On a lovely, sunny but fresh March Sunday morning we met in the bandstand in Hall Leys Park.
before your god
let your god
look upon you
that is all
she loves you with
an enormous love
she only wants to
look upon you
with her love
quiet still be……..
St Hilda Community
Touch is very important. I love to be touched, I’ve had some very precious experiences of care, compassion and being touched by nursing staff when in hospital. Jesus loved to touch people, particularly those at the bottom of society – the lame, the blind, the deaf, the maimed, the leper. These people were untouchables in their society. Just think about how wonderful it was for them to be touched by Jesus. These people were told that they were impure and were rejected by society and told that God rejected them. So imagine their joy when this famous prophet and healer touched them! Jesus touched people to show them compassion, to heal them and to restore them to society. But Jesus act of touching outcasts also had a political element. Every time he touched a leper or the blind or the lame he was challenging society’s purity system. The Sadducees and Pharisees understood that. In Luke 11 when Jesus is berating them over the purity system a Teacher of the Law says to him; “Teacher you insult us!” No wonder they plotted to get rid of him.
Mark 7 – New International Version – UK
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’
6 He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘“These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.”
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’
Luke 11 (NIV-UK)
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you – be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 ‘Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone.
Then we took 10 minutes to go around the park reading the following:
Jesus – purity or compassion!
Jesus was born into a social and religious culture that for centuries had been designed around a “purity system.” It seemed to begin with the purity code found in Leviticus. In Leviticus 19:2, we read: “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ ”
Holiness was understood to mean “separation from everything unclean.” Therefore holiness started to mean the same thing as purity. A whole social, economic, political and religious structure was built around the social vision of purity. People, places, things, times and groups had their “proper place” in society, classified by their “purity” or lack of it.
A person’s purity depended to some extent on birth. Being rich – unless you were a tax collector – usually meant you were pure, being very poor almost certainly meant you were impure. Physical wholeness was associated with purity, and a lack of wholeness with impurity. People who were not “whole” – the maimed, the chronically ill, lepers, the blind, the lame – were impure, they were at the bottom of society, they were literally the “untouchables”. Another group of people were classified as “impure” because of their occupation – tax collectors, prostitutes, tanners, butchers, those who prepared the dead for burial, and possibly shepherds.
So Jesus grew up learning those cultural and religious expectations. He was told God was holy/pure and “that’s just the way it is.” His world had sharp social boundaries between pure and impure, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, whole and not whole, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. Yet it seems, Jesus experienced God in a dramatically different way. He experienced God as concerned with compassion for people and with mercy and justice.
In his book “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” Marcus Borg says that “Jesus deliberately replaced the core value of purity with compassion. Compassion, not holiness, is the dominant quality of God, and is therefore to be the fundamental character of the community that mirrors God.”
Jesus criticised a system that emphasised tithing and neglected justice (Luke 11:42). He spoke of purity as what happens on the inside, not on the outside (Mark 7:15). In Mark 7:19 he declared all foods clean. He called the Pharisees “unmarked graves which people walk over without knowing it.”(Luke 11:44), a criticism that might seem obscure to us. The key is that corpses (and therefore burial places) were a source of impurity. To call the Pharisees “unmarked graves” is ironic: they were a movement seeking the extension of purity laws, and Jesus declared them to be instead a source of impurity.
Borg says: “Jesus’ subversiveness may not seem very radical today, but he was seen as very dangerous by the Sadducees and Pharisees. Jesus challenged the purity system not only in his teaching but also through his many healings, every time he touched a leper or a woman with a haemorrhage, or touched the dead to raise them to life he was challenging the purity system. Instead of expressing the holiness of God, ritual purity became a means of excluding people considered unclean and impure. In word and in deed Jesus ignored and actively challenged these distinctions of ritual purity as a measure of spiritual status.”
The Jesus movement allowed everyone to take part in this new community – women, untouchables, the poor, the maimed, and the marginalised.
In Borg’s view, Jesus turned the purity system with its sharp social boundaries on its head. In its place he substituted a radically alternative social vision. The new community that Jesus announced would be characterised by compassion for everyone, not compliance to a purity code, by inclusivity rather than by exclusivity, and by inward transformation rather than outward ritual. In place of “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), says Borg, Jesus deliberately substituted the call to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Garry Wills in What Jesus Meant writes that, “No outcasts were cast out far enough in Jesus’ world to make him shun them — not those who collaborated with the Romans, not lepers, not prostitutes, not the mentally ill, not the blind, not the deaf and not the lame.”
When Jesus shared meals with people it was frequently a political act. He often ate with outcasts, as well as with others. His practice of inclusivity when sharing food incited criticism from the advocates of the purity system; this criticism has been preserved in the gospels in a number of places. Jesus is accused of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” and called “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
Marcus Borg writes: “Whereas purity divides and excludes, compassion unites and includes. For Jesus, compassion had a radical sociopolitical meaning. In his teaching and table fellowship, and in the shape of his movement, the purity system was subverted and an alternative social vision affirmed. The politics of purity was replaced by a politics of compassion.”
For consideration and prayer:
Are there those you are tempted to exclude as impure?
Is it possible to embrace both holiness and compassion?
Pray to experience what Borg calls a “community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos and politics of compassion”.
The Beatitudes – reimagined.
The poor and those in solidarity with them – God is on your side.
Those who mourn and feel grief about the state of the world – God is on your side.
The non-violent, gentle and humble – God is on your side.
Those who hunger and thirst for the common good – God is on your side.
The merciful and compassionate – God is on your side.
Those characterised by sincerity, kindness and generosity – God is on your side.
Those who work for peace and reconciliation – God is on your side.
Those who keep seeking justice – God is on your side.
Those who stand for justice and truth as the prophets did, who refuse to be quiet even when slandered, misrepresented, threatened, imprisoned or harmed – God is on your side!
With thanks to Brian McLaren & Rob Bell.
After a time of intercessory prayer we shared bread and wine using the following words:
Sharing Bread & Wine
God calls us
Community of saints,
Beloved of God,
we are invited to come and gather for the meal of love and liberation,
to feast on the dreams of God,
to be nourished by a taste of what God desires to do among us.
God whispers “come”
and live abundantly,
turning from all that claims our allegiance other than Christ;
from money, power, and control.
following Christ on paths of uncertainty,
taking risks for one another,
calling down unjust power from its throne
and lifting up the lowly,
and the impoverished.
Blessed are those, Jesus said, who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be filled.
And so let us come to share the gifts of God,
to tasting the rich blessings of Christ
born from unexpected places, and people, and experiences.
In this sharing of bread and wine,
we remember the life, death, and resurrection of
the One who fills the cosmos,
and yet still takes on flesh among us today.
On the night he would be arrested,
Jesus gathered his friends and companions.
In the midst of a tense and dangerous time,
they found each other at table.
And as they did so, Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and shared it with his disciples saying;
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
(share the bread)
When the supper was over, he also took the cup, gave thanks to God, and shared it with his disciples, saying;
“Drink from this, all of you; this is the cup of the new covenant. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
(share the wine)
And so we pray together:
For the sake of our shared lives,
the life of this land in which we live,
and the lives of those yet to come,
nourish us and renew our hope
that Christ may be known again among us.
with thanks to “enfleshed”
We continued our fellowship over Fairtrade coffee at Cool River.