You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
We make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover. It is the most important of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, commemorating as it does our freedom from slavery in Egypt. Yet this year we had a feeling that something might happen to upset things. And it did!
This Nazarene called Jesus had come to our village when he gave old Bartimaeus back his sight, which was a miracle! He seemed to be able to cure sick people, make the lame walk and even, it was said raise people from the dead. He was also well versed in the Scriptures; even the most learned Rabbi could not get the better of him when he pointed out where they were wrong in their interpretation of the law. In fact he brought it down to two simple statements; “Love God and love thy neighbour” he said. Everyone could understand that! He attracted a large following so that the chief priest and the other hierarchy saw him as a threat to their authority. Some of his followers said he was the “Anointed One” the Messiah. “Funny sort of Messiah”, I thought, when we saw him riding into Jerusalem on a donkey! But the crowds were happy waving palms and shouting Hosanna.
We went to the Temple to make our sacrifices as usual, queuing up at the moneychangers table. Shysters those blokes are, never give you a decent rate of exchange, always a bit in their favour! All of a sudden, in comes this Jesus chap flailing around with a whip driving out the sheep and cattle turning over the moneychangers tables – there were coins scattered all over the floor! He shouted to those men selling doves: “Get these out of here! Stop turning my father’s house into a market!” Well, that really got the priests going. I saw a group huddled together in a corner. “No good will come of this” I thought to myself. Yet, next morning he was back in the Temple courts preaching and people flocked to listen to him.
A day or so before the Passover I heard that he had been arrested and taken before the Roman governor. Apparently Pilate told the crowd that he could find no fault with him but what did they want him to do? It seems that the rabbis were prepared for this as they had some powerful backers who had paid the crowds to shout “Crucify him!” “Amazing what a few shekels in the right place will do!” I thought “What a change from a few days ago!” And so Pilate returned Jesus to the Jews and he was crucified. We went along to Calvary – I didn’t really want to go, the whole affair made me feel uncomfortable. He didn’t take long to die but when he did the veil that covered the Holy of Holies was torn down the middle.
You know, I think the centurion, got it right when he said “ Truly this man was the Son of God”
Recently the area secretary of our group rang to say he had been contacted by a visitor from Slovakia who would like to attend one of our meetings. Could we accommodate him? Of course we could. One problem, although he does drive he is not yet familiar with the area. Could someone collect him? As Jack lives not too far from him, I rang him and he readily agreed to bring Josef to our meeting. Josef is a young man, quietly spoken but with a good command of English – much better than my Slovak, anyway.
A day or so after the meeting Josef rang to say that he would like to discuss one or two things with me. Now, since I hardly knew him, it would be logical to meet at a local pub or cafe perhaps, somewhere neutral, but a small voice said “He is a stranger in this country. Why not invite him to your home for a meal?” And that is what I did. However, before he could take me up on my offer he called to say that his mother in Slovakia had been taken to hospital urgently as she had a blood cancer and naturally he needed to go home to be with her. The following morning that same small voice reminded me that he would probably leave his wife and family here and that I should give him my telephone numbers so that she could contact me if she needed help or simply someone to talk to, whilst he was away. Again I listened to the voice. Of course, inviting Josef into my home, offering him a meal and giving him my telephone number might seem a natural thing to do, simple acts of charity. Did I really need any prompting?
Yet God is the God of surprises and it never ceases to surprise me where He offers us the opportunity to do His work, even in outwardly simple acts of charity. Words of St Teresa of Avila come to mind: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
Nowadays, there seems so much to do and so little time to do it in; appointments, meetings, papers to write, people to see and why won’t the telephone stop ringing? At times like this it is often difficult to find time to pray, to listen to that small still voice. Yet it is essential that we do so since otherwise we may miss the opportunity to do His work.
What is God calling you to do for Him today? Have you asked Him? Have you listened to his reply?
On Sunday Josef rang. His two year old daughter has been rushed to hospital with a temperature of 40 degrees. Please pray for her.
