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Looking forward to co-operative leadership in a “collaborative parliament”

I am really glad that we are cracking open the two-party duopoly in federal politics. We already have a good number of Green members in the federal parliament, led by Adam Bandt, with prospects of some more joining them once the results of this election are finalised.

And we have had a good collection of thinking independents in parliament in recent times—Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Cathy McGowan, Rebecca Sharkie, Helen Haines, Zali Steggall—with the prospects of quite a number of new members in this ilk (collectively known as “the Teal Independents”) joining them on the cross benches.

This will most likely produce what the commentators regularly call “a hung parliament”–although one of my colleagues says that we really should call it “a collaborative parliament”. For that is what the members of this next parliament will need to do: collaborate!

This will be in stark contrast to the disastrous shirtfronting, bulldozing approach of our feral federal leadership over the past decade, as both The Abbott of Inequity and The Liar from The Shire have relentlessly driven the COALition further to the right, turning the public discourse into a series of hate-speech episodes, fanning the flames of misogyny, xenophobia, and anti-science attitudes, targeting renewable industries, people below the poverty line, females in the workplace, same-gender attracted people, and transgender people. It has been a shameful period, thriving on the partisan conflict generated by confrontational rhetoric and aggressive actions.

Regardless of how many Greens and Teal Independents are elected to the lower house, the incoming government will still need to work with the range of Senators sitting on the cross benches in the red house, the Senate. There are currently Greens, a number of independents, and members from the Jacqui Lambie Network, the One Nation Party, and the Centre Alliance in the Senate. More Greens and perhaps some RWNJs may well be joining them once the Senate votes are all counted and the preferences distributed.

A “collaborative parliament” is not a disaster. Having a minority government which needs to propose legislation that it negotiates with cross bench members (Greens, Independents) to get through the House and the Senate, is a sensible, mature, responsible process.

In the last “collaborative parliament”, with a minority government led by Julia Gillard (2010–2013), more than 560 pieces of legislation were passed — more than the preceding Rudd government and more than John Howard when he controlled both houses of government between 2005 and 2007.

Some major policy initiatives of the Gillard government included: the Clean Energy Bill 2011; the Mineral Resource Rent Tax; a National Broadband Network; a schools funding formula following the Gonski Review; the National Disability Insurance Scheme; the carbon price package; a means test on the health insurance rebate; paid parental leave; a plan for the Murray Darling Basin; plain packaging for cigarettes; and the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office, which is available to cost policies on request. That is an impressive list.

Michelle Grattan wrote that in a hung parliament, “Parliament has a much more active role, rather than the House being a rubber stamp. The government is kept on its toes. Having the parliament “hung” is another check and balance in the system.” See https://theconversation.com/looking-back-on-the-hung-parliament-16175

She notes that in 2010–2013, about a quarter of House of Representatives time has been used for private members business. 357 private members bills and motions were introduced and debated; 150 were voted on and 113 supported, according to figures supplied by the Leader of the House’s office. By comparison, in 2005 under the Howard government no private members motions were voted on. Democracy works much better in a situation where the parliament has to work collaboratively.

Rob Oakeshott reflected that the great lesson for him out of that parliamentary term was that “bipartisanship is the best and politically the only way to achieve long-standing reform”. Tony Windsor noted that people do not understand what it is. “In some ways they do not fully comprehend what a hung parliament is, and still look at it through the prism of the two party system. It is not that”.

Bob Katter’s assessment was, “a hung parliament … is a multiparty democracy which is experienced everywhere else in the world. The two party system is primitive”. Andrew Wilkie noted that “the parliament itself has proved to be remarkably stable, reformist and productive.”

I am looking forward to the next three years, as collaboration and co-operation become the key markets of our federal leadership.

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Scriptural resonances in Revelation 21–22 (Easter 6C)

The section of Revelation provided by the lectionary for this coming Sunday (21:10, 22–22:5) is the final vision from a long sequences of visions, in which the writer, carried “in the spirit” to “a great, high mountain”, sees “the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (22:10).

The top of a mountain is significant in biblical narratives; we only need to remember Moses atop Mount Sinai, receiving the commandments from God (Exod 19:1–25) and viewing the promised land, which he would not himself enter (Deut 34:1–4); and Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, teaching his disciples (Matt 5:1–7:28), being transfigured in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:1–8), and giving his last instructions to his followers before departing from them (Matt 18:16–20).

Visions in Scripture

There are many accounts of visions being seen by people on earth, as God reveals guidance to them; noteworthy are the visions of Abraham (Gen 18:1–16), Moses (Exod 3:1–6), Balaam and his donkey (Num 22:22–35), Joshua (Josh 5:13–15), Eli (1 Sam 3:2–18), and the visions of various prophets (Isa 6:1–13; Ezek 2:1–10; Ezek 40:1–44:31; Dan 7:1–14; Dan 8:1–14; Amos 7:1–9; Amos 8:1–14; Zech chapters 1–6).

In early chapters of the Gospels, visions experienced by key figures shape the course of the story—Zechariah (Luke 1:8–20), Mary (Luke 1:26–38), shepherds (Luke 2:8–14), and Joseph (Matt 1:19–21; 2:13; 2:19–20). Paul experienced “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor 12:1–7a); according Luke’s account of the journey he took towards Damascus, it was the visions to both Ananias and to Paul himself (Acts 9:10–12) that brought Paul into the community of believers, in a life-transforming moment.

However, the most notable vision is surely that experienced by Peter, in Joppa: “he saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’” (Acts 10:11–13). This vision not only changes Peter’s understanding of things; it sets forth the rationale for the fundamental nature of the movement founded by Jesus, as an inclusive community of Jews and Gentiles.

Visions in Revelation 19–22

The vision that the author of Revelation sees is part of an extended sequence of visions which are introduced by the same phrase that is used in Acts: “then I saw heaven opened” (19:11; cf. Acts 10:11). God’s opening of the heavens is recognised by the psalmist (Ps 78:23) as the means by which manna was provided in the wilderness; and perhaps this resonance is picked up in the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, when Jesus “saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10 and parallels). God tears open the heavens to bless and to commission.

More pertinent, however, is the statement by Isaiah, in an oracle describing incredible devastation wrought in divine judgement over Israel, when “the earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled … the earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth [for] the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants” (Isa 24:3–4). The prophet declares that “the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble; the earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken” Isa 24:18–19). This is a fearsome rending apart of the heavens!

So, too, in Revelation, where the opening of the heavens (19:1) reveals a series of seven visions. There is a vision of an intense, violent battle (19:11–21), a vision of the binding of a dragon and “the first resurrection” (20:1–6), and two visions of judgement (20:7–10, 11–15); followed by a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1–8), a vision of “the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:9–27), and then the final vision of “the river of the water of life, flowing … through the middle of the street of the city” (22:1–5).

Scriptural resonances in the visions of Revelation 19–22

In the initial vision of a cataclysmic battle, “the beast and the kings of the earth”, along with their armies, are confronted by a fiery, blood-soaked rider on a white horse, with “the armies of heaven” (19:11–16). The description of this particular figure, as is so often the case on this book, draws from biblical imagery (eyes like a flame of fire, sharp sword, rod of iron, treading the winepress). Indeed, each of the visions that follow are themselves thoroughly shaped by biblical language and imagery. As the author looks forward, he draws heavily on the traditions and stories of his own faith, as expressed in the scrolls of Hebrew Scriptures with which he is intimately familiar.

An angel steps forward to issue the call to battle—yet his call is an invitation to “the great supper of God” (19:17). The image of a supper had been utilised by the prophet Isaiah, who saw the final gathering of the nations in terms of a lavish feast (Isa 25:6–10; see also 55:1–5). This time, however, the supper is a feast for cannibals—turning the imagery upside-down, in a manner reminiscent of a grisly oracle uttered by Ezekiel (Ezek 39:17–20).

The beast and his false prophet are thrown alive into a lake of burning sulphur, evoking the punishment visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24–25; Deut 29:23; 3 Macc 2:5; Luke 17:28–30). The armies of the kings of the earth are slain by the sword, and Satan is cast into a locked pit for one thousand years (19:17–20:6). This recalls an oracle delivered by Isaiah, in which he declared that God, in judgement, would imprison “the host of heaven and the kings of the earth” (Isa 24:21–22).

But for a thousand years? The Psalmist says that “a thousand years in [God’s] sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Ps 90:4), and a late New Testament book affirms that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pet 3:8); however, we should note that the period of one thousand years is nowhere associated with divine punishment elsewhere in biblical texts.

After the release of Satan, one further battle takes place, against “the nations … Gog and Magog” (20:8). The account in Revelation 20 is brief, but the distinctive names (Gog and Magog) evoke a reference to an older battle against invaders from the north, described by Ezekiel (Ezek 38:1–39:20). This decisive encounter effected the definitive punishment of God and paved the way for the promised restoration of Israel to the land (Ezek 39:21–29) and the vision of a restored temple (Ezek 40:1–46:24). The same pattern is followed in Revelation 20. After the battle against Gog and Magog, the devil is also cast into the lake of burning sulphur, all the dead are judged, and Death itself is destroyed (20:7–15).

This is followed by the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth, a place devoid of death, bathed in light, sustained by the water of life, a city dazzling with jewels and home to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (21:1–22:5). The vision appears closely related to the final visions reported at the end