Wednesday, November 15, 2017

the parable of the faithful servant

I want to admit first of all the difficult nature of this parable. It is not a fair sort of parable and again we have some uncomfortable images of God.
If we take this parable at face value we have a parable that is a justification for capitalism and investment on the stock market. We also have a vision of God as a cruel tyrant worthy of any rapacious corporate boss.
Ched Myers, a contemporary Christian theologian, has argued strongly that this is a parable which Jesus would have been telling with his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek.
We have to take this reading in context. The parable before and the one following inform this one. There is no way that Jesus normally talked about the poor being relegated to hell, just the reverse. It is usually the comfortable and wealthy that have to watch out. And perhaps here is the key. The message that Matthew obviously wants to give us is that (like in the previous parable of the bridesmaids) the lesson is that we must live in anticipation of the imminent return of Christ. Therefore we cannot afford to rest upon our laurels and slacken of with the use of our gifts. We must keep using our gifts to further the reign of God’s Justice and peace.
 So what does this have to say to us as the church in this age and as individuals.
First of all this parable recognises the myth of the level playing field. Just as people are born with different levels of intelligence, different social and educational opportunities, and different levels of love and security offered to them, so too churches start out with very different prospects. 

We are not going to find many answers about how to use our gifts from this parable. It tells us to invest wisely but it will not tell us what to invest in. It will not tell us, as the church, which mission strategies or worship patterns or leadership structures are the most productive use of our gifts. And if I can risk heresy here, just waiting on the Lord for guidance probably won't give us many answers either. God's guidance is most often given to those on the road, not to those thinking about the road.

The one thing that I know for sure is that God is looking for wise stewards of God’s gifts, and that God will continue to give new blessings to those who learn to use wisely and productively what has already been given.  If you use the talents God has entrusted to you in ways that most strengthen the shared task of God's people, God will surely be seen as the faithful restorer of his people and you will be among the privileged recipients of his word, “Well done good and trustworthy servants; you have been trustworthy in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Finally I want to say that, this does not have application only for the church. In our lives it is all too easy to live in the sort of fear that the third servant lived in; the fear of losing his own gifts by using it. Lets face it, none of us use our gifts to the utmost, and it is our constant challenge to overcome that fear and face the giftedness and strength that God has given us.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Playing safe
Haiku for faithful stewards

Talents were immense
lumps of money, like a big
CEO payout.

The so-called experts
don’t agree, but a million
will get somewhere near.

Another story.
This time three slaves are summoned,
trusted with big bucks.

Their freehanded boss
is going on a journey.
Take care of my things.

You know how it goes:
Five talent man makes five more;
two talent man, too.

When the boss returns
he commends them. You’ve done well,
I’ll trust you with more.

The one talent man
got cold feet; panicked, anxious,
hid it in the ground.

Here we are! he said
when he came before the boss:
All safe and secure!

He is not impressed.
Security is worthless;
learn to take some risks!

Get out of my sight!
You cannot serve God’s kingdom
if you play it safe!

© Ken Rookes 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

Youmust be ready

Haiku for the faithful

You must be ready!
He tells his friends a story,
as is his practice.

Ten bridesmaids with lamps
go out to greet the bridegroom;
a flaming escort.

The neighbourhood girls
invite themselves to the feast
with dancing and song.

The bridegroom is late.
The maids rest their heads and sleep.
The lamps keep burning.

The shout at midnight:
Here he is! Come to meet him!
Bridesmaids trim their lamps.

Five have brought spare oil.
The other five entreat them:
Give us some of yours!

There won’t be enough.
Make haste and rouse the dealers;
buy oil for yourselves.

They return, their lamps
recharged and burning brightly.
The rest have gone in.

The door has been shut.
Lord, lord, let us in! they cry.
Sorry, you’re too late!

Set your sights upon
the kingdom, Jesus told them,
make yourselves ready.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Monday, October 30, 2017

Scribes and Pharisees

Haiku for servants

Scribes and Pharisees:
religious establishment,
power and bluster.

Religious heavies
still imagine that they rule,
brandishing their keys.

Creating burdens
is the thing they excel at;
they will weigh you down.

Telling the people
that they are not good enough
to make it with God.

Look how good we are!
Try your best to be like us;
we’re exemplary.

