New Blog Format
Welcome to my new blog format which I’d intended to introduce with blog 800 but couldn’t make up my mind what was best. Finally I’ve chosen a very plain typeface with a new header photo, which comes from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, and is a detail of the sculpture of the risen Christ by Michelangelo. It is one of my favourite things by the great artist. I hope regular followers enjoy the change and find that the list of archived blogs is also helpful. You can also check on previous material by theme or keyword using google search for emmock.com. As always I welcome comment from Christian and non-Christian equally.
I requested prayers for my youngest brother Rory who was getting a liver transplant. This was carried out a month ago in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. It has been completely successful, leaving us grateful to the donor, the hospital, all who prayed or sent good wishes and to the goodness of God. I make no apology for taking the chance to praise our National Health Service. This treatment is costed at £1m but was provided, as are all NHS treatments, free of charge. Nobody in Britain could purchase better treatment, no matter how rich they may be. I feel proud to be a citizen of a country that continues to charge all its citizens a proportionately equal premium for equally skillled treatment. Those who oppose such a scheme on the grounds that they want superior treatment to other citizens or that they don’t want to assist their poorer brothers and sisters are simply perpetuating inequalities that serve neither personal contentment or social cohesion.
This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Breivik sentenced: victims remembered
Prayer for Deliverance from Persecutors
A Maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A Prayer.
1 With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
2 I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit is faint, you know my way.
In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look on my right hand and see— there is no one who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.
5 I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’
6 Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low.
Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.
7 Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name.
The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.
The psalm is the prayer of a good person suffering a threat to his livelihood, or even his life. He has no one to defend him. In his great need he finds relief in pouring out his grief before God, expressing trust in the power of God to rescue him.
I want particularly to draw attention to the phrase “you are my portion in the land of the living.” Land had been divided out to families and tribes as part of the settlement of the land of promise. Here the psalmist makes use of a traditional phrase and gives it a new twist. God was said to be the “portion of Jacob” that is, the Israelites alone among nations inherited the duty of worship to God. Here a man whose right to land and life is threatened calls God “his portion in the land of the living”: God will be his livelihood and his dwelling. This is a passionate statement of trust which we should only make our own if our trust is as passionate. We often hedge our bets -praise the Lord and pass the ammunition-but when there is no ammunition, will we still praise the Lord?
The Conversion of Saul
9Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’5He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’7The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
It’s difficult to separate what Paul tells us about his life in his letters from what Luke tells us about him in his “second volume” The Acts of the Apostles. Luke was writing perhaps twenty five years after Paul’s death by which time he had a) become a legendary figure for a new generation of Christian believers, and b) a teacher whose lessons were more often revered than understood. Much of what Luke tells us can only with great difficulty be reconciled with what Paul tells us and with what modern scholarship has been able to reconstruct. Even the famous “missionary journeys” whose itineraries I had to memorise for Bible Class, may not have happened the way Luke describes them, nor was the author of The Acts (as he suggests) ever on a terrifying sea voyage with his hero. Luke is telling the story of Paul as part of his story about Messiah Jesus as a universal saviour. Through Paul, Jesus goes to the gentile world.
In the case of this famous narrative of conversion, we can note that Paul’s letters also confess his hatred and persecution of the assembly of Jesus Messiah. He tells his readers in Galatia that it pleased God to “reveal his Son in me.” but gives no details. Luke may have had other information, but his account shows his capacity for turning events into narrative theology, as we can note:
a) Paul is arrogant
b) He is tumbled from his high horse by a light from heaven
c) Jesus himself speaks to him, revealing that he is the object of Paul’s persecution
d) He is blinded because he has been willfully blind to the truth of Jesus Messiah
Whether events can really happen in such precise theological order, I don’t know, but the result of Luke’s story is an unforgettable image of a man sprawled on the ground as his whole lfe is turned round by the presence of the risen Jesus. It is the image of conversion with which I grew up and although I no longer demand that all conversion should be immediate, dramatic and once-for-all, I still find it helpful. As far as I’m concerned I’m still being converted and any road can be for me a road to Damascus. Especially when mounted on my own arrogance I ride out to cause hurt to someone I have judged, I hope to be brought down to the ground by some gracious intervention that asks me why I’m persecuting Jesus. We should be ready always to find our worldly journeys interrupted by grace so that we can learn the right way for our lives, as Paul did. T.S Eliot called this experience “the still point of the turning world/ the point of intersection of the timeless with time.”