Pilate is documented in the bible, and other historical documents as someone who did things that irritated the local Jewish population. Today’s reading connects with one such story, when a group of Galilean pilgrims offering sacrifices in the temple had been slaughtered in the temple by Pilates troops. Human blood mixed with the blood of animal sacrifices that were so central to Jewish worship – the Temple itself was meant to be a spiritual place of worship – and Pilate had polluted and desecrated it.
It’s a gruesome event of history that might leave us wondering how on earth a human in a position of power and resposibility can be so inhumane. But the question Jesus is asked about this event is perhaps just as worrying. ‘Have these Galileans suffered like this because they were worse sinners than other Galileans?’.
There is a danger we all face, as Christian people to think of ourselves as holier than others. As less tainted by sin. History tells us the church has done much damage to itself by having an attitude of looking down its nose at other people, and too often it has resulted in people feeling rejected by the very community in the world they should have discovered a welcome.
Jesus responds with a parable of a fig tree that bore no fruit. The owner of the tree thinks it should be cut down, but the gardener, who knows about these things, says wait a little longer, I’ll give it some nurture and care, and let us see what happens next year.
The parable teaches us that we should never give up on the hope that someone might bear fruit by repenting and turning to Christ. We are called not to be judge of others, but to nurture and care for all the trees in the orchard that is our community, with the conviction that there is always hope for everyone to discover the truth of God’s saving grace.
Follow Up: Who is there in the circles of your life who you long to see discover Jesus for themselves. Make a list of their names and pray for them daily.
Today’s reflection is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
I saw Jesus. I knew it was him, but he looked different: his face a ball of white light, his clothes so dazzlingly white that it hurt my eyes to look at them and I shielded them with my arm (dreams can seem so real sometimes).
Then I saw the other figures, two of them, and they were talking to him. It seems strange, but I knew straight away who they were: Moses and Elijah. They were all in white, all three of them enveloped in this amazing light, brighter than the sun.
And they were talking with Jesus, like they knew him already, like it was something they did everyday. But it was more than that: Jesus was at the centre of the three; he was the greatest of them. I thought a lot about that later: imagine it, the Jesus we’d walked with, eaten with, spent so much time with: greater than the greatest of our prophets.
And suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming, that this was real. It felt like somehow I’d slipped into another world. And I was terrified. Typically for me, I started gabbling, blurting out anything that came into my head, trying to make the situation seem normal: some nonsense about building shelters for them, James told me afterwards.
Then it got scarier: we were caught up in the cloud, James and John and I. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought it was going to burst and I was quaking all over. If I was going to die, to be struck down because I was unworthy to be in the presence of God himself, I wanted it to happen quickly. And painlessly.
Instead we heard a voice: it seemed all around us, loud and booming, yet it also spoke quietly as a whisper into our ears: ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ I fell at Jesus’ feet and when I got up, the cloud had gone and we were alone with him.
He didn’t give us any explanation: just told us not to say anything to the others, to anyone, until he was raised from the dead. We didn’t understand what he meant then – it only made sense a long time afterwards.
James, John and I didn’t talk about it much among ourselves. I think we were all trying to work out what it meant, but we couldn’t quite get there. I only knew that I’d had my confirmation: this man Jesus, my friend and teacher, he was the Christ, the Son of God: he’d come at last!
Follow Up: How do you see Jesus today?
Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
The idea of being in a crowd pressing in on one another is one we will not have countenanced over the last couple years. But think back to the last time you crowded into a concert hall, rock concert, theatre or cinema. Bodies close together, all anticipating the experience you have come to witness. Your eagerness to hear and see leads you to adjust your head position to get the best view.
The crowd was not pressing in to get into the mosh pit. We are not told they were competing and tussling to get the best view. We are told they were pressing in because they were ‘eager to hear the word of God’ (v1).
What does your eagerness to hear the word of God lead you to do? How do you seek to listen to Jesus? Where has hearing from Jesus lead you to experience transformation?