Measure our fringes,
see our wide phylacteries;
don’t we look the part!

Do not play their game.
Be humble, self-effacing,
a servant of all.

You are my students.
Don’t call yourself a teacher;
you have one teacher.

They still know better
than the rest of us; they still
tell us how to live.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Psalm 90 and our significance

This week i have been captivated by Psalm 90. Both the psalm and the reading from Deuteronomy provide a focus on our mortality.
I love this insight from the 'Journey with Jesus' Website

"Life is difficult," wrote M. Scott Peck in one of the most famous first sentences ever (The Road Less Traveled). "This is a great truth," said Peck, "one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it."
           Psalm 90 conveys a sense of Weltschmerz, a feeling of melancholy, apathy, and world-weariness. The poem acknowledges the inherent futility to life, such that "we finish our years with a moan." Whether we live eighty, ninety, or even a hundred years, "yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, / for they quickly pass, and we fly away."
           We're all "fighting the long defeat," said Tolkien. And nobody gets a free pass.
           Despite the passage of time and the pain of life, the psalmist doesn't cave in to stoicism or despair. He prays to be a person of joy and gladness. "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, / that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. / Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, / for as many years as we have seen trouble."
           There's a delicate balance here between living in reality rather than denying it, and nonetheless trusting our little lives to God's greater providence. In his poem The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, the poet-farmer Wendell Berry thus advises:

"Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Which is number one?

Haiku of the essential

Some Pharisees came
to ask another question;
to test and trick him.

Which is the greatest?
Of all of God’s commandments
which is number one?

No hesitation.
Love the Lord with all your heart,
and your mind and soul.

But wait now, there’s more:
You have to love your neighbour
like you love yourself.

Forget all the rest,
live according to love’s rule!
Nothing else matters

Good answer, Jesus.
With love, grace and forgiveness
the world is transformed.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A coin trick.

"Doug Adams notes that when Jesus asks the Pharisees to produce a coin, they do so...
Even though a strictly pious Jew would never carry a coin bearing the emperor's image with an inscription proclaiming him to be king and God!

These presumed righteous citizens are thus carrying around coins that break two commandments! The behaviour of the Pharisees is incriminating,
embarrassing, and amusing, to say the least.

And certainly noted by all the ordinary people who have had to 'toe the line'!
Robert Funk suggested there is no indication that Jesus returned the coin to the Pharisees. According to Funk, as Jesus proclaims the punch line -"and (pay) God what belongs to God!" he pockets the coin and has the last laugh. (i really like that image)

There is a lesson from Jesus in humour and debating skills and some deeper meaning, Perhaps it is not guidance for taxation or political authority/

But it does raise the provocative and still relevant question:
What belongs to God? What belongs to the emperor?
And what if 'the emperor' is Mugabe, or school yard bullies, or global capitalism, or al Qaeda?

The issue here is not just about money, it is about obedience to the state. Sometimes the church has chosen to disobey the law of the state for a greater law. 
In this story Jesus is anything but stupid and knows, as we do in our hearts, that there are times when there is a conflict between what the state demands and what our faith tells us to do. What would Jesus do when this happens? We need only look again to the cross to see what happens to Jesus when the state demanded worship and Jesus would only obey the law of his God.

Perhaps we still need to ponder this story some more. Perhaps another take on this story is for us to really ponder what impact it has upon us, upon our church, to really know that all/everything belongs to God."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tell us then, what do you think?

Haiku for cutting through

Should we pay taxes
to the Emperor? they asked,
trying to catch him.

He can’t answer Yes;
but nor can he reply: No.
Both create problems.

They are hypocrites
and he tells them so. Show me
the coin for the tax.

A denarius.
Whose head is this, on the coin;
what is his title?

It’s the emperor!
Then give to Caesar those things
that belong to him.

And, while you’re at it,
give unto God all those things
that belong to God.

