Sitting under the weeping beech beside the river on this fine autumn morning we split into small groups in order to keep to the rule of six.
The people leading this week tried an experiment in leading the groups. While one group listened to bible readings the other group meditated on some of the names of God. These activities were repeated with each group.
Three names of God chosen from the many used in the bible:
Elohim – God of Creation, the strong one written as G O D
“In the beginning Elohim, Elohim created the heaven and the earth.”
Spend a few moments in appreciation for what GOD has made …
Adonai – The one who is in charge, the supervisor and manager, written as L o r d
Yahweh – God who is in relationship relationship with his creation, the covenant keeping God
Written as L O R D
Yahweh is the most intensely sacred name to Jewish scribes and many will not even pronounce the name. When possible they sometimes use Adonai. Yahweh is God’s personal name it is a privilege to be able to speak it. (It’s rather like the queen asking you to call her Liz instead of “Your Majesty” or “Ma-am”)
Using the name Yahweh as we breathe (in) Yah (out) weh – calm ourselves and become aware of the relational God’s presence here this morning.
Matthew 26, 6-13: (NIV)
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.
“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Deuteronomy 15: (NIV)
4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised…….
10 Give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy.
Jesus anointed at Bethany
All four Gospels tell the story of the woman pouring expensive ointment over Jesus, but only Mark and Matthew describe the host as Simon the leper.
Simon the leper in this story has always bothered me, particularly over recent years.
Simon the leper could not have lived in a town and could not have hosted a dinner party. It seems to me that there’s something very wrong here.
In the mid-20th Century both Feigin and Torrey made strong cases for Mark and Matthew having been originally written in Hebrew or, more likely, in Aramaic.
Edmond Macaraeg has an interesting theory. Both Hebrew and Aramaic were written without vowels. The translator reading the original Aramaic manuscript, failed to properly interpret the text. The Aramaic word that was translated into the Greek as “leper” requires the addition of one vowel, but with the addition of two vowels the word becomes “potter”.
As proof, the Hebrew Roots Bible consistently translates “Simon the leper” as “Simon the potter.”
Matthew 26: (Hebrew Roots Bible)
6 And Yahshua being in Bethany, in Simon the potter’s house*
7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster vial of ointment,
very precious. And she poured it on His head as He reclined.
* The Aramaic word for potter is mistranslated
as leper in the Greek, but a leper could not own property,
live in a city or town, or have guests at his house.
Although all four Gospels report the story of the woman pouring expensive perfume on Jesus, there is considerable variation in the accounts. All writers (except Luke) report that the onlookers condemned this waste of a year’s wages. They wondered aloud why the perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11).
But Jesus doesn’t praise the disciples for their idea for helping the poor. He praises the woman for her extravagance with the ointment. And then to make matters worse, Jesus then says this well-known line: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” On the surface for someone who’s concerned about helping the poor, this sounds pretty bad. This sounds like Jesus is taking a laissez-faire attitude to poverty and being rather callous, or at best being fatalistic.
But Jesus’ response to the disciples and praise of the woman with: “the poor you will always have with you” is actually a quote from Deuteronomy 15 – one of the most radical and liberating passages in the bible. Deuteronomy 15 is about the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. The chapter explains that if the people follow God’s commandments there will be no poverty. In fact, this passage lays out the Sabbath and Jubilee laws so that the people of God know what to do to ensure that there is no poverty – how God’s bounty can be shared and enjoyed by all. But if the people do not follow what God has commanded, then “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” (in other words: “the poor you always have with you”), and because of that, it is the Hebrews duty to God to “open your hand to your poor and needy neighbour.”
