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11 July, Seeds I: Radiantly sane but eminently rational.

carrotseed2
Preparing to sow carrot seeds

Welcome back to Sister Johanna from Minster Abbey. My two and a half year old grandson has been singing ‘Oats and beans and barley grow’ all around the town, so this reflection is timely for at least one of her readers! And it is the feast of Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine communities, including Minster. Happy Feast day, Sisters!

Jesus also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’

(Mark 4:26-29, translation: The New Jerusalem Bible),


Whenever I read the parable of the seed growing by itself (given in full above) I send up a silent cheer to the Lord, praising him joyfully. It is one of my favourite passages in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit tends to give even favourite texts a new twist every time I read them. A few days ago, as I read these lines from Mark’s gospel for my lectio divina, I realised that I needed to explore the context within which Jesus first tells this parable and not treat it as though it stood alone, unconnected to the story told by the preceding passages.

The first thing I realised, then, when I looked back at texts from chapter three of Mark is that the time-frame is quite early in the public ministry of Jesus, but already there are thorny problems for him (see Mark 3:21f.). Some of Jesus’ own relatives seem determined to treat him as if he were a child. This might be amusing (don’t we all go through this at some point when we are young adults and our immediate family hasn’t quite caught on?) but for the fact that this kind of treatment of Jesus gravely undermines his authority with his audience. Moreover, the relatives ‘set out to take charge of him, convinced that he is out of his mind’. In other words, they make a scene. How embarrassing for Jesus (he is at least thirty years old now) – and, yes, how infuriating (or it would be to me). And, to make it worse, it’s almost impossible to manage this kind of situation without looking bad. Either Jesus must submit to their infantilising treatment and go off with them meekly – like a big baby (unthinkable), or he must work out some way to try to insist on his adult status – and his sanity – without being disrespectful to them. What a hopeless –and very human – mess, I think to myself.

But before Jesus has even had a chance to begin, before anyone’s had a chance to turn around, the scribes get in the act and decide to pick a fight with Jesus. They choose this moment viciously to accuse him of using Satan’s own power to cast out devils (see Mark 3:22f.). Regardless, however, of the distress he may be feeling with regard to his relatives, Jesus rises to the scribes’ challenge and handles their accusation calmly, with consummate logic and courtesy, pointing out reasonably, but without a hint of arrogance or sarcasm, the absurdity of the very idea of Satan casting out Satan. “Take note, you relatives who think Jesus is out of his mind,” I crow silently: “Jesus’ mind is not only radiantly sane but eminently rational. He needs no one to take charge of him. He is able to take care of himself.” And so, for the moment, the scribes and the relatives seem to be silenced. But we know – and Jesus would have known – that his troubles were only beginning.

This is where I begin to be aware of Jesus in a different way. He feels closer, somehow. I become, as I read and pray, much more conscious of Jesus as a feeling being. I notice that in the scriptural texts following this scene with the scribes, Jesus seems to be particularly wistful, even a little bit vulnerable, as he teaches another group of people. He seems to see that their desire to listen to him contrasts poignantly with the hostile attitudes he’s been encountering all day. He tenderly invites them to be his sister, his brother, his mother. I pause here. Jesus is capable of being wounded by rejection. I knew this before, but I know it in a new way now. This then becomes the moment that flows into Jesus’ beautiful parables about hearing the word. ‘The sower goes out to sow,’ he begins.

Let’s slow down for a bit and think. We have just accompanied Jesus through two difficult encounters: his relatives first, who think he is mad, and then the scribes, who think he is possessed. And now he sees us, sees that there are people who deeply want to listen to him.

He welcomes us. We come forward to sit near him. We are an intimate group, small enough that all of us can all see him. We are glad that when he begins to teach we will hear him easily, we will see his face and his eyes, watch the play of his features as he speaks his words of life to us with gentleness and love. We want to be his brother and sister and mother. We look at him with affection and smile, waiting for him to begin. Let’s see what he will say to us. He has a message for each person. And now I invite you to read Mark 4:1-9 and to keep this at heart until tomorrow. This passage prepares the way for the parable I have quoted at the beginning of this post.


