The False Glamour of Wealth

‘The seed sown among thistles represents the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the false glamour of wealth choke it, and it proves barren.’ (Matthew 13.22 REB)

I’m struck by the wording of the REB here: ‘the false glamour of wealth.’

Jesus is talking about distractions that steal our attention from the message God has planted in us. The gospels would seem to suggest that wealth is one of the more potent distractions. It dazzles us with the things it offers – the promises of happiness and pleasure and excitement. But of course, it also makes demands on us. The more we own, the more we have to protect and care for and worry about.

Wealth does seem glamorous in the glossy magazines by the grocery checkout. But most of the people in those photographs are chronically unhappy, and the majority of them seem incapable of forming lasting relationships. They have all the wealth they’ve ever dreamed about, but it hasn’t fulfilled their dreams

“But the seed sown on good soil is the person who hears the word and understands it; he does bear fruit and yields a hundredfold, or sixtyfold, or thirtyfold.’” (v.23). Lord, help us to be that person, and not to be dazzled by the false glamour of wealth. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Genesis 39.1 – 41.16, Matthew 12.46 – 13.23, Psalm 17.1-15, and Proverbs 3.33-35)

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Every Thoughtless Word

Jesus: ‘I tell you this: every thoughtless word you speak you will have to account for on the day of judgement. For out of your own mouth you will be acquitted; out of your own mouth you will be condemned.’ (Matthew 12.36-37 REB)

In this chapter the Pharisees spoke ‘thoughtless words’ when they condemned Jesus as an agent of Beelzebul. They couldn’t deny his miraculous healings, but they could not be seen as recognizing that God was at work in Jesus. All they could do was attribute his healings to the power of the devil.

I have probably done similar things. I’ve seen good things being done by people I disagree with, and spent all my time questioning their motives and their methods rather than celebrating the good that was being done and the lives that were being touched.

Lord Jesus, help me not to speak thoughtless words of condemnation and judgement. You have reminded us that words are important. They can kill and they can heal. They can bring joy or despair. Help us today to think carefully about the words we speak, so that we are a blessing to the people around us.

(Today’s One Year Bible passages are Genesis 37:1 – 38:30, Matthew 12:22-45, Psalm 16:1-11, and Proverbs 3:27-32)

The Gentleness of Jesus

‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, in whom I take delight;
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice among the nations.
He will not strive, he will not shout,
nor will his voice be heard in the streets.
He will not snap off a broken reed,
nor snuff out a smouldering wick,
until he leads justice on to victory.
In him the nations shall put their hope.’ (Matthew 12.18-21 REB)

Here Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 42 and applying the prophecy to Jesus. He is God’s chosen servant, anointed by God’s Spirit to spread God’s justice.

But Jesus’ justice is not harsh. He does not ‘snap off a broken reed, nor snuff out a smouldering wick’. He is aware that some of us have been bruised in the struggles of life, and some of us are having difficulty keeping the flame of our faith alive. He knows all about us, and he is gentle with us.

Lord Jesus, you know all our hurts and struggles, and the weakness of our faith. Thank you for your patience and love. Help us find in you the healing and strength we need. Amen.

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Genesis 35:1-36:43, Matthew 12:1-21, Psalm 15:1-5, and Proverbs 3:21-26).

Revealing them to the simple.

‘At that time Jesus spoke these words: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and wise, and revealing them to the simple. Yes, Father, such was your choice.”‘ (Matthew 11.25-26 REB)

I have a great respect for learning and scholarship. I’ve been greatly helped by the writings of scholars who’ve studied the ancient scriptures in their original languages and cultural and historical backgrounds. I love reading books by people who have really thought their way through issues.

But great learning doesn’t necessarily equal great love, and Jesus leads us in the way of love. The key word here is ‘revealing’. The mysteries of life in the kingdom are not learned by intellect alone; they are revealed by God. And no outsider knows a father like one of his own children. God chooses to reveal himself to us through the Son, Jesus. And Jesus chooses to reveal God to us primarily by teaching us a life of love.

Thank you, God, for wise scholarship, but thank you even more for revealing yourself to the humble as we come to Jesus and learn from him the way of love.

(Today’s One Year Bible passages are Genesis 32.13 – 34.31, Matthew 11.7-30, Psalm 14.1-7, and Proverbs 3.19-20)

‘I trust in your unfailing love’

‘How long, Lord, will you leave me forgotten,
how long hide your face from me?
How long must I suffer anguish in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy lord it over me?
Look now, Lord my God, and answer me.
Give light to my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, ‘I have overthrown him,’
and my adversaries rejoice at my downfall.
As for me, I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart will rejoice when I am brought to safety.
I shall sing to the Lord, for he has granted all my desire.’ (Psalm 13.1-6 REB)

This is one of those prayers that are very useful to have in your back pocket for when you need them. It seems to be written in a military context; the author has enemies who are out to get him, and he’s in real danger of being defeated by them. But of course ‘enemies’ come in all shapes and sizes, not just armies and uniforms. Maybe we’re facing a dangerous illness, the threat of job loss, the scorn of others. Maybe we’re struggling with our own inner demons, sins or addictions. And there’s always the ‘enemy of our souls’.

‘As for me, I trust in your unfailing love’. Lord, for me, that’s something I aspire to. I don’t always trust you as I would like. To be honest, that’s partly because not everyone who trusts you seems to be ‘brought to safety’. I”m on a journey. Each day, for me, is full of opportunities to learn to trust you.

So when I’m facing my fears and struggles and inner demons, help me ‘trust in your unfailing love’. Help me simply turn to you, take your hand, and walk with you through whatever ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ appear to be heading my way. And bless all who are facing enemies who terrify them today, and bring them also to a place of safety. Amen.

(today’s One Year Bible readings are Genesis 31:17-32:12, Matthew 10:24-11:6, Psalm 13:1-6, and Proverbs 3:16-18)

Book Review: ‘Tolstoy Lied’, by Rachel Kadish.

1577123The starting point of this story is the famous Tolstoy quote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As the intro says, literature professor Tracy Farber disagrees with this quote, which seems to imply that only unhappiness is interesting. Happiness is boring and predictable.

This controversy is presented to us as both the theme of this book, and also a project within the book, a project which Tracy never quite gets around to beginning until the end of the story. I believe in her project and I agree with her: I think literature (and music and poetry, for that matter) does indeed have a prejudice against happiness, especially happy marriages and families.

But I’m not sure this book is going to drive the coffin nail into Tolstoy’s maxim. Yes, I found it a very interesting story, but it was the conflict and the unhappiness (actual and threatened) that was interesting. When the happiness came back in all its glory, it was within only a few dozen pages of the end of the book.

Still, I loved the book. I enjoyed the honesty of the love story. These are real people making the mistakes that real people make, and yet living to tell the tale. I loved the quality of the writing; Rachel Kadish is highly literate and I enjoy reading a book written by someone who knows how to write excellent English sentences and paragraphs. I found the characters believable and credible. I found it hard to put this book down. I’ve read Kadish’s more recent work, ‘The Wright of Ink’, which is also excellent, and look forward to more great stories from her in the years to come.

‘May the Lord make an end of such smooth words’

This Old Testament prayer doesn’t seem to need any comment from me today!

‘Save us, Lord, for no one who is loyal remains;
good faith between people has vanished.
One lies to another:
both talk with smooth words, but with duplicity in their hearts.
May the Lord make an end of such smooth words
and the tongue that talks so boastfully!
They say, ‘By our tongues we shall prevail.
With words as our ally, who can master us?’
‘Now I will arise,’ says the Lord,
‘for the poor are plundered, the needy groan;
I shall place them in the safety for which they long.’
The words of the Lord are unalloyed:
silver refined in a crucible,
gold purified seven times over.
Lord, you are our protector
and will for ever guard us from such people.
The wicked parade about,
and what is of little worth wins general esteem.’ (Psalm 12 Revised English Bible)

(Today’s One Year Bible readings are Genesis 30:1 – 31:16, Matthew 10:1-23, Psalm 12:1-8, and Proverbs 3:13-15)