Traherne is addressing Christ directly in this passage, acknowledging and rejoicing in his closeness to Christ, accepting that suffering unites Men – he of course means men and women – and Christ, now suffering on the cross for me.
What shall I do for Thee, O Thou preserver of Men?
Live, Love, and Admire; and learn to become such unto Thee as Thou unto me. O Glorious Soul; whose comprehensive understanding at once contains all Kingdoms and Ages! O Glorious Mind! Whose love extendeth to all creatures! O miraculous and eternal Godhead, now suffering on the cross for me: As Abraham saw thy Day and was glad, so didst Thou see me and this Day from all Eternity, and seeing me wast Gracious and Compassionate towards me. (All transient things are permanent in God.) Thou settest me before Thy face forever. O let me this day see Thee, and be united to Thee in Thy Holy Sufferings. Let me learn, O God, such lessons from Thee, as may make me wise, and blessed as an Angel of GOD!
The events of Holy Week are shown with the Crucified at the centre, full of vigour as he stares death out. Above, the Risen Lord leads his first parents into Paradise, above that again the Ascension.
We have received the link to this Easter reflection by our old friend, Brother Austin, a link we gladly share.
Jesus understood his mission to be, to make his Father known; not by talking about him, but by being himself with other people, his Father’s Son – and that still remains the mission of the Church – go out and spread the Good News – what it means to be beloved of Abba, share your experience, not your knowledge, of who Jesus, the beloved of Abba, is for you.
At this time there were no defined doctrines, creeds or codes – so what were they expected to do when they were told to go out and spread the Good News? Was it to teach and preach? It was something much simpler and much more profound – they were asked to go and share what it was like to live with Jesus, after the Resurrection – share their experiences of being with him.
The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; when he told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, Sabbath observances and ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples after Good Friday, must have thought, maybe the authorities were right after all, that Jesus was not from God. Death was final, and put an end to dissent.
Two of them were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate that Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. But when he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right; God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description of his accusers. The reasons for getting rid of him were part of the sinful mechanism of getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.
It is true that the Law was given by God – but the interpretations of it are of human origin; and so, for example, keeping the Sabbath holy, came to mean observing all the restrictions imposed – not by God. The point of Sabbath is so as to enjoy the wonderful things God is doing through creation.
We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they had thought, did Jesus’ story – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.
Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but showing how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus is simultaneously dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – death as lost its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life, including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in fear, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.
Because each one of us is unique [God doesn’t create copies], every sharing will reflect what is ours only, and wouldn’t happen without us – differences [not division] unity without uniformity – which we are able to do by sharing in his Spirit freely given in our Baptism.
We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:
Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level. How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness? How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us? And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.
Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us. We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark. It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.
A prayer for us to say together:
We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people. Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation. May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes. Amen.
It’s about time we sat back to listen to Sister Johanna from Minster Abbey, who knows how to tell a story afresh, with help from Alfie the Collie.
Even the puppies eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table (Mt.15:27).
I think it would be wonderful to be irresistible to Jesus, to surprise him by getting something really right, make him do a double-take and ask, ‘Did she just say that?’ It rarely happens in the gospels, but there are a few instances of it. And one of them is recounted in Matthew 15:21-28.
Jesus and his disciples are travelling, on foot, as usual. They are in the region of Tyre and Sidon – a gentile area. A Canaanite woman, gentile therefore, turns up. And she starts shouting at the top of her lungs, calling to Jesus. At first, her talent seems to lie chiefly in making a pest of herself – at least as far as the disciples are concerned, for they urge Jesus to give her what she wants, ‘…because she keeps shouting after us.’ We know the type, and cringe. The woman is pushy–in the extreme: she’s noisy, her voice probably harsh and grating, she’s insistent, she won’t be brushed off. She shouts out two titles to grab Jesus’ attention (maybe one will work): ‘Lord! Son of David!’ Then ‘…take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ Over and over, apparently.
And Jesus seems to be ignoring her. Even after reading this story many, many times over the years, I still feel a jolt at Jesus seeming to blank this woman. Why does he do it? I think Jesus himself answers that question when he says to the disciples, ‘But I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ To my mind, what Jesus is saying here is that he is not sure whether the woman would have the capacity to receive what he could give her. Her religious background was unknown; at least the lost sheep of the House of Israel would have the religious sensibility to understand Jesus’ message–or they would in theory, anyway. The gentiles would largely need a different approach. How much would this woman be able to grasp of Jesus’ teaching and his person? I think Jesus’ uncertainty is real. But he will soon have an answer to his question.
The woman overhears what Jesus says, and she has the pluck to come right up to him and show him what she is able to understand. First, she again appeals to his compassion: ‘Lord, help me.’ By this time, whenever I read the story, I am always on her side, pest or no pest, and I really don’t want Jesus to say what he says next, but there’s no help for it. He says: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the puppies.’ Scholarly exegesis is always quick to point out that Jesus isn’t insulting her; not really. In that culture and at that time, the word for puppies or little dogs softens an expression which itself was a conventional one devoid of the sting we would read into it. It was standard for Jews to refer to gentiles as dogs, evidently. With all our sensitivities today, it is still hard for us not to be taken aback, but it’s possible to imagine Jesus with a kindly expression in his eyes as he refers to the ‘little dogs’ or ‘puppies.’ And, the fact is, the Canaanite woman doesn’t object to it. In fact, she revels in it. It is exactly the handle she needs to hoist herself up in Jesus’ estimation – by a mile. Her life is about to become a lot better.
She has come to Jesus with absolutely no claims and no pretensions. She does not try to be what she isn’t; she isn’t a child of Israel, and she expects to be called a little dog. At the same time, she knows what she knows about Jesus, and she is certain that Jesus has supernatural power capable of healing her daughter. She is determined to obtain her daughter’s healing from him. So she is ready for him. To Jesus’ comment about not wanting to throw the children’s food to the puppies, she makes the brilliant and faith-filled rejoinder: ‘Ah, yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.’
Suddenly this pest is transformed into a paragon of everything Jesus wants to see in us. She is loving. She is straightforward about herself. She is full of faith with regard to Jesus. She is brave, truthful, frank, plucky and, as a bonus, ingeniously witty. This combination is irresistible to him. She understands all right, probably a lot better than some of the lost sheep of Israel do, and is fully able to receive the gift that Jesus is able to give. ‘Woman, you have great faith!’ he exclaims. ‘Let your desire be granted!’ And surely, this was said with an amazed smile and even a laugh on Jesus’ part. She must have filled Jesus with such joy, even as she herself was filled with joy by Jesus.
I said at the beginning that I’d like to be irresistible to Jesus, surprising him by the strength of my faith. This story makes me question some attitudes I have. Would I be as plucky as the Canaanite woman? She knew that as a gentile, she was not entitled to Jesus’ gift, but she was willing to receive any scrap from him that she could scavenge, and knew that such a scrap would be filled with his mighty power. How do I measure up against her willingness and faith? Against her perseverance in prayer? Don’t I tend to grow discouraged? Don’t I bring a subtle attitude of entitlement to prayer? I am not entitled to Jesus’ gift of friendship, healing and eternal salvation any more that she was. When Jesus seems to ignore my prayer, when he seems silent, don’t I feel just a bit put out? A little bit of entitlement is not much better than a lot of it. Perhaps by meditating on this Canaanite woman I may learn from her the attitudes that Jesus finds irresistible, and then find that we are cooperating in joy.
There was once a little boy named Duncan who couldn’t see very well. The funny thing about it was that he didn’t know it. Duncan thought that everything in the world had fuzzy edges because that is the way things looked to him.
When Duncan finally got glasses – WOW! The world looked so different.
You may not have trouble with your eyesight, but all of us have difficulty seeing and understanding things at times. Our reading today takes place just days after Jesus was crucified and shows how some of Jesus’ disciples had trouble understanding what they had seen.
Sometimes we feel confused and don’t see things clearly. When that happens, we need help understanding our lives more clearly. Jesus is with us to help us to do that. He helps us to understand that God loves us and that there is nothing to fear.
Father, we are thankful that as we travel along life’s road, Jesus is walking with us and that he will help us see and understand the things that happen in our life. Amen.
Reflection from Anne Holiday, L’Arche Kent.
This is one of a series of reflections from members of L’Arche Kent on the Emmaus journey in Luke 24: 13-35, which was the main text for our Pilgrimage last year.
It was a headline in another website: ‘Where is God in a pandemic?’ followed by ‘We don’t know, but can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?’
I wonder, can I believe in a God that I do understand? S/He would hardly be a God – or a god – if I could understand him or her! Faith seeks understanding, says Saint Anselm, faith does not depend on understanding.
The Passion – that is, the life and death of Jesus – tells us that God is here in our suffering as he is in our joys. We pray for all suffering from illness, those caring for them in any way, and those who have been bereaved, and all who have died.
