In fact, I cannot go on; I stop reading. Everything slows down as I allow his phrase to settle in my soul. I try to imagine Jesus’ gaze of love; I become aware that I intensely want Jesus to look at me with love. How wonderful to receive that look–the softening warmth of the eyes, the gentle smile, the lingering gaze, the moments of silence. What has the young man done or said, I want to know, that awakens Jesus’ love? Can the rich young man teach me something about what Jesus is looking for? Can he teach you? Let’s allow these questions to work on us until tomorrow when we will continue our meditation.
* I have written about the story of the rich young man before in these posts (see 7 and 8 December 2020).
A further reflection on the working out of Blessed Pauline Jaricot’s vocation. To find out more about Pauline Jaricot, visit: missio.org.uk/Pauline
Every missionary disciple walks in the footsteps of Jesus. Pauline Jaricot developed the spirituality of the laity; not in founding a Religious community, but a Marian association of women at the service of the poor. Pauline invites us to value the vocation of each baptised person. God’s plan for Pauline was to follow Christ step- by-step: ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you too!’ Let us pray that we, baptised and sent, fulfill our calling as missionary disciples.