King for the world

The sense of royalty that we have is very muted. We live in Australia in a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state. Yet, the role of the Queen (or her representatives in the Governors and Governor General) within our lives is very limited, and severely restricted under the constitution and conventions to offering particular suggestions and guidance. In the time of Jesus, almost every person lived under the direct and immediate influence of a king or emperor. People understood the nature and scope of royal authority and the way that this was normally exercised through military might and power.

Although there was the usual system of transferring kingship from father to son, the Jewish people were aware that revolution was also possible. Around 200 years earlier, the line of token kings was replaced by the revolutionary action of Judas Maccabeus against the Seleucid empire to establish a new Jewish kingdom; some thirty years before Jesus was born king Herod had replaced the Hasmonean dynasty with his own creation, acting as a client for the Roman Empire.

So when this Jesus stood before Pilate this morning, it was possible that he was wanting to create a new line of Jewish kings by revolution, rather than by birth right. But the man who stood there would have looked nothing like a king that Pilate would expect. Although he had gathered a large group of followers around him, they had all but fled, to leave him completely alone. He was not dressed in any finery, but would have shown the effects of a night without any sleep, and perhaps already some cut and bruises from being arrested and taken away by the Roman soldiers. So it is probably with great irony that Pilate looks with disdain at the man who stands shackled before him as he asks: “are you the king of the Jews?”

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Recorded at Good Shepherd Church, Hoxton Park, 10am (9’50”)

Shining lights in darkness

The final Sundays in the liturgical year always feature readings that are drawn from the more apocalyptic readings in the scriptures. Drawing from the mini-Apocalypse of Mark 13, our Gospel this Sunday has often confused people. Indeed Mark suggests that people may well misunderstand it, when he adds the note to the reader in verse 14: “Let the reader understand.”

Many interpreters have believed that this chapter was about the end of the world, but the context makes it clear that this is mainly about events that would unfold within a single generation, when at the end of the first Jewish-Roman war (66-70 AD) the Roman army had laid siege to Jerusalem, which had ended with the complete and devastating destruction of both the city of Jerusalem and its centre-piece, the second temple, which had only recently been completely rebuilt by Herod.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 6pm Vigil (8’15”)
Sunday 33B; Mark 13:24-32

Arise, go and live

Both the first reading and Gospel feature widows – one of the most vulnerable groups in Israel and the ancient world. When there is no social safety net, widows relied on other family members and the wider community to provide the sustenance that they could not earn themselves. There lot was even worse when times were bad – such as during the ninth century BC famine that is the setting of I Kings 17 and the general destitution of life under the Roman Empire in the early first century AD.

At the end of I Kings 16, we are told that the evil king Ahab comes to the throne, and marries the even more wicked Jezebel, daughter of the Phoenician king and worshipper of the god Ba’al. Soon afterwards a drought occurs resulting in widespread famine which spreads beyond the borders of Israel to include parts of Phoenicia. Chapter 17 opens with Elijah escaping to the Wadi Cherith east of the Jordan River, where he finds refuge and is able to sustain himself with water from a spring and food provided by ravens. When the water runs dry he falls into a depression (a common state for our hero Elijah). Verse 8 opens with the word of the Lord being addressed to the prophet: “Arise, go to Zarephath in Sidon and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman there, a widow, to sustain you.” So, in response to this word from the Lord, Elijah travels into the foreign territory of the Ba’al worshipping Sidonians, where he encounters an unnamed widow gathering sticks near the gate of the town, to prepare a final meal with the last of her meagre food supplies before her inevitable death from starvation. 

Elijah bizarrely asks this woman for two things – rather than offering her assistance. First, in a request that we hear as an echo of the one that Jesus makes to another foreigner, the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4), Elijah asks for a drink of water. Then, in an act of black Jewish comedy, he asks her to bake him a small cake after she announces that she only has enough food for her son and herself to ward off starvation for a few more hours. The fact that the woman responds in generosity shows something of her true character. Although she has nothing to give, she is prepared to make this incredible sacrifice, trusting somehow in the graciousness of a God that perhaps she has only just met through the words of this strange prophet of the God of Israel.

The interaction provides an example of one of my favourite maxims of St John of the Cross: “where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.”

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  • Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington, 8am (9’09”)
  • Sunday 32B. I Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:38-44