They make no reply.
Departing in amazement
they leave him; for now.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Spurning generosity

"The people on the king's A-list refused his extravagant generosity. They spurned an invitation to the most prestigious party in town.
           There's historical precedent for such erratic behavior. On October 30, 1918, King George V and Queen Mary summoned Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence to Buckingham Palace. Lawrence was only thirty years old. He thought the meeting was to map out the new boundaries for the Arabs whom he had helped to liberate from the Ottoman Empire.
           When he entered the palace ballroom, Lawrence saw the royal dignitaries, the costumed courtiers of medieval traditions, a small stool at the foot of the king's throne, and a velvet pillow on which there rested numerous medals. This was a rite of investiture.
           Lawrence was to kneel on the stool while the king draped him with a sash, decorated him with medals, tapped him on the shoulder with a sword, and recited an ancient oath. All to make Lawrence a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
           But instead of kneeling, Lawrence refused the honor. In almost 1,000 years of knighthood, nothing like this had ever happened. What should everyone do? A stunned King George and a furious Queen Mary watched as "Lawrence of Arabia" turned and walked out of Buckingham Palace. You could have pushed them over with a feather.
           It's hard to believe, and it doesn't make any sense, but some people refuse royal generosity."

the odor of sanctity

"There is almost nothing worse in the world than religious people who think they are holier or better or less sinful than other people. I love the limerick which says, “The power of hell is strongest when the odor of sanctity creates the smell.” Yes, the odor of sanctity does stink.
Martin Luther said a similar thing when he wrote:  “O Lord, deliver me from Christian churches with nothing but Christian saints in them. I want to remain in and be part of a church which is a little flock of faint-hearted people, weak people, who know and feel their sin, their poverty, their misery, and they believe in the forgiveness of God.” 
 That is what Luther wanted. Nothing about colorful programs. Nothing about great music. Nothing about great preaching. What Martin Luther wanted to be part of community which had faint hearted and weak people who know and feel their basic humanity. Luther wanted to be part of a real family, a Christian family, a small family that cared for each other.
I like the following definition of a church. “The church is somewhat like Noah’s ark. If it were not for the storm outside, you couldn’t stand the smell inside.” That is true. There is that smell to the church. The church stinks. This is what Jesus was talking about in our reading from Matthew today. Who are the ones who are invited to this wonderful party God is throwing? It is a bunch of ratbags from the streets. It is us.
The church is a family of imperfect people who help each other mature in love."

Monday, October 9, 2017

Like a wedding feast

Haiku for the hopeless.

Like a wedding feast;
the kingdom invitation
is there for us all.

Still one more story;
a parable to confound,
also to offend.

The king sends his slaves:
It’s time, come to the banquet!
Lots of excuses.

A second time: Come,
everything is ready now!
They make light of it.

The affronted king
declares them all unworthy,
decides to move on.

Go out to the streets
and, whoever you find there,
bring them to the feast.

Everyone came
and all were made most welcome,
both the good and bad.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Caring for the vineyard

The parable in some ways addresses the Jewish people and the way they had misused the trust put in them by God to take care of the world into which they had been placed. they had been placed in the position of caretakers. they had been given a position of trust and privilege and they had misused it.
           A strong parallel could be drawn between this situation and our modern world which God has created and placed in our care.
           But what does this say for us in our spiritual lives? What can be said from this parable that we can take away in a transforming, liberating way. Firstly, perhaps, that the sort of relationship that God wants to generate with us is one of trust and intimacy.

Perhaps secondly, we have reaffirmed that God is a god of passionate justice. Thirdly, that in our trusting relationship, we have let God down in terms of the environment, in terms of just relationships. In this story, we are called to be faithful, but we are also called to play the role of the messenger. We need to hear God’s disappointment about our relationship with our world and respond out of that to behave in a radical manner to take care of the vineyard that is on loan to us. Albert Schweitzer spent all his life exploring the meaning of a little phrase “reverence for life”. If  we explored this sufficiently then we would find our lives revolutionized. Perhaps we would be more moved to live a life of ecological sustainability.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Paying the rent.

Haiku for a new order

Parables abound,
and here’s another vineyard.
This one’s rented out.

Shades of Isaiah.
Fruitlessness still the problem,
but it’s not wild grapes.

This time the tenants
refuse to pay the due rent;
and with violence.

Slaves are beaten, killed.
Not even his son is spared.
What were they thinking?

The owner will come
and deal with these reprobates.
It won’t be pretty.

He will start again.
Other tenants will be found;
they’ll produce the fruit.

The rejected stone
becomes the one that is key;
how unexpected!

