Monday, July 28, 2008

Morning Has Broken

This morning, I had the privilege to hear from the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St Luke. Luke's gospel, I must confess, has not been a book I've read for some time. As the resonant words echoed in my head, I appreciated once more the beauty of his words, and the skill with which King James's translators turned them into English.

This is of course one of the three synoptic accounts of Jesus' teaching regarding 'the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy'. What is interesting is that you can tell quite often whether a person has read this passage (and other like passages from the synoptic gospels) from the way in which that person views Jesus' response to the world. In Luke 12, as in other parts of this gospel and the other gospels, Jesus shows his role as social catalyst in the original Greek sense of the word 'catalysis', the agent of a sudden breaking-up of the status quo.

He came not to bring peace, but a sword; he came to kindle a fire, to baptise with water, to make the power of the Spirit more freely available. His is not, has never been, should not ever be, the way of incremental and plodding change and shifting ground; rather, as he says elsewhere, his is the way that establishes the past and fulfils it in for the future. In doing so, he avoids the twin traps of sticking to the uninterpreted and misunderstood past, and of charging into the future without the firm foundation built by those before us.

The term status quo is often misunderstood. In this exact form, it means 'the state of things which is'; it does not mean 'the state of things as it has always been'. Quite often, a rude shock to the system is required to shift it out of the low depression into which it has sunk and stalled for a while; sometimes, the state is one of physical and material expansion but spiritual degradation. It is the case in Luke 12: this chapter mentions the fate of a rich man who had so much that he did not know where to put it, and so tore down his barns to make way for larger barns. As the story goes, that night, God required the man's soul, and so sic transit gloria mundi.

We are then enjoined to consider the ravens, who neither sow nor reap, and yet are provided for by their Father in heaven. It isn't that ravens are faithful, quiet, innocent birds; ravens are inquisitive and clever, possibly the most intelligent birds on the planet. What the message here seems to be, throughout this morning's reading, is that God gives us all certain gifts; use them wisely and it will result in a fair provision. And just as in the story of the manna in the wilderness, greed and a desire for more than what God provides results in a messy state of affairs. I like the punishment inflicted on the Israelites here: when they complained about a lack of meat (notwithstanding that God gave them quail to eat), God fed them a huge superfluity of meat till it came out of their nostrils. Beware what you wish for: you might get it!

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