I hope you will return tomorrow as we continue our reflection.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Mission, Summer

12 March: People in their Thousands: I

Welcome back, Sister Johanna! This is the first of a series of five linked reflections on the passage from Saint Luke 12. We were reminded how dangerous crowds can be by the tragedy at the African Football Cup of Nations just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile the people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And he began to speak, first of all to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – their hypocrisy…. To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk.12: 1-2,4).

Part I.

As I read this passage I imagined the crowd of thousands – so many people that they were stepping on each other – and I felt a strange fear. I felt the desperation in that crowd, a crowd that symbolises, perhaps, all of humanity from the beginning of time until now; it is made of people so hurt and needy that in this case they are quickly becoming ruthless, bumping and pushing in their hunger for Jesus. But one thing at least is clear: they know that they need to reach him, that he is somehow their salvation. But they are stepping on each other.

How scary to be part of this crowd. It is not one I’d have wanted to be positioned in the middle of, with no easy exit-route if things had taken a nasty turn. And this already-desperate situation is the one in which Jesus chooses to issue a warning about yet another cause for desperation: that the seemingly venerable authority figures of the religious establishment are, essentially, phonies. This is deliberate on Jesus’ part, like everything he does. Clearly, in Jesus’ estimation, this message couldn’t wait for a smaller, calmer audience to gather at another time. Here is Jesus utilising his ‘social platform’ to the hilt in order to disseminate his message to as many people as possible. It is that important: the Pharisees are not to be trusted.

Let’s take this slowly. In saying this kind of thing so publicly, Jesus is actually saying more than one very important thing. The first is the obvious one: he is warning this crowd of people against the Pharisees. His warning has a sub-text, too. He is saying, ‘Although the Pharisees cannot be trusted to provide a religious understanding of the pain of your existence that you seek, I can; I am that meaning. Come to me. The Pharisees know the letter of the law, but I know its heart and spirit.’ In Matthew’s gospel Jesus will say even more compellingly, ‘Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.’

Here, Jesus speaks first to his disciples, and they, in turn have told the crowd – not only the crowd present on that day, but also the crowd of the Church that has been present ever since the apostles began their ministry, fired by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

And now I turn to my own heart. How willing am I to come to Jesus? He is the meaning of my existence. He now uses the Church, in a direct line from the apostles, to disseminate his message. Do I trust that Jesus is, even now, teaching me, teaching the Church – this ‘crowd’ in their thousands – of which I am a member?

Let’s reflect on this for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we will continue.

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Lent, Mission, PLaces

5 December: Through a glass darkly.

The Louvre Gallery in Paris has an exhibition of works by Leonardo da Vinci, marking 500 years since his death, and Jeanne Ferney went to review it for La Croix newspaper. But her visit was spoilt, not so much by the press of the crowd in the galleries as by the sheer number of cameras and phones pointed at every work.

Over the past few years I have deliberately taken my phone to capture some of the pictures in this blog, but the fact that Mrs T is often standing and waiting for me suggests that I am actually looking at objects rather than just notching up another dozen photos to add to the blog or impress my family. (They are rarely impressed by their father’s exploits.)

Any regular readers will have noticed that some photos reappear from time to time, while the connection between  picture and reflection can appear quite tenuous. Sometimes this is done  by the writer or the editor to give a totally different angle on the words, sometimes you may not see the world quite as we do! We do not always seek so much to illustrate as to elucidate. And sometimes the picture is the starting point, of course.

We hope not to give a contrary message to the day’s short reflection; nor do we want to spoil other people’s in-the-moment enjoyment of art works or landscapes or flowers by huffing and puffing over a picture and getting in their way; and we don’t want to lose the ability to see with our eyes because we are looking through a lens! Sometimes a mind’s-eye picture is a lasting joy, but a lens-eye picture can grow on you, as this one has on me; taken in a cavern in Poland, I did not expect it to come out at all. It still sets my mind wondering.

Let’s pray for the grace to see ourselves as others see us, especially that Other who is Our Father. And may we never get in his way by our dawdling and sightseeing. This Advent may we see and follow the star that leads us to the Child of Bethlehem.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces