Pilate is documented in the bible, and other historical documents as someone who did things that irritated the local Jewish population.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.
In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I think about a time I felt vulnerable and our own being faced with vulnerability as Covid-19 continues to present such a real threat to humanity.
Around this time of year 14 years ago, aged 14 I got gastroenteritis and stayed of school for a week. it was the first time in my life I’d missed school for so long, and it happened that it meant I missed the long awaited auditions for the School’s next show.
In November 2006, the school was to perform Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Having not been in any previous shows, I was hoping I might get a part, and was disappointed I was too ill to audition. The next week, I went back to school and had settled that I’d miss out but to my surprise, despite missing auditions, the drama teachers allowed me to audition late, and by the end of the week I had not only got a part… I’d got the main part. I was going to play Joseph. My friends joked saying it was because I was the only year 10 who could still hit high notes.
We began rehearsals, had the summer holidays and then got back to it as term recommenced in September, and so did costume making. I’d not given costume any thought until suddenly I was presented with a gold belt and a white piece of fabric, about a foot deep and 4 feet long and told here’s your costume.
To this now just turned 15 year old, who had only just hit puberty, wasn’t the fittest, wasn’t the most attractive, and was a regular target for bullying – this was not just some costume. This was going to be brutal. I was being asked to stand on stage in front of my classmates (and those at the time I definitely wouldn’t call mates), in the equivalent of a white mini-skirt with a golden belt, and nothing else on.
Alas, I didn’t get as much bullying as I’d expected I might, but stepping out on stage the first time I felt incredibly vulnerable, conscious I was stood wearing, what felt like almost nothing, in front of my peers and teachers, and aware that I would have 6 performances to go, including performing in front of Sir Tim Rice when he came to open the school’s new music block that month.
As performance week loomed I then discovered not only did I need to come to terms with such a scantily clad costume, I also needed to be caked in makeup from head to waist. Each evening as we prepared for the show, some of my friends had the honourable responsibility of helping me ‘orange-up’ ready for performances.
Vulnerability was somewhat thrust upon me. Part of it was rational, perhaps part not. Some of it was through the behaviour of others, some was through my own fear. Some was simply part of being human. Some was my struggle with my own self-image.
My biggest regret of that time is that I don’t have a recording of the show. I never had a chance to watch myself back, and years later would love to be able to watch and remind myself of what I achieved as I embraced the vulnerability required of my 14 and 15yr old self.
In Acts 9, for Saul as he travels on the road, free and powerful, on a mission to ‘take down’ the followers of The Way, he is blinded and can go on no longer without the help of others. Suddenly, Saul’s life changes as he has to suddenly come to terms with his new found vulnerability.
I know from many conversations that in the last 2 months, in different and varied ways, many of us have needed to come to terms with our vulnerability. Whether or not our age or health increases our vulnerability, all humanity is vulnerable right now. We have all had to face that vulnerability, changing the way we live, asking others to help us, to care for ourselves and our communities.
This is not easy. Much like Saul, we live in relative freedom, used to being able to do and go where we want when. Ongoing suffering, grief and struggle is part of the vulnerable reality this pandemic forces humanity as a whole to hold and bear.
But to become vulnerable does not mean all is lost. In the midst of our vulnerability, it can be hard to see how we can get out, but just as I look back and reflect on what I achieved, as we read on in Acts we’ll discover how much Saul achieves through his own vulnerability. I pray now that we, as individuals, communities and humanity, will allow ourselves to become vulnerable, and make space for God’s power and grace to transform us and all the world.
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