Monday, 13 July 2015

Pentecost 8, Mark 6:30-44, Feeding of the five thousand

Most of the significant meals Ive had have been in unusual circumstances. When I was in Leipzig in 1990 I was invited to the flat of a Russian woman teaching in the city. As I crossed the city early in the morning, I was confronted by gangs in black shirts, mimicking fascists and made my way hurriedly to an enormous area of large tower blocks row on row. I was received by my host who lived in a tiny two room flat and asked if I wanted a shower. I was somewhat taken aback at this, but it was dry and dusty. I was given fresh fruits, sliced, a luxery then and enjoyed a level of hospitality second to none. Meals are made special by how they are made and who we share them with. Its no accident that many of the stories in the gospels are set in the context of meals and middle Eastern hospitality.  

The feeding of the 5,000 is told against the backdrop of growing dissent. You were either for Jesus or not. Many people were coming and going so that they didn’t have time to eat so Jesus calls them away to go to a deserted, lonely place by boat acroos the lake to eat, identified as as the north-east side of lake Galilee. But the people saw them going and ran on foot getting ahead of them.When Jesus got out of the boat he saw them and (instead of being annoyed as I would have been) he felt sorry for them and even though he was hungry he began to teach again. By this time it was late in the day, so the disciples told him to send them away so they could buy something to eat. But he said back to them “Give them some food yourselves" and they responded that it would cost eight months wages! So he asked them “How much bread do you have?” And they found five barley loaves, probably flat bread and two fish, probably cooked or pickled fish.

So he told them to tell the people to sit down in groups and they sat in groups of hundreds and fifties(how many picnics have you been at like that!). Having looked up to heaven , he blessed the bread, and gave thanks and gave it to them in successive distributions. He also divided the two fish and distributed it. They ate until they were full and couldn’t eat anymore. The left overs were collected in 12 strong wicker baskets as well as pieces of fish. The men present were more than 5,000 plus women and children.

In the desert the people find spiritual and real food. In hard times, desert times its the same. I heard of a woman this week who has MS. She is very ill. She leant on her husbands chest and realised he had a heart murmur. She has elderly parents who depend on her and she said "I cant ask why me!" That is a desert place. Hopefully she will be sent the right people to lean on during this very hard journey.

Every 3 seconds someone dies of poverty in our world. To address this and usher in a new way of being, where everyone has something to eat, we will have to share and have less. Maybe that would be good for us too. A different sort of miracle.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Pentecost 7, Mark 6:14-29, Herod and Herodotus

King Herod ruled from 4BC-39AD over Galilee and Peraea. Jesus didn't begin his ministry until after John was arrested. Miraculous powers followed Jesus, but not necessarily the disciples. John didn't perform any miracles but Herod missed this. The people thought that Jesus was Elijah who prepared the way of the Messiah, or that he was a prophet like Elisha.

Herod hears the different opinions and gives his. He thinks he is John, who he beheaded, raised from the dead (like Macbeth).
Herod had sent guards to seize John, had him bound and put in prison. Josephus the Roman historian wrote that John was imprisoned in the Machaerus a fortress in Peraea.

Because of Herodias.

Under Roman law Herodias was legally able to divorce her husband Philip, but under Jewish (Levitic) law, Herod  was not permitted to marry his brother's wife, Lev.18:16, 20:21. Herodias was bitter against John and so she had him arrested.
John had told Herod that he had no right to marry his brother's wife.
Worse than that Herodias wanted to kill him. 

But Herod had a respect for John as well as a fear and had listened to him..
Finally, Herodias got her chance. On Herods birthday party,  the daughter of Herodius, Salome danced a sexual erotic dance. And she was prompted to ask for a gift from Herod and he offered her half of his  kingdom and prompted by mother she asked for Johns head. 
It was a set up!

John's disciples now mostly Jesus' disciples buried him. 

People with responsibilities  have to make difficult decisions. The decision to shut a factory. The decision to invade Iraq. The decision to close coal mines. The decision to arrest a terrorist or release a psychopath. And difficult decisions have consequences. The Old Testament gives us the injunction from God to choose life.

In our story Herod like Pilate after him has to make a series of difficult decisions. The decisions he makes are all compromised. Compromised by political unrest, by power brokers (the Jews) and by his wife. Some people in society act as amoral beacons. John the Baptist was such a man. When Britain invaded Iraq thousands protested against it. 

Herods decision about John the Baptist who has annoyed his wife by pointing the finger at his adultery with his brothers wife(history) is swayed by lust. He appears to want his new wifes daughter as well. Its disgusting but very present in our world too. His decision results in the death of a good man. But all decisions have consequences. Maybe he didn’t sleep so well at night.

Our own moral well being and psychological health depends on making the right decisions, but its not easy. Sometimes we get it wrong or are forced into a corner like Herod. At times like this we have to do the best we can to repair the situation. Even saying sorry to someone you’ve wronged is healing. Christians sould be the first to apologise but we are sadly often the last. Our decisions affect us mentally and physically, affect our society and the world. WE must choose loving constructive decisions. Even in the face of threats and bullies and sometimes death. Our well being depends on it!


just relaxing


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