In Jesus, his life, his words, his attitude and example, we meet and experience the goodness, grace and glory of God. Oh how eager we should be to encounter Jesus today! Whether in a crowd, where a few are gathered, or on our own – let us all position ourselves day by day to press in, and encounter Jesus.
Follow up: Take some time this week to read the rest of Luke 5. As you read, be eager to hear; how is God speaking to you day by day this week through these words of scripture?
Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
This week’s lectionary gospel reading comes from John 2, where we read of John’s first account of a Jesus-miracle; water turned to wine.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5
His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6 Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it.
9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’
11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
It was normal in those days that the best wine would be served first, then once everyone was a bit drunk the ‘not-best’ wine could come out and no one would be any the wiser because they were already a bit drunk anyway. So the idea that the best wine had been saved till last ran counter to the cultural norms of hospitality. It was absurd to think that the best had been saved till last.
I wonder if this is the metaphor John was using when he placed the story of this Jesus-miracle where he did in his gospel. Pointing out to the reader that after many centuries of God providing for the people he calls his, now the next chapter is unfolding, and it is the best bit.
But interestingly, John also tells of mother Mary’s role in this miracle. Jesus is pushed on by his mother to make this miracle happen. Who might God be speaking to you through today, pushing you on to fulfil Gods plan for your life?
Follow up: Reflect on how God has spoken to you through others in your life. give thanks to God for them.
Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
For the last couple years we’ve had a Family Joy Jar. The intention is to write something down that has given us joy each day throughout the year, and then at the end of the year we open it up and read them together.
Last week when we opened our joys from 2021 it was a joyful time, reminded of many moments of joy we had as a family that we would otherwise have forgotten about.
Through our Family Joy Jar, God has encouraged me to begin 2022 by choosing joy. There is so much rubbish around us at the moment, the pandemic rages on, the refugee crisis continues, the cost of living crisis looms ever larger, our UK government is appearing more and more lawless by the day. it is so easy to end up frustrated, angry, disappointed and feel joy-less.
So I am starting 2022 seeking to choose joy. To mark every day by finding at least one thing to be joyful about – and the more days that go by, the easier it is to find it. It is as if, in choosing joy, I find joy.
Sharing some of this with our prayer group last week, we spent some time prayerfully reflecting on moments of joy in our lives. It was so uplifting and encouraging to hear each other sharing our stories of joy.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Every day is a day God has made. A gift God has given to us. So let us rejoice in this gift. let us chose joy and praise our maker.
I encourage you to choose joy today.
If it helps you, take some time to play the worship song below, and as you do, make a note of your own moments of joy .
A personal reflection on Advent, where I find myself in Minsitry and Gabriel’s words, Do not be afraid’ – with thanks to Tim Lea’s video ‘No to Fear’.
The angel said to Mary, ‘Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God.
I took up running earlier in the Autumn. In was loving getting out first thing in the morning and jogging along as dawn began to break. I managed to capture some of those moments in photo’s – but often they photo’s didn’t do justice to the moments – just as the cover photo above demonstrates! it is hard to capture the dawn on a phone camera because light is sparse, and the conditions of the day still uncertain.
Then I got a cold, and the weather turned colder, wetting, darker, and I gave up – but I keep telling myself I will try again in Spring when the conditions are better.
As I joruney through advent 2021, I am finding the conditions around me really challenging. The pandemic began 18 months after I began ministry here on the Sussex Coast and now 22 months later the pandemic is still with us. I think sometimes we forget how much of an upheaval the pandemic has been, turning every aspect of our lives upside down, and challenging every assumption of what normal means.
In ministry right now there are many pressures around us and among us. There are practical uncertainties. There are quesitons about what activity to resume, and how to do it. There are questions about whether the conditions around are right to do something new, or additional, or to resume something else.
And all that comes within a culture that recognises the decline of the church in the UK and a sense of urgency that we must seek growth, numerically and spiritually.
I’m finding this period the hardest of all the periods of the pandemic so far. This seemingly endless period of of tentative, anxious, uncertain emergence from lockdown and transition to work out how to ‘live with covid’ when we don’t know how to do that well yet is exhausting, and draining let alone factoring in the advent of Omicron and all the anxieties about the future of the church.