Chesterton had a good stab at understanding Robert Browning and his work, which at times can be as densely obscure as at others it rings out clear. But I am not sharing this as an exercise in literary criticism, rather as an insight into a creative view of the world. By that I mean one where we have an awareness of creation as still on-going, even if we just miss hearing the Word creating; and a world where we have an awareness of ourselves as responsible co-creators. Laudato Si!
“It is well sometimes to half understand a poem in the same manner that we half understand the world. One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
from “Robert Browning” by Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
We know that Christian missionary saints believed God would commit to the flames of hell those not baptised into the Church, even when living in good faith. They were saints – but they were mistaken. Christian missionaries forced converts to renounce all their previous ways of striving after God, making them adopt Western ways that had nothing to do with religion. Much cruelty was inflicted through the inability to distinguish between cultural and social customs, and religious convictions.
Modern Social Sciences make it easier for us to accept this as missionaries sought to try to understand the different cultures and ways of thought of non-Christian folk, and they began to understand non-Christian religious convictions from the way the people saw them. Like being less than impressed looking at stained glass windows from outside – so different when seen from inside.
The patristic scholar Jean Daniélou proposed seeing the great Eastern Religions as being pre-Christian but leading to Christ. Their followers are saved by their commitment, the hope that seeks a future fulfilment. The fact that these people live after Christ [today] is not important, because their experience is before Christ as long as they have not heard the Gospel in a form that makes sense to them. While there is one Hindu living the Hindu tradition in good faith and with conviction, we cannot speak of the Hindu religion as false.
It is not only through their sincerity in striving after God as best they know how, that God comes to meet them; it is also because their striving is true. Our religious language is symbolic in a special way. It describes realities we have hardly glimpsed, and cannot comprehend. In the Jewish tradition it was important not to make images of God – because all images are false, the only image of God is the human person. So they speak as though God is a human person – masculine gender, a father-figure, who can get angry and change his mind. These characteristics are not literally true of God – but are true in another sense – they are true of our experience of God.
Other faith communities also know that language about God cannot be literally true. They express their experience of God. Asian faiths tend to be more contemplative than those of the Western world; they leave symbols in their symbolic form rather than seek explanations. Hindus say when you have images you understand you are making only a remote comparison, but when you have explanations you might be misled into thinking you understand much more than you do. God cannot be understood.
Saint Anselm’s feast falls on 21st April, Easter Day this year. So let’s visit him during Lent, reflecting on Good Friday and Easter with another Archbishop of Canterbury.
The crypt of Canterbury Cathedral was closed as they prepared for a service, so I went upstairs to Saint Anselm and sat opposite his post-war window. The focal point, it seemed to me that morning, was not the central figure of Anselm in bishop’s robes and pallium, holding his cross and giving his blessing, but the three Latin words on the book below the Saint and the descending dove of the Holy Spirit:
CUR DEUS HOMO
in English we would say, ‘Why did God become Man?’ Look again at the open book. There is also a sturdy tree on the page, a reminder of the Cross; it bears a cruciform flower. And indeed, Bishop Anselm carries a cross, not unlike the one we saw in the photograph from Algeria in the first post in this series.
in his introductory chapter, Anselm says, ‘to my mind it appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe.’ We cannot disagree with that, even if we find his rather legalistic argument off-putting.
Where Scotus would later argue that God wanted to become man anyway, Anselm argues that the way for sinful man to be reconciled to God was for the perfect sacrifice to be offered in atonement. A perfect sacrifice could only be offered by a perfect man, and that man was Jesus, and the perfect sacrifice was his death at the hands of sinners.
On the other hand, Anselm’s successor, Rowan Williams, argued in a Lenten talk in this cathedral that Christ lived a life-long passion: his whole life was a sacrifice, making holy the human race and all of creation. Here is Anselm (II.viii):
No man except this one ever gave to God what he was not obliged to lose, or paid a debt he did not owe. But he freely offered to the Father what there was no need of his ever losing, and paid for sinners what he owed not for himself.
We are all obliged to lose our lives, but we can learn, not just from Anselm’s writings, but from his example. He left home to travel to Bec in Normandy to become a monk; at Bec he became a teacher and leader of the community before he was sent as Archbishop to Canterbury, where he continued teaching. But as Archbishop he had other duties, and was exiled twice for opposing the Norman Kings of England, William II and Henry I. He risked the same fate as Alphege his predecessor, his successor Thomas, and his crucified Master.
‘Freely offered to the Father’ sounds like love to me, as does ‘lifelong passion’, as does Friar Austin’s view that:
Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom.
Different views of the same event, which was not Good Friday only, but the 33 years before that, and Easter Sunday and the eternity following that.