Religious leaders:
pay attention! It is you
who must give account.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

water from the rock

"... Today’s reading - the story of the water coming from the rock in the wilderness - is a case in point. Taken only as a one-off literal event, it has very little to say to us. Once upon a time, several thousand years ago, the Israelite people got thirsty and disgruntled in the desert and, on instruction from God, Moses whacked a rock with a stick and fresh water came gushing out and the people lived happily ever after. So what? Often we have done nothing more with such stories than make them some kind of test of faith - do you believe that this miracle literally happened? Well, whether I do or whether I don’t, what difference will it make to the shape of my discipleship tomorrow? I’m willing to believe that it happened, but I’m not likely to be part of a thirsty tribe in the desert any time soon, and even if I am, there is no promise here that the same thing would happen again. So what are we to do with it?

Now this story from Exodus, this story of the water coming from the rock is using some symbols to make a similar point. The truths about God and us which are evident in this story continue to be true and evident in many situations, and that we can therefore see things here which hold true for us.

Is it not true that the Israelite people can symbolise us today in our tendency to point the finger at the community leaders as soon as we feel dry and undernourished? And isn’t it true that the wellsprings of spiritual nurture are bubbling away underneath us but we are often oblivious to them? And isn’t it true that God is always ready to provide more than enough to sustain us, but that often fail to either expect God to do anything or to ask God to do anything? Christ is the rock whose wounding becomes a source of life and spiritual hope for us, and that too is part of a pattern of the way God acts.

This story reminds us that even when everything seems hard and dry and inhospitable, those seeds or springs of love and grace are there, perhaps hidden beneath the surface, but ready to break through if we will prayerfully listen for the voice of God and discern which rock God is calling us to knock on and crack open."

no safe answers

As we continue with the same-sex marriage debate i wonder if this reflection has something to say to us about how we listen and discern??
"Jesus hammers them, and insults their self-righteous religiosity by telling them that the prostitutes are entering God’s Kingdom before them.
Oh, that must have gotten their goat.
I like to think that if they had given an honest answer—even the wrong answer—that Jesus would have had compassion on them. Perhaps he would have gently set them right.
But, to seek first a “safe” answer, and then do the safest thing they could—give no answer at all—is a clear demonstration of their willingness to put their own self-preservation ahead of their pursuit of God and the Truth.
At least the prostitutes were honest…
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for searching for the middle way. I’m all for looking for gray in the midst of a world that so much prefers black-and-white.
But, people who pursue the Kingdom of God and the way of Jesus aren’t called to blurt out safe answers. Expedient answers. Popular answers.
Preaching the Good News, and living the Good News, and seeking the Kingdom, means sticking your neck out. Searching for the truth. Being wrong, and turning back onto the Way that leads to Life. It’s fumbling in the dark—looking into the glass darkly—but always seeking out the kind of Truth that brings healing, hope, redemption, and reconciliation."

Monday, September 25, 2017

Doing the Father's will.

Haiku for those who are called.

They came enquiring:
Who gave you authority
that you do these things?

He does not answer.
Was the Baptist sent from God?
he asks in return.

It is a stand-off.
They refuse to answer him;
he will not tell them.

Instead a story.
A father asks his two sons
to work the vineyard.

The first answers: No.
But later has second thoughts,
works among the vines.

The second says: Yes,
(to keep the old man quiet).
But he never fronts.

Which one, asks Jesus,
did the will of his father?
They reply: the first.

Stop your pretending!
How can you do what God wants
when you won’t listen?

The ratbag sinners,
who you dismiss as worthless,
believed what John said.

You still won’t believe.
These sinners go before you
into God’s kingdom.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Haiku of concern

Count them, two crazies.
Shrill voices, sabres rattle;
threatening us all.

Nuclear weapons;
these global obscenities.
There are no good guys.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

a matter of rights?