Sunday’s Gospel reading came from St John’s Gospel; the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14). Later he would preach and feed 4000 on the Gentile side of the lake. Both are familiar stories, but ask yourself, what exactly was the miracle that Jesus performed? Did He multiply the loaves and fishes that the boy gave to Andrew so that there was enough for everyone in the community gathered there to eat? Or was the miracle what He taught them? In other words were they fed by the spiritual bread of His teaching? After all: ‘Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ Matthew 4:4 (NIV).
The boy would have been a poor peasant yet he offered all he had, his only meal of the day to Jesus; and Jesus used it to feed the community. I would like to think that the boy’s charitable action encouraged others to share their food so that all ate that day. Maybe that made some who were thinking of leaving in the community stay or perhaps it encouraged others to join them. Was that the miracle?
Now, I don’t think miracles are time limited since in all the prisoner’s witness statements I have read in Prison Hope each of them was drawn into, led into, a Christian community, by some one person. It may have been through a prison Bible Study group or an Alpha course but it led them to a Christian church on their release. Here is where Jesus’ feeding of the four thousand is relevant for the gift we celebrate receiving at Easter is a gift for all. It is a gift of compassion so freely given to the whole community of men and women throughout the world. It is not just for the “holy” the “elite”, those who attend church regularly every Sunday. Jesus died and was raised from the dead for the great unwashed of the world just as much as for the saintly. Let us thank God for that but let us also remember that as with the prisoners, someone has to lead the unbeliever to Christ. And that is the task that Jesus gives to you and to me. Don’t worry He will walk with you to support and to guide you.
I would like to think that the act of charity shown by that small boy in offering his meagre meal to Jesus for the benefit of so many would inspire us in our endeavours; to devote our lives to God as he did.
So the question then is this. Can you freely accept Jesus’ invitation to change in your life this Lent and help others do so?
Let us pray: May that young boy’s act of charity guide me to live not simply for myself but for all those in need. May my life and actions bring others to Christ today. Amen
This week I want to continue the theme of Hope as we progress on our Lenten journey.
Reading the prisoners stories in Prison Hope, the book that the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have recommended as the Lent course for 2018, I have been struck by the number of times prisoners have wanted to change their lives, have called out to ‘something’ or ‘someone’ in the night, yet their cries do not seem to have been answered. Or maybe they have met up with old mates whose lives have been changed by meeting Jesus and the offender says to himself: “I could do with some of that!” But nothing in their life changes.
In his Gospel Luke tells the story of Jesus on His way to Jericho being stopped by a blind man. Jesus asks him: ‘‘‘What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied’. Luke 18:41(NIV). Now, you might expect this to be the most natural reaction of a blind man, but dig a bit deeper. All his life he had relied on others. Once he received his sight he would have to fend for himself, get a job, a house, and take on responsibilities for himself. Not something to be entered on lightly. He would need to have considered all his options; to really want his sight back, with all that that entailed, to be prepared for the new life offered by Jesus.
Perhaps the answer then is that the offender was not ready, not prepared to take on those responsibilities; the drink or drugs was an easier way out. Drunk or drugged he would not be able to think about, let alone take on, any responsibility for himself or his family. Yet in each of the stories the prisoner finally realises that things cannot go on in this way so that, usually with the help of another person, they have made a commitment to change their life by calling on Jesus for His help. And He was there ready and willing to welcome them and to walk with them.
So what about you? Are you ready to call upon Jesus to change your life? The Gospel reading for the third week of Lent tells of Jesus clearing the Temple Courts. He said: ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ John 2:16 (NIV). In the same way let us use these last few weeks of Lent to clear our lives of the distractions that keep us from God. Let us prepare ourselves, to be ready to receive His gift of a new life in Christ. And remember we are not alone in this for as Paul said in his letter to Timothy: ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.’ 1 Timothy 1:15(NIV).
If Paul felt that then there is hope for each of us!
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years