Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Week 20 Tuesday (Year 1) -- 18 August 2015

Readings: Judges 6:11-24; Psalm 85; Matthew 19:23-30

If someone appeared to me and addressed me as 'mighty man of valour' I'd know he (or she) was pulling my leg. This is how the angel of the Lord addresses Gideon in the first reading and he's naturally wary. As the story continues he engages in one of those pieces of Jewish banter with God, the sort of conversation in which Abraham, Moses and others engaged (and with which we are familiar also from Fiddler on the Roof). Because we tend to read every passage of scripture with the same solemnity, much of the variety of mood and colour is lost. Certainly we don't expect comedy and yet that is what we get here. Gideon is clear that he, an ordinary bloke from a minor section of the people of Israel, is not a valiant warrior. Of course he's not and the whole point is that the success when it comes will be more easily recognisable as the work of God.

There is comedy in the gospel also. First of all we are asked to think again about that strange idea, a camel being forced through the eye of a needle (a bit like the joke about getting an elephant into a crisp bag: follow the instructions carefully). It is impossible for human beings that a rich person will enter the kingdom of heaven ... Peter speaks up and, as usual, gets the wrong end of the stick. What about us, who've left everything to follow you, what will we get? What are the 'economics' of the situation from our point of view? There is, perhaps, a note of exasperation in Jesus' reply: okay, if you are still thinking in such terms then imagine yourselves sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Now that's a comment that we take very seriously and read very solemnly and it does, of course, have a deep truth in it: the Church is founded on the apostles' and their preaching. But this is another moment in a long struggle Jesus has with the disciples as He tries to teach them who He is and what His mission is about. You must become like a little child, the one who wants to be great must be the servant of all, the one who exalts himself will be humbled ... and still Peter is wondering about the exchange rate: what, for us, in return? The love Jesus has come to establish for us does not ask that question.

But the banter continues and there is a sting in the tail. Of course, Jesus adds, it is still the case that the first will be last and the last, first. In the 'divine comedy' that unfolds Jesus ends up on the cross and that's the throne from which He judges the world. The apostles, as he predicted, did end up also on crosses and gibbets and other platforms of execution, bearing witness to the love they had found in Him and joining Him in judging the world, by their witness, as martyrs.

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