bible blog 1433

The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass and the headlines are chosen to remind me of the world today.


Psalm 87:10-15

Let my prayer come into your presence, O Lord.

I call to you, Lord, all the day long;
to you I stretch out my hands.
Will you work your wonders for the dead?
Will the shades stand and praise you?

Let my prayer come into your presence, O Lord.

Will your love be told in the grave
or your faithfulness among the dead?
Will your wonders be known in the dark
or your justice in the land of oblivion?

Let my prayer come into your presence, O Lord.

As for me, Lord, I call to you for help:
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face?

Let my prayer come into your presence, O Lord.

The classic answer of Judaism to the anguished questions of the Psalmist is, “No. There is nothing beyond death.” Before Christians advance their own different faith, it’s worth dwelling on the seriousness of this answer. God is the God of all generations, who provides for mortal humanity a link with the past (God of Abraham) and the future  (God of children’s children). God blesses the present generation for the sake of the past and future generations for the sake of the present. But the grave is the end of individual life. This can give an ultimate importance to the span of life (to see the goodness of God in the land of the living); but it can also be viewed as depriving it of any significance (generations come and go but the earth remains for ever). Both of these insights have led to profound philosophies of life- the urgent practical communalism of Judaism on the one hand, and the sceptical wisdom of ancient Cynicism on the other.

tombThe question, “Will your love be told in the grave” is nevertheless a provocation for Christian believers to express their faith in resurrection. Belief in the risen Jesus is precisely the conviction that God’s love is spoken in the grave. But it must never be used to devalue this life or to make its injustices bearable. It is rather that the energies of resurrection are made available in this life giving depth to its joys and hope that its sorrows may be overcome and the tears wiped away. Those who have lost their fear of death can tackle the problems of life with untramelled gusto.

Luke 9:57-62

As Jesus and his disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’
Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

I have blogged before on this passage, imagining what Jesus’ PR people would have been telling him about these off-putting remarks, which wouldn’t have gome down well with his TV sponsors. “We need more positivity, Jesus,” they tell him. Jesus by contrast is quite sure he doesn’t need fair -weather friends who join him because he’s a celebrity. As Son of Man, Jesus is the representative leader of the “holy ones of God” (Daniel 7), but this gives him no favours. He and his followers will have no mansions in this world. “If you really mean to follow why have you not already buried your father or said goodbye to your family?” is what Jesus was asking, and his rough dismissal of family values would have further concerned his PR people.

All the expensive trappings of modern evangelism and its well-rehearsed routines are absent from Jesus’ ministry. He assures people that God is near to them and accepts them, but they have to want what God is offering, which includes unpopularity and suffering as part of an abundant life.

...follow me!

…follow me!

Churches which are experiencing a decline in membership and are looking at methods of evangelism, should reflect on passages like this. Jesus is clear about what discipleship involves and says, in effect, “Take it or leave it.”  Churches who adopted this strategy might save a lot of fruitfless programmes of outreach.People don’t volunteer for voluntary service in their own land or abroad because of sophisticated persuasion: they want the effort, the inconvenience and in some cases, the danger, because they believe they are doing some good.That seems nearer to the discipleship Jesus offered than “church membership” often is.

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