Tag Archives: women

23 April: Looking After Jesus

stmaurice.pilgrims

Sister Johanna finds treasure in Luke’s Gospel when she spots her own name and investigates further.

With Jesus went Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.                                                                                                                                      Luke 8: 2-3

This short passage from the Gospel of Luke is one that I have not really thought much about, until now. Today I was taken by the reference to Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and wondered why Chuza was mentioned, and what light this might shed on the text. After a bit or research, I discovered that this is the only reference to Chuza in the New Testament, and nothing is known about him except what is said here in this passage. But, surely, at the time Luke’s gospel was written, his name must have meant something. No one, not even St. Luke, name-drops without wanting to impress. And if I think about it, I can see what is probably being implied here.

Herod was not a man to be trusted. He was no friend of Jesus, and the term, ‘that fox’, was used by Jesus of Herod (Lk 13:32) as a put-down, and a bold one, for Herod was an important man and held power over Jesus – or at least, he held a certain kind of worldly power over him. He could, and eventually did, collude with the powers that crucified Jesus.

And Chuza was ‘that fox’s’ steward. As steward, Chuza was also rather important. Scripture scholars say that the exact nature of a steward’s job is no longer known, but it is thought that Chuza was probably a kind of chief administrator of Herod’s entire establishment, and not a mere domestic manager. He was in some way the man who made all the practical decisions at the palace and was responsible for its smooth running. The fact that Chuza’s name is dropped into this text would suggest that his name was well known by Luke’s audience. Eyebrows might rise on hearing that Joanna, wife of the famous Chuza, was known to be both a disciple of Jesus and one of his benefactors.

The text also suggests that Joanna was taking a risk, both on her own behalf and that of her husband, in publicly following this upstart Jesus – ever a controversial figure to those without faith, who had not yet learned to love and revere him. Herod would not approve. But, neither Joanna nor Chuza seem to be bothered by that. Jesus is worth the risk. What eventually happened to Chuza? The text doesn’t say. But we have established that his relative fame would not have been an advantage for Joanna. She carries on anyway, despite the risk.

What else do we know about Joanna? Joanna had been healed by Jesus. She is now dedicated to caring for Jesus and is one of those who provide for him and his companions. She gladly associates with Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from seven devils. Reputations linger, and surely Mary Magdalene was still regarded by many as a highly dubious character. Joanna doesn’t care about that either. Mary Magdalene had been healed, and so had Joanna. They were companions. Joanna was for Jesus and no one would stop her. Caring for Jesus was much more important than playing it safe. Caring for Jesus more important than caring for herself. She and the other women are loyal to Jesus and courageous.

What does Jesus think of their dedication? Does he thank them? Oh, yes. St. Luke’s gospel tells us later that Joanna and the other women received a reward from Jesus. In fact, we see that Jesus expresses his gratitude in the most profound way possible. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joanna appears again; with her are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They are the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They go there intending to carry out the ritual anointing the body. What actually happens to them there is that they become the privileged three who converse with angels. They – these women who took risks for Jesus, who were loyal to him, who provided for his material needs – they are the first recipients of the astounding news that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. They are the first to know, the first ones to experience the joy of knowing. And not only that, St Luke tells us that they are the first ones who actually remembered Jesus’ own words about his resurrection which he spoke when he was alive. They are the first to understand those words.

And this tells us something else about Joanna and the other women: they were attuned to Jesus’ teaching all along. This understanding they have after his death will be the carry-over from their profound grasp of his teaching before his death. They are, therefore, well chosen to be the first messengers of the Good News to the Eleven. This is Jesus’ way of thanking them, honouring them, showing his love for them and healing them of the deep sorrow his death would have caused. He reaches the most profound places in their hearts with the reality of his resurrection. This is indeed a gift.

This short text, one that I had not really pondered before, has messages of joy. It tells us that Jesus sees everything we do for him, sees our loyalty, sees the risks we take for him, sees the understanding we have of his teaching, sees the way we remember his words. He is grateful every time we embrace his word, every time we give generously to him and his followers. He will repay in ways we cannot imagine now, any more than the women imagined that they would see angels when they went to the tomb. Jesus will repay with currency from his risen life and reach us, raise us up on the deepest possible level of our being.

SJC

Image: Missionaries of Africa.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Mission

3 February, Brownings XVII: a sort of fungus of the brain.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning 
Here is the permanent invalid Elizabeth writing to Robert about one of the doctors who helped to keep her that way. For all the light-hearted tone, this is an intimate confession of her situation.
“I had a doctor once who thought he had done everything because he had carried the inkstand out of the room—’Now,’ he said, ‘you will have such a pulse to-morrow.’ He gravely thought poetry a sort of disease—a sort of fungus of the brain—and held as a serious opinion, that nobody could be properly well who exercised it as an art—which was true (he maintained) even of men—he had studied the physiology of poets, ‘quotha’—but that for women, it was a mortal malady and incompatible with any common show of health under any circumstances.
And then came the damnatory clause in his experience … that he had never known ‘a system’ approaching mine in ‘excitability’ … except Miss Garrow’s … a young lady who wrote verses for Lady Blessington’s annuals … and who was the only other female rhymer he had had the misfortune of attending. And she was to die in two years, though she was dancing quadrilles then (and has lived to do the same by the polka), and I, of course, much sooner, if I did not ponder these things, and amend my ways, and take to reading ‘a course of history’!!”
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning)

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

September 20: Guests of the house.

footwash

I took advantage of a family holiday in North Wales to read ‘The Summer of the Danes’ by Ellis Peters in the area where the action takes place. Here Brothers Cadfael and Mark arrive at Saint Asaph to be greeted and shown to a room.

‘I’ll send someone with water,’ said their guide … and he was gone.

‘Water?’ said Mark, pondering this first and apparently essential courtesy. ‘Is that by way of taking salt, here in Wales?’

‘No, lad. A people that goes mostly afoot knows the value of feet and the dust and aches of travel. They bring water for us to bathe our feet. It is a graceful way of asking: Are you meaning to bide overnight? If we refuse it, we intend only a brief visit in courtesy. If we accept it, we are guests of the house from that moment.’

Helleth, who comes to do this service, is almost the only woman but a central character in the story of power and piracy, secular and ecclesiastical. Ellis Peters uses 13th Century Wales to explore the role of women in society, love and marriage; war- and peace-making; marriage of the clergy; feudal authority and loyalty; and Welsh identity, all within a page-turning mystery. As so often the book is better than the TV programme. You’ll find it for sale on-line.

The Welsh did not initiate this rite, of course, but I believe it was a Welshman, Archbishop Rowan Williams, who reintroduced the Maundy Thursday ceremony to Canterbury Cathedral. You can read about a participant’s experience of the washing of feet in Canterbury here. and about an updated response to this tradition here. This is Rev Jo Richards’ reflection on Holy Week. This reflection links the Station of Veronica to Jesus washing Peter’s feet.

One evening on holiday I ended up giving Abel a bit more than a foot wash after he slipped on slimy mud at the seashore, a service gladly given! There are many such little occasions to provide for each others needs.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Reviews, Summer

April 29: Sussex Folk Through a Poet’s Eyes.

bench (800x600)

Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.

Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.

Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.

In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.

That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.

And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.

goldenstringimage

So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?

MMB

1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

11 April: Stations for Peter V: Veronica wipes Jesus’ face.

footwash

You shall not wash my feet!

Scripture references: Washing Peter’s feet, John 13:1-11; Do you love me? John 21:15-17.

When Jesus washed the feet of his friends, Peter had protested.

I didn’t want you to wash my feet. Was I too proud? I know I did not understand what you were doing – but I wanted to be part of you.

Veronica washes your face with a cool damp towel. A few seconds’ relief, that’s all, but you know she loves you. She’s there.

I’m not.

But you know that I love you – why did you have to ask?

 

Lord, we remember everyone near death, and all those who care for them. May the dying, their carers, and all who are close to them know that you are indeed walking with them.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent

10 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus IV: The Call.

 

r&M.Arch

Zacchaeus would have watched as Jesus walks on, interacting warmly with the crowd. A blessing for this one, a prayer offered gravely with that one, a beaming smile to another, a lingering look of support directed into the eyes of a disabled person and his carer, a listening ear, a wise word; he clasps the hands of the elderly as he goes along; he lays his hands on the heads of the lame and the sick; he embraces a small child who runs up to him and laughs at the trenchant observation the child makes. This was a happy day for Jesus and his followers. Nothing untoward had happened in it – no impossible confrontations with scribes or Pharisees. Everyone in the crowd felt Jesus’ peace and his power. His deep goodness was palpable. No one was unaffected by it. Everyone felt a new surge of hope and life. They felt that their lives would change now for the better. They felt that they themselves were changing. Jesus’ holiness shone out. People simply loved him.

Suddenly, Matthew taps Jesus’ shoulder and points to the sycamore tree, “There’s Zacchaeus,” he may have said. And what of Zacchaeus? He is deeply stirred, in a way that he did not expect. He recognises power when he sees it, but he has never seen this kind of power before. It has none of the usual trappings. There is no display of wealth. There is no intimidating weaponry. There is no attitude of disdain and arrogance. This power of Jesus was like an irresistible dance, drawing even the clumsy to share in its exciting rhythms. The entire scene was characterised by complete freedom and joy.

Zacchaeus recognised some of the people in Jesus’ group. Matthew was there! As one of them. He seemed to belong! That blind beggar was there, his sight restored, telling everyone about what Jesus had done, as if they couldn’t see well enough for themselves. A few of the loose women of the town were right there among Jesus’ group, and some obviously respectable matrons were walking with them, smiling and talking easily to them! Some of the men Zacchaeus had all but ruined were there, looking more hopeful than they had in years. What was going on here? Zacchaeus was mesmerised, stunned. He stood on his thick tree branch, supporting himself with other branches. Friendless Zacchaeus. He was smiling as he watched, but he also felt a peculiar sensation he had not known is years: he has a lump in his throat. Usually he kept such feelings far away from his awareness. But today, longing surfaced with an intensity he had not experienced since he was a small boy. He watches Jesus and his group coming slowly down the street, sees the flow of good feeling and happiness. He thinks momentarily of his large home, filled with servants, and decorated with expensive objects, but hollow, too quiet, lonely. Suddenly, he wants desperately to be part of Jesus’ group.

Much to Zacchaeus’s surprise, he sees Jesus look around, then up to the tree; he makes eye-contact with Zacchaeus, and then, smiling, Jesus makes his way through the crowd – which, incidentally, parts to allow him through – and he stands at the bottom of Zacchaeus’s tree. I love to imagine this scene: can Jesus possibly have been in solemn mode here? This is not the Sermon on the Mount, nor is it an occasion when he must undertake a battle of wits with Pharisees who are trying to catch him out. This is Jesus the Friend and Brother, joyfully, even laughingly, calling up to Zacchaeus – who, in fact, looks a bit silly where he is. Jesus is enjoying this moment. He is giving himself fully. His strong voice rings out, “Zacchaeus!”

Let’s stop here, with the sound of Jesus’ voice, perhaps calling not Zacchaeus’s name, but our own.

SJC

Helping him down. MMB

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent

9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

favela-379x640

We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent

24 January, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 7 Woman, great is your faith!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Woman, great is your faith! (Matthew 15:28)

  • 1 Samuel 1:13-17

  • Matthew 15:21-28

Starting point

The marginalization and dismissal of women’s voices continues in our own times and in our own culture. Within our own churches we are often complicit with attitudes and actions that devalue women. As we become more aware of the issues, so we begin to recognize the many ways in which women are subjected to violence and injustice. Human trafficking, exploitation of women and children, and sexual abuse continue to be the reality for many women. In the scripture readings both Hannah and the Canaanite woman are dismissed as ‘worthless’ nuisances. But they stand up for themselves, change the perceptions of Eli and Jesus, and achieve their deepest desire. Many women are unable to challenge marginalization and exploitation. As Christians unite in prayer and the study of the Scriptures, truly listening for God’s voice, we discover that God also speaks today through the cries of the most abused in society.

Reflection

Hannah

Weeping silently,

praying from the heart before the Lord,

why does Eli think she is drunk?

Quiet, dignified, refuting her accuser,

she is promised her heart’s desire.

The Canaanite woman

Nameless,

fierce and canny on behalf of her daughter,

turning insult to advantage,

rejection to praise resounding throughout centuries.

Great is your persistent faith!

The ‘worthless’ woman

Belittled, discounted, invisible,

why won’t you hear my story?

Why won’t you believe what they are doing to me?

Desperate worm turning,

speaking out, #MeToo,

a tsunami of testimony, standing strong together,

mountains pushed aside.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Prayer

Gracious God,

you are the source of human dignity.

By your grace and power

the words of Hannah, from the midst of her tears,

challenged and turned the heart of Eli the Priest.

By your grace and power

the Canaanite woman was emboldened to reject rejection

and move Jesus to heal her daughter.

As we strive for a Church which unites all humanity,

grant us the courage to reject all forms of violence against women

and to celebrate the gifts

that women bring to the Church.

This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord,

in whom all may find their true worth and calling. Amen.

Questions

  • How would you describe a person of great faith? Think of someone you know.

  • Can you remember a time when you felt marginalized or dismissed?

  • What can we do to empower women, children and other marginalized people in our community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Visit Go and Do to find out how the Side by Side faith movement for gender justice is making great progress across the world.

Organize a local event with the churches in your area to mark and celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March. Visit Go and Do for resources and ideas.

Wear black each Thursday in solidarity with all across the world who are working and longing for the day when there is an end to violence against women. Find out more at Go and Do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections

19 November: the Road to Emmaus, II.

gate,roman

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on Luke 24.

We are looking at the story of the Road to Emmaus, told in Luke’s gospel. Yesterday we began looking at the story’s context. It might be good to scroll back to it if you weren’t here yesterday.

The story starts out with the words, ‘That same day….’ What happened that day? First, early in the morning of the day the two disciples decide to go to Emmaus, Jesus’ tomb had been found empty by the women who went to it intending to anoint the body of Jesus (Luke. 24:3). Well, not quite empty. Two beings ‘in brilliant clothes’ were in the tomb, and they gave astonishing news to the women: ‘He is risen’, they said (Luke 24:7). But, secondly, the Eleven don’t believe the story when the women return and tell it. Then, thirdly, only Peter seems willing to suspend judgement. He visits the tomb himself (Luke 24:12), but from Luke’s account, it is hard to know what Peter is thinking, or whether this takes him any further forward. “That very same day” surprising things are happening, but still, the day can only be described as a day of deepest grief, perplexity, and fear for the Eleven.

I am there. I am Peter. Like him, I see, but do not know what to think. I am still attached to my plans – my plans, all seemingly based on a valid interpretation of God’s will for me, and which have all been rubbished by circumstances beyond my control. And a new understanding of his will is found neither easily nor immediately.

But, oh the relief that can come of talking about my perplexity and pain with someone who understands! That same day, two disciples are walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles away from Jerusalem, and are taking comfort in the emotional release of talking: ‘…and they were talking together about all that had happened’ (Luke.24:13).

Their walk is a long one, probably taking several hours, and giving them plenty of time to talk. I see them walking and talking, rehearsing, probably somewhat compulsively, what had happened to Jesus, to them, to their friends over the previous few days. I see them revisiting their feelings about those who decided that Jesus would be crucified. They are talking, probably, about his mother, the other disciples, about the story told by the women who went to the tomb. They are talking about Jesus himself, and about the hopes they had had. They are trying to work out why it all happened, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense to them at all. This talking and talking and talking seems to help on one level. Each time a new insight surfaces, the hope arises briefly that maybe from this angle they will somehow be able to make sense of the whole shattering thing. So the entire experience is gone through again, with this new idea in place. But, no. Nothing really helps. No insight makes the mess of their experience turn into something coherent and meaningful. They trudge onward down the road. They can barely hold their heads up. They are depressed, ‘downcast’, as the gospel tells us.

Readers familiar with this story know that the situation will soon improve for the disciples. But, for the moment, let’s not anticipate that. Let’s remember that these two disciples are like us: they don’t see into the future. They are wrestling with an intense sense of failure on many levels: their failure in courage, their failure to understand, the apparent failure of Jesus, whom they trusted. Like these two, I can sometimes feel that my discipleship has been a waste of time, a big mistake, and all I can do is to trudge on down whatever path I have taken.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter

18 August: Mites.

footwash

Father Andrew, the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, returned time and again to the story of the Widow’s mite.

” The man who counted the collection judged the widow by the mites and said to himself, ‘Two mites! What’s the good of that?”

“Our Lord understood all the widow’s brave life and humble sacrifice, and His judgement was, ‘She has given MORE than anyone else.’ Well now, there are ‘mites’ of penitence, and ‘mites’ of spiritual capacity. ‘She has done what she could,’ He said of another, who only cried and washed His feet. You see, he understood her, and he understands you and me.

“God bless and keep and guide you, my dear child.”

From The Life and Letters of Fr Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948, p 210.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections