Lake Hart, SA, 2016

One Man's Web

Chapter 25 continues Matthew's tantalising and breathtaking invitation to a new way of being. I sense we are being invited to a radically different vision of reality, but I struggle to construct for myself a neat summation of what this chapter, and especially what the vision of the nations as sheep, or as horrified and confounded goats, may say to us. This does not surprise me, for in these stories we are not dealing with intellectual ideas which can be discussed dispassionately. These stories are portals—doors for entering into rather than for grasping the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension—portals to which the whole gospel so far, has been leading us. We are not being invited to see things differently so much as we are being invited into a new reality.

This post explores the entering of this new reality, and why it sometimes seems so hard and counter intuitive. In many ways this post is more about a way of reading the text than a detailed exploration of the text itself... Read on >>>>

15-TheBikeI've wanted to do a loop through Blinman for some time. It went wrong in February this year when my back wheel began to die mid-trip. This trip was the follow up... 988km over four days. Read on >>>>


From the text...

What we often take as a trick question about the Messiah was really a question about love and neighbour, and implied a great change from the common expectation of a conquering Messiah. How can you love God as a military conqueror!?  And so the text says "No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions."  This was not because they'd been vanquished in an argument, but because they had been given an insight that turned everything on its head. It was a time for reconsidering everything.

Like those Pharisees, we all walk away from the inspiration of God. We all need time to unpack. We all have moments like Jim Trott in the Vicar of Dibley… when, after lots of No, we say Yes.  

Except sometimes we never say… Yes. A deep-seated fear of the cost of the great commandment blinds us to its simplicity and to its grace— to the life it gives us—  and we refuse it. Or perhaps it is more true to say we seek to defuse it by limiting its reach into our life and behaviour. 

[The Pharisees] goal was to "make a fence for the law"—in others words, to protect it from infringement by surrounding it with specific rules of interpretation and application to daily life. Their original purpose was admirable, to enhance inward faithfulness to the law in daily life. Alyce McKenzie

But the real fence is the protection of me from what I know, without knowing, to be the cost of loving my neighbour as myself. It is a fence of fear. All the rules, all the keeping of doctrine, all the being morally pure, is about keeping me safe... Read on >>>>

Somewhere in the last week before a big ride, there is a change. Everything begins to focus in on the ride. The future is all ride; everything else can wait.

Today is that day. There will be no time to prepare anything after tonight. Work still needs attention, and relationships still have to work, so all the gear needs to be packed with only some perishable food ready to pack in when I get home on the last evening. I'll drive to work on Wednesday, and leave before dawn on Thursday.

And today the mind is playing and replaying scenarios for what may come. It's a focussing and calming process. A trip like this is not without risks, even though I can mostly avoid the three major highways which run up through South Australia. Indeed, isolation is as much a danger as traffic. You could fall asleep and ride into a ditch and be invisible from the road.

The weather is warming. Spring winds are variable, and there is no sense that we're anywhere near the calmer days of summer. It's still a day or two early to guess the wind, but today's slam a car door out of your hand, dust whipping winds, are a reminder of what may be in store. The first day is, on paper, a 19 hour push north to set the trip up for some milestone targets. But this wind could make it an exhausting 30 hour slog and make finishing the only priority. The same wind, in the opposite direction, could take the first day back to 16 hours and leave a rider much fresher.  I wait to see.

It's will only just be November, but last November I woke shivering at 10 degrees and rode through 41 degrees later in the day. Heat and cold were equally debilitating, and altered my plans. And rain is forecast. Not much yet, but I'm covering a 400 by 100 km slab of the state, so I can't risk being without wet weather gear. Coming home tired without waterproofs could stop everything.

I wait… and try not to irritate my wife too much with my distraction! (October 29 2017)  

(Archive here)

One of the readers of my Sunday sermon gifted me with another of his occasional, and always perceptive, comments.

