At the beginning of August, we went on a break to Cornwall. Having finally arrived after 8 hours and an overnight stop in Exeter, (the traffic was truly awful!). One of the highlights was a trip to Tintagel Castle. We dutifully followed the crocodile trail of tourists up and down the steps. It was worth the pain. The scenery was truly awe inspiring.
We visited Merlin’s cave – which isn’t a cave at all, it is a tunnel of rock. It turns out, not too surprisingly, that it is highly unlikely that either Arthur or Merlin really lived or stayed there. Needless to say, this has no effect on the seemingly healthy tourist trade. On the way up, we saw some sheep on the hillside. It got me thinking about the parable in Luke 15 concerning the Shepherd and the lost sheep. The hillsides at Tintagel were perilous, and we can perhaps use our imagination to sense the danger of a shepherd in the Middle East risking his life to save a sheep in trouble on a very steep hill. If we accept that Jesus is equated to the Shepherd, and most people would accept that to be the case, then the people listening to the parable would also be linking this to Jesus talking about what a righteous King would do. So Jesus is giving us, if we have ears to hear, a glimpse of God’s style of Kingship. As a King, God doesn’t lord it over his subjects like secular leaders tend to. On the contrary, God put’s himself at risk for the least of us. We get a glimpse here of the outrageous economy of Grace which to those of us who have been brought up with the normal way of doing things makes no sense at all to start with. Jesus says in Mark 10 to his disciples that leadership according to her Kingdom of Heaven is about servanthood, making ourselves intentionally vulnerable and available. It is not about status or authority. What do the readings today tell us about God’s character and Jesus’ mission?
The Songs of songs reading gives us a picture that is rich in texture. Life is blooming, spring is in full flow, the lover is calling their mate to join on a journey, an adventure. The commentaries suggest that the songs were written in the time of the 2nd Temple period, the period up to and just beyond Jesus’ time and both Jewish and Christian theologians see this as a description of God’s deep love towards humanity rather than a purely secular piece of eroticism. We see in the text a relationship between 2 lovers rather than any sense of a hierarchical relationship. The love is free of regulation and importantly free of distrust, jealousy or envy. It is not self seeking or power driven. It is a marker to how relationship works in Heaven and in the new healed creation, inaugurated by Jesus, how relationship should work now on Earth as well.
Mark gives us at first site some basic views surrounding what Jesus made of the rules on hygiene upheld by the Pharisee movement. Jesus, in his usual straight talking style reminds those around him that it isn’t food that we eat that makes us unclean as it only goes out again. Translations of the Bible have avoided the obvious, but Jesus didn’t mess about. When he explained the parable to his close group he made it very clear that the stuff that makes us unclean isn’t what we touch or what we eat, or what we leak, it is what comes out of our emotional centres. Jesus is coming to his people as their God. Jesus is the creator of the world, and is implicitly saying that creation is good. Making ourselves look clean and ticking the appropriate boxes is hopeless, because we cannot make ourselves clean by ritual. Jesus points to some basic biology to show how humanity has so often missed the mark by assuming that what they did or did not do in their cleanliness laws or rituals either made them clean or unclean.
Rather it is our thoughts and emotions that can make us unclean. Here we see a link with our reading from the Song of Songs. The things that make us unclean; greed, malice, deceit, slander or arrogance etc. are the very thoughts and emotions that are absent from the lover’s relationship.
Jesus of course met opposition from various parts of society, except the poor and the vulnerable who saw him as their saviour. Why? Part of it was that he was inaugurating change. He announced that God had returned, announced a new age and went around living according to the rules of the Kingdom of Heaven as opposed to the rules paramount on Earth. Of course this did not go down well with those in power. Imagine for a moment, someone today going around talking and acting as though God had taken over, and doing things that suggested that they had been given all delegated authority. How do you think the establishment; secular or otherwise would react?
Is this in part, why we so often find times of change and transition difficult to cope with? Do we fear new roles, perhaps a loss of status? When God turns up, the one certainty is that we will be surprised and we will not be in a position to control events but we should remember that the rule of Heaven is governed by Love, and we should be careful and mindful to avoid the temptations of the accuser to be mistrustful or deceitful or to hold onto power to ourselves. Open your hearts and minds to God, welcome Jesus into your life and embrace your purpose. We often worry about our supposed purpose, but it is simple really. Our purpose is to be an image of God. This is what we are made to be. Don’t reflect yourselves to others, rather reflect God, reflect Jesus, reflect the character of the Holy Spirit. Be filled by the Holy Spirit and let yourselves Glow.
Become living reflections of God to all whom you meet and deal with. Expect opposition just as Jesus did, but follow God anyway, helping to spread the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, building it every day with every action, every word, every thought.
We ask this in Jesus name.