"The issue raises the matter of rights. These days it is common to ally the gospel with the demand for human rights. There is a sense in which this undersells the gospel. Our response to people is not to make sure they get their rights, but because they are people and that will often mean going beyond what, according to accepted norms, they have a right to claim. Love of this kind goes beyond human rights. It also assumes the worth of people, human dignity, need for shelter, sustenance, self determination and the like. Needs and rights are closely related and will often overlap, so affirming human rights belongs to caring for people according to their needs, but such caring does not stop there. The argument against human rights that we have no rights and deserve nothing from God sounds pious enough and has validity, but Jesus is trying to get us used to the idea that God is not playing the game of 'Look how good I am; you have no rights and I am generously giving you what you do not deserve! So worship me!' In Jesus we are learning that God is not working with a rights and deserts scale and making exceptions, but simply loving because that, not rights, is what is at the heart of God's being. If we persist in thinking of God in terms of God's rights, we will inevitably view all of life in terms of rights and miss the point of the gospel."

undermining our sense of privilege

"The subversive and easily overlooked purpose of this parable is to make us realize how deep our sense of entitlement exists (and if you wonder if this true, read ahead to James and John, Matthew 20:20-28). How our sense of privilege is operative in how we envision what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. How we have convinced ourselves that all, in equal measure, have indeed experienced the love and grace of God in their lives when in fact that is so very far from the truth. How quickly, easily, comfortably we settle in as the church chosen. Assuming we have the dominant theological voice. Supposing we are the ones blessed to carry on a manifestation of Christianity that, were we to go back and read the New Testament with any sense of honesty and dexterity, is unrecognizable.
The deep-seated, systemic, institutional reality of privilege, especially white-privilege, and more especially white-male-privilege continues to wreak havoc upon the basic principles of freedom and justice for all, but even more so these days, has allowed perpetuations of the Kingdom of Heaven with nary a Beatitude in sight.
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard does exactly what Jesus’ parables are meant to do. And the uncomfortable aspects of Jesus’ parables are exactly what need to be preached these days. Far too long, we have attempted to tame these parables, to fit them into the molds of our constructs of God, when in fact, the parables are meant to accomplish the opposite."

The first shall be last

Image result for cartoon the first shall be last

Monday, September 18, 2017

The politics of resentment.

Haiku of generosity

A new parable
to illustrate the kingdom,
turning things on end.

Vineyard labourers
hired in groups through the day;
get the harvest in.

Some worked twelve hours,
some laboured for only one.
Pay them what is fair.

The last are paid first.
They get a full day’s wages.
A happy surprise!

The twelve-hour workers
rub hands in expectation;
but get basic wage.

The grumble is great.
Quit whingeing says the vintner;
it’s what we agreed.

If I deal freely
with my money, that’s my choice;
why should you complain?

Others might get more
than they deserve, that’s all right.
Be happy for them.

This story disturbs,
offends our sense of justice.
Best to ignore it.

(We all take offence
when those who don’t deserve it
receive more than us.)

© Ken Rookes 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

perhaps a bit too close to the bone?

Ghandi on forgiveness


 My heart was heavy, for its trust had been 
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong; 
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men, 
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among 
The green mounds of the village burial-place; 
Where, pondering how all human love and hate 
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late, 
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face, 
And cold hands folded over a still heart, 
Pass the green threshold of our common grave, 
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart, 
Awed for myself, and pitying my race, 
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave, 
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

George William Russell

Look me in the eye

If you want a good example of  forgiveness then have a look at the first episode of  the new sbs series 'Look me in the Eye'. It had me in tears.
"Look Me In The Eye explores what happens when two estranged people come face to face - without conversation - to look each other in the eye. Hosted by Ray Martin, Australians from diverse backgrounds are genuinely looking to reconnect with someone in their life. This emotional and riveting series seeks to discover if eye contact alone can help bridge personal rifts, and reveals what happens when only eye contact is used as a form of communication between two people who are estranged. In this episode, former Sudanese child soldier Ayik tries to forgive his prison guard, Anyang."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Seventy-seven times.

Haiku for forgetting to keep score.

Peter came and asked:
How often must I forgive
my comrades in faith?

Would seven times do?
Not really, Jesus answered;
add seventy more.

Another story.
A king forgives a huge debt.
Well done, your highness!

The king shows pity,
his debtor is much relieved.
High fives all around!

Relieved and grateful,
the man will show like pity
to others, won’t he?

Quickly forgetting
the forgiveness he received,
he demands payment.

When you have known grace
how can you not live by grace?