I’ve been feeling this for a while, but only more recently begun to make sense of it enough that I can begin to articulate it – largely because last week I actually did have the quarter days I had put in my diary – rather than let other expectations and demands crowd out the space.
Then at the end of last week God has encouraged me through a Fuelcast Video that reflected on Gabriel’s words: ‘Do not be afraid’. I encourage you to watch it if you can by clicking this link
‘Do not be afraid’ – the opposite of this is to fear. I’ve realised that all the conditions of ministry I’ve mentioned above have been feeding a sense of fear within me. In the video Tim suggests fear can kill faith & stifle holy creativity because our eyes become focused on the circumstances we find ourselves in, rather than on Jesus.
That has lead me to think again about Sabbath, divine and holy rest, offering space for contemplation, basking in God’s presence & opportunity for healing and wholeness. I’ve been pondering whether my focus should be more heavily on rest, on my being, on our wellness – rather than on activity and concerns about the future.
That seems ironic given we’re in December and I have a whole host of Christmas activities to plan for!
But as the video reminds us – God’ timing is perfect and will bring things forth at the right moment – if we are making space for God – and we do that through pausing, resting, Sabbath-ing.
Advent is a season of waiting that quite often the church pays some level of lip service to in it’s drive to make the most of the opportunties for mission and outreach. And as admirable as that may be, I wonder whether our desperate rush to get to Christmas means we skip Advent’s spiritual reminder that time is God’s. That just as God’s people both patiently and impatiently waited for Emmanuel, God’s moment came.
Perhaps we need to focus more heavily on rest, on recover, on being compassionate to ourselves, each other, to the church – to allow ourselves space to turn from fear to faithfulness, and trust that God’s moment will come.
Last week we began exploring the ending(s) to John’s gospel with its first ending (John 20:19-31). The disciples are gathered in a locked room together, surrounded by anxiety, fear and uncertainty, and into that space Jesus appears and offers them peace and breathes Spirit upon them, to encourage them and continue to teach them more of the story, to help sustain them as they keep on believing.
Now into chapter 21, the start of the second ending to the gospel, some of the disciples are gathered again, not in a room, but on the shore of Galilee. Peter says, ‘I’m going to fish’, and the others who are with him say they will come too.
Peter, and many of the others, were fisherman. So going to fish was familiar to them, and perhaps, after 3 years following Jesus, had become something of a past-time. Sometimes this moment can be described as the disciples going back to old ways, perhaps even turning their back on Jesus’ call to them to fish for people, and instead fishing for, well, fish.
Fishing: Life-giving fun
There can be merit for us in reflecting on that interpretation, but I’m not sure that’s the only way to hear the story. I wonder if Peter and his friends are not do much going back to old ways, but going off to spend time looking after their wellbeing. Why? Because I think we could quite equally read and hear the story as one about a group of friends going off to spend time doing something from their past that they love, enjoy and in the past found life-giving.
But yet, they have a bad night, this band of friends, and catch nothing.
As dawn comes, a voice comes from the shore – ‘children, you’ve not got anything to eat have you?’
‘No’, comes the reply.
‘cast on the right side of the boat’ says the stranger.
And so they do, and FISH! – the nets are bursting.
And Peter dives into the lake – for ‘It is the Lord’.
Once the rest of the disciples manged to drag the net of fish ashore, Jesus has a fire going, and says ‘bring your fish, let’s have breakfast together’.
and so they spend time together, in dawns morning light.
My Paraphrase, see John 21:1-14 for the full story
Fishing: A Children’s game
I love the fact Jesus, intially as a stranger to them, calls children to them. They weren’t children as we would see them, they were probably young adults by all accounts, but I love this image it leaves me with of someone standing on the shore, watching a group of friends playing around like children, having fun fishing together, despite the fact they’d not yet caught anything.
But then, with a bit of encouragement from this stranger, the disicples are blessed with nets a-bursting, and their fun and games bear fruit.