Liz Theoharis says: “This passage is about God’s plan to ensure that no one is poor is referenced by Jesus in his line “the poor you will always have with you.” Although we don’t have Deuteronomy 15 readily available in our minds, I believe that Jesus’ disciples would have. So when Jesus said this line to his followers, they would have understood his reference to Deuteronomy 15 and would have known that God had given laws for addressing poverty. Rather than selling something valuable and donating the money to the poor, the people of God were supposed to be organising their society to enact Jubilee. Jesus is demonstrating that poverty need not exist, and therefore that the poor will not need charity, if only society will follow God’s laws. The woman anointed Jesus as king of an empire that had the Jubilee and Sabbatical years at its centre. What God demands of God’s followers is justice rather than charity.”
In his book “The Upside Down Kingdom” Donald Kraybill writes: “In the light of Jesus’ continual plea on behalf of the poor, it’s hardly conceivable that Jesus now contradicts himself by telling us to neglect the poor who, after all, will always be around and there’s not much we can do about it. He’s rather saying that as long as greed and ambition govern the lives of people and their social systems, there will always be poor people. His observation of this fact does not justify its perpetuation. Rather than excusing us from social obligation, Jesus is reminding us that the alleviation of poverty is a never-ending struggle.”
Not long before his murder, while in New York, Martin Luther King said this in a sermon: “A true revolution of values will cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
And again quoting Liz Theoharis: “We need to understand Matthew 26 through the lens of the Jubilee. We are then able to implode an interpretation of this passage that suggests that poverty is inevitable and instead insist that poverty should be ended: indeed, it is God’s will. The rules and norms of God’s kingdom are set by the Jubilee. There is no poverty in God’s empire; there is no exclusion in God’s empire. All of God’s children are valued and all life is affirmed.”
It seems to me that Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom I try to follow, came to reform structures and systems that produce beggars and billionaires. May we be inspired to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God as we strive against injustice and in so doing do God’s will.
PRAYERS: So what is in a name?
We label people in all sorts of different ways. We pray for people like refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, disabled, underprivileged, poor, lonely and sick, forgetting that each one is an individual human being. People of the world in huge numbers are suffering and we are so privileged, how can we pray?
Sometimes when watching the news I am ashamed to say I have to remind myself that the people in the report are like me – how would I cope in that situation?
Each person has the same needs, thoughts and feelings that we have.
We can’t contemplate sometimes what it must be like for people who are suffering especially if we have not been through something similar ourselves.
But God is a relational God who cares for all his creation. Jesus came and lived a life as a refugee, he was homeless, poor, rejected, betrayed and bereaved, he suffered injustice, pain and death all for our sakes. He understands.
So in his name we pray for those who:
Have no secure homes, who are looking for peace, security and comfort
For those who are sick, that they might find treatment, care and healing
For those who are poor that they may be shown love and compassion and their needs might be met
For those who seek a safe place that they may be given refuge and acceptance
For those who are lonely that they might know your presence and see love in action
For those who need God’s comfort and strength now
For ourselves that we might bring compassionate relationship to those we meet.
Sharing bread & wine.
On the night before Jesus died, he gathered with his friends to share a meal. Over food and drink they shared stories of lament and longing.
They told stories of Lament for a world of injustice and powerlessness that before they met Jesus they hadn’t even noticed.
Lament over the people who were silenced, oppressed, exploited, defrauded.
Lament over the people who were blind to the possibility that the world could be anything other than what it was.
They told stories of Longing that the new world they’d glimpsed through Jesus might become reality;
Longing that the voiceless would be heard.
Longing that the rich & powerful would be freed from their greed.
Longing for the imagination to see that this world does not have to be as it is.
Then Jesus called for bread and wine.
The bread held in his hands … the words of blessing …the breaking of the bread, and then the shocking words, “this is my body… broken… for you…”
May this bread be food for our journey as we “seek justice”. Amen.
The cup of wine, an ancient memorial re-imagined… the blessing … and then the heart-breaking words, “this is my blood… poured out… for you and for many…”
May this wine be a sign that we are no longer in thrall to the old order whose power Christ has broken. Amen.
May this place be where hopes and dreams are forged.
May this community be a reminder that we are not alone.
May we be inspired to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God all our days.