As you've defined it, 'Caesarism' infects every part of society, and me as well…. So we have to figure out how we deal with these systems and institutions around us … How do we give them what is theirs— [he's talking about giving Caesar that which is Caesar's] —   including advice and opposition, even as we keep them in being …  And how do we repent of our own lumping folk together and wishing them ill (which I do!)? (Bill Schlesinger)

We could rephrase Bill's question in the words of this week's lectionary, "But how do we love our neighbour as our self?"  Read on >>>>

What's happening in this confrontation in the temple?  Well…

if Jesus says it is wrong to pay taxes to Caesar, he can be charged with inciting insurrection— the Pharisees even brought some government stooges along just in case he did! (That's the Herodians.)

But of course if Jesus says you should pay taxes to Caesar… then all the religious folks will be upset because… well, that means he's saying that God is not God, but that Caesar is more important. And then the Pharisees can say (only not when the Herodians are around) that you should only give money to God so, clearly then, you shouldn't listen to this Jesus, because he thinks you should pay taxes to Caesar.

It's a very clever setup. But Jesus outsmarts them. He says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." So the Herodians can't complain. But then he says, "And give to God what is God's." So, neither can the Pharisees complain, because that's actually what they think, and what they want him to say.

But…  …   have you ever been somewhere when someone tells a joke and then, after a second or two there's a single laugh as it dawns on somebody what the person really said… and then, a couple more laughs, and then… slowly, as people cotton on, everyone starts laughing?

Well, something like that is happening here. Slowly, everyone starts to smile as they get the joke. Everything belongs to God so… what is there to give to Caesar?

And by that time, even if the government agents want to find fault with Jesus, it's too late. The crowd is on Jesus' side.... Read on >>>


A little bit of climbing to sharpen up! Read on >>>>

How can I give Caesar what is Caesar's when everything is God’s?

The conversations which began in the Temple in Chapter 21 continue. Jesus still has the numbers, so the Pharisees are still afraid of the crowd and cannot move against him. They can only seek to sway opinion; that is, to entrap him.  (Matthew 21:26, 22:15) On this occasion, even though his clever answer is clearly against Caesar, Jesus "dodges among the powers," (Loader) and they cannot move against him because their own hypocrisy is exposed. They are amazed not so much at the content of the answer, but at the way he has still kept opinion on his side, and that he still has the numbers.

 So if we think the Pharisees are defeated by his argument, we have trivialised the incident into some kind of verbal one-upmanship, and are blind to the fact that they got exactly what they wanted: he told them he was against Caesar. But he also exposed their hypocrisy for bringing idolatrous coinage into the temple, and for implying, in the temple, that Caesar might have a claim to authority.

… in the ancient world there was no concept of a separation of civic and religious life. There was no way to even express that in language. (Rick Morely)... Read on >>>>

There's a member of my bible study who will be disgusted by this reading. I can hear her now: "How can this be God? This is a tyrant. He is merciless. He is no different to any other king." And I join her in this protest.

Indeed, this king is a man bound up in human categories of honour, and shame, and violence. If this is God, then this God should be resisted. If this is God, then God is simply to swap a Herod for a Stalin. The gospel has done its work on us if we are revolted by this king. Perhaps that is enough.

So why do we make this king out to be like God? Perhaps it is because the son of a king is killed, and we are reading back from the crucifixion, imaging that God is vengeful and filled with rage like us, when things don't go his way. We like to think of God as a king— after all, he speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Actually, this is the only interpretation of this parable that I met for most of my life. Leaving it means to find a whole new way of seeing things.

If Jesus thought God was like this, I wonder if Jesus is worth following. For this Jesus is in such contrast to the one who teaches and acts out love that he is unbelievable! How could one so loving believe such violence was defensible? If Jesus was thinking like this I wonder if he is simply one more tyrant with an iron fist who wears the velvet glove when it suits him, and claims a divine justification for his actions.

Could it be possible that Matthew has a problem with violence, that Matthew did not "get it?" After all, the violence is absent in Luke's telling of this parable. (Luke 14:15-24) Was Matthew still growing in his understanding of Jesus? This is the only way to rescue the parable as something in which the king is some kind of representation of God and in which there is yet some good news.... There might be a simpler way in all this ... And that is simply to abandon the idea that the parable is allegorical; that is, God is not being compared in any way to the king in the story, but is being contrasted... Read on >>>>

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