We forgiven ones
are expected to forgive.
End of the story.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Grounding in love

In the passage from Matthew's gospel, Jesus has come down from the mountain after 
the transfiguration and has been teaching lessons that clarify or cast 
question on the Law and how it is enacted and what it really means. 
In the verses read this week, Jesus is teaching the proper ways to 
handle conflict among the disciples. He recognizes this is bound to 
happen. We don't know about your life, but there are about 15 
practical applications of this teaching in our life DAILY. Imagine 
reviewing this prior to staff meetings or visiting it at a family 
dinner once a week. These are practical guidelines - especially for 
groups working together in love. If we truly are living out the 
command to love one another, doesn't this set of guidelines help us 

And finally, in Paul's letter to the church at Rome, Paul has been 
teaching about authority and has turned to Love - not the love of self 
but a guiding love of "other," of the neighbor, that he understands 
should permeate our lives. He's providing guidance - the commandments 
he references all come down specifically to loving with selfless care 
and concern another person. 

We are where we are today because of the places from which we have come and the rituals and practices that have shaped us. 

God, help us as we attempt to 
focus our energies 
on loving 
and respecting 
each other 
while we 
the ways 
we have been 

© matt & laura norvell 2011 

It's about community

"As much as I may not like what feels like an inherent legalism in this pericope -- and, truth be told, in much of Matthew -- when I get over this bias and read the passage carefully I realize that Matthew's deep concern in this passage and in so many other places is community -- honest-to-goodness, authentic Christian community. And the two things I've discovered time and again about community is 1) we all say we want it and 2) we usually have no idea how difficult it is to come by.
Community, after all, is one of those feel-good words that draw us into idealisms -- we imagine a place where you're accepted for who you are, where you're never lonely, and where, of course, everyone knows your name. But the really difficult thing about community is that it's made up of people! And people -- not you and me, of course, but most people -- can be difficult, challenging, selfish, and unreliable. Which means that usually when we're daydreaming about community we're often prompted to do so because we don't particularly like the people -- i.e., the community! -- we're currently a part of.....
To get even more succinct, I'd put it this way: Authentic community is hard to come by. It's work. But it's worth it. Because when you find it, it's like discovering a little bit of heaven on earth; that is, it's like experiencing the reality of God's communal fellowship and existence in your midst. And, as Jesus promises, when you gather in this way -- with honesty and integrity, even when it's hard -- amazing things can happen because Jesus is with you, right there, in your very midst, forming and being formed by your communal sharing."

Monday, September 4, 2017

Be in agreement

Haiku of the disappointing

Sinners in the church!
How could it be otherwise?
Flawed humanity.

Work through your issues;
quietly if possible.
Maintain fellowship.

Try to practise grace,
forgiving one another.
Sort things out with love.

Rules are enacted
to limit bad behaviour;
love doesn’t need rules.

Accept correction
from your sisters and brothers
as a caring gift.

Agree together
on your Father’s purposes;
advance God’s kingdom.

Where two, three gather
in my name, to seek my will,
I am with them there.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Monday, August 28, 2017

Let them follow me.

Haiku for disciples

The ominous road
calls him to Jerusalem,
paved with suffering.

The elders and scribes
along with the Pharisees;
they will have their day.

And he will be killed.
Don’t say such things, said Peter.
This must not happen!

Move away, Peter.
Your concerns are human things;
they don’t come from God.

Jesus called his friends;
Be one of my followers,
carrying your cross.

In saving your life
you’ll lose it. Lose it for me;
and you will find it.

This is paradox.
Embrace its absurdity
and find your true life.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Friday, August 25, 2017

Who do you say that i am?

   And among the scholars? Some say he was a “peasant Jewish Cynic” 1,2 who offered “free healing” and “open commensality,” thereby spreading “religious and economic egalitarianism”.3 Others say that he was a “prophetic sage offering primarily counter-order wisdom,”4 or (and I like this one) that he was a “spirit person and mediator of the sacred”.5 Some don’t see the cynic/sage/wisdom figure Jesus but do see a “millenarian prophet” Jesus with a decidedly ascetic bent,6 while still others see Jesus in the line of the “classical hero” who patterns the heroic life for his followers.7 Finally, Wright sees a prophet whose “vocation” was to proclaim and embody the completion of Israel’s history, enacting “the return of YHWH to Zion” as king of the long promised kingdom.8
           It’s all very interesting—if sometimes confusing—and it matters. As N.T. Wright pointed out, “What you say about Jesus affects your entire worldview. If you see Jesus differently, everything changes.” Jesus' question, “Who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to take personally and seriously the possibility that maybe we need to see him differently. It is an invitation, as Robert Funk has suggested,9 to venture beyond the iconic Christs of popular culture, ecclesiastical hierarchies, and even scholarship, and allow ourselves to be confronted by Jesus of Nazareth.

           Jesus’ question is an invitation to take personally and seriously the necessity to stop taking refuge in the answers of others and answer for ourselves. It is an invitation to stand as existentially naked as we are able before the one in whom our existence takes on new meaning.

Monday, August 21, 2017

But who do you say that I am?

Haiku for answering

What do people say,
Jesus asked his followers;
Who’s the Son of Man?

Some say John the B,
Elijah, Jeremiah,
or other prophet.

Fair enough, he said.
But you mob, what do you say?
Tell me, who am I?

Simon Peter said,
You are the Christ, Messiah;
the living God’s Son.

Good answer, Peter!
This insight is not your own,
it’s from God above.

My good man, Rocky,
I’ll build my church upon you;
you’ll hold heaven’s keys.

What you bind on earth
will be so bound in heaven.
What you loose, as well.

And, by the way, guys,
that thing about Messiah;
keep it to yourselves.

© Ken Rookes 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The quality of mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

-William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice 4:1 (Portia)

the lesson of the syrophoenician woman

This, I think, is the great lesson of the Syrophoenician woman. It teaches us the dynamics of racism, of how even the best of humanity — the Incarnation himself — can get caught up in systems of oppression, in a culture of supremacy. As a good Jew, Jesus would have been reared to give thanks daily that he was born a Jew, not a Gentile, a man and not a woman. Jesus could not help but become entangled by such a sexist and racist snare.
Jesus, given his embedded culture, could not be colorblind. And neither can we.

But being caught in such evil, however, does not make one an overt racist. It is what happens in the moments afterwards that makes that determination. How we respond, when confronted with the narratives of the oppressed, reveal who we truly are. Do we continue to ignore or deny these realities of oppression? Mock them? Continue to brush them aside as dogs?

Or do we, like Jesus, do the miraculous and listen to them, be changed by the power of the truth of they are speaking?

When this woman, in boldness, confronts Jesus and his racist, sexist slur, Jesus listens, and hears. It is the only time recorded in the gospels in which Jesus changes his mind.

“But even the dogs get table scraps,” she replies, a complex response often required of the member of the “lesser race” who stands up to dismissive racism even while accepting its instituted, ugly, dehumanizing order.

Jesus is astounded, the holy wind knocked out of him. A moment before, she was but a dog to him. In the next, the scales fall from his eyes as he listens to her and sees her for what she truly is, a woman of great faith, a moral exemplar, his teacher.

Jesus does the most difficult thing for those of us born into the unfortunate privilege of dominance or prejudice.

He listens. And allows himself to be fundamentally changed.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Even the dogs

Weary from the crowds,
he slipped across the border for a break.
A holiday with a few close friends,
up north among the foreigners.
Different people, culture, food.
Best of all, no one knows him here.

The woman's love
has grown achingly to despair;
such is her daughter's illness.
Her dormant hopes quicken
when she learns the identity
of the stranger from the south.
Disregarding his request for privacy,
she intrudes, insisting that he intervene
to heal her child.

His response disappoints.
Wrong race, wrong religion.
The man offers a domestic metaphor to justify
his lack of compassion.
Sorry, I can't help;
the food is for the children, not the dogs.

It takes our breath away.

Suddenly we hear the shrill, cheering voices
of the xenophobes, islamophobes, flag wearers,
shock jocks and opportunistic politicians.

But the story continues;
this foreign woman does not know her place.
She accepts the racial calumny,
but, with impertinence,
throws the image back at the teacher:
Yes, but even the dogs . . .

Even the dogs.

The woman, he concedes, is correct.
There are no boundaries to love
except the ones we fashion from our fears.
The man accepts his lesson with grace,
and setting aside his weariness,
offers her the crumb.

© Ken Rookes 2017