Fishing: Jesus in our everyday
I reckon this story demonstrates to us just how interested Jesus is in us, in our wellbeing, and our every day. Jesus blesses his friends with direction to get a bumper catch after a long and relaxing night as friends on the lake, doing something they love and enjoy.
Then what happens? Jesus invites them to bring what they have, and to share breakfast together. To enjoy the fruits of their leisure. There’s no teaching here, no lesson to learn, no parable told. Jesus just spends time with them, enjoying a meal together as the sun breaks on the shore.
For the disciples, their life-giving, enjoyable, fun-time-together activity was fishing, and Jesus was with them as they did so, enjoying its fruitfulness with them. What’s your ‘fishing’? What is life-giving for you? What fun is Jesus enjoying the fruitfulness of, with you?
This week is Palm Sunday, so named after the palm branches people picked up from the ground or cut from trees to wave and shout with triumph as Jesus’ rode on a donkey and entered the city of Jerusalem.
But this week my mind has been as much on the Christmas story as it has been on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Why? Well, last Sunday was Census day here in England and Wales. And as I filled in my census, I was reminded that according to Luke’s gospel it was a census called by Emperor Augustus that led to Mary and Joseph taking a journey from Nazareth in the north, the Bethlehem in the south to register. (Luke 2)
There is no mention of a donkey in Luke’s gospel, but it is perhaps a faux-pas that is helpful for us today – linking these two journeys – Christmas and Palm Sunday – together for us.
You see, I was thinking about how the call for a census, in some way, can be seen as the people in power using that power to play God – by seeking to know who is who. For Joseph and Mary it was the first census, the first time people had been asked to ‘register’. By registering, the ruling powers now knew who was who, and perhaps even where they were – certainly, because the people had to go to their hometown, where they had come from was now known.
Living in 21st Century we’re quite used to other people having details about us. Type “Dan Balsdon” into a Google search and it will soon tell you much about me!
But up to this point in history to be known was not something that would be seen in the same way. You might be known by your local community, a few traders in other places perhaps, family if they lived elsewhere, and for the faithful – by God. The idea of being registered in a society or country was not normative.
The opening line of Psalm 139 hold much more significance when we recognise that to be known had a very different emphasis and meaning before that first census.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)
And so I wonder, given all of time and space, why God chose this moment, when a census was to be taken that would make the unknown known, that would change the societal and economic map, that would have an impact on the dynamics of power for the future, as the time for the Word to be made flesh and dwell amongst us. (John 1)
30 or so years on, Jesus journeys on a Donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Depending on which gospel account you read there are palms waved (though not in Luke’s account) and cloaks laid on the ground (but not in John’s account). And it is commonly titled something along the lines of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
But actually, it’s not the triumphal entry we might expect. The moment is once again a particular one, because as Jesus entered Jerusalem by the east gate, Pilate was entering by the west, in full military procession, with soldiers in armour and sword, probably horses and chariots.
Jesus’ entry is distinctive and different, almost to the point of comedy. Instead of swords there are tree branches. Instead of soldiers in clothed armour, people de-clothed and laid them down on the ground. Instead of horse and chariot, there are disorganised crowds and Jesus rides a donkey.
Jesus is playing with power by subverting expectations – saying ‘I’ll be king, I’ve be a Saviour, but not the king or Saviour anyone will expect – just you watch’.
Jesus had been challenging power in many ways for many months, and it finally comes to a head in Jerusalem, where Jesus is arrested, put on trial and crucified. But while Jesus can be said to be playing with power, he was not playing with God. Jesus was God.
For mere days later – what happens – well, spoiler alert – Jesus’ shows the true power of God – and is raised to life again. Much to the surprise of everyone!
While the sort of society we live in today is a far cry from that of Jesus day, Jesus’ call continues to us, to pick up our palms and challenge misuse of power, to challenge institutions and regimes that play God, and put our one true God who truly knows us for who we are, beautiful and wonderful beings made in God’s image, with capacity to love and do amazing things, at the centre of our very being.
So friends, what palm are you going to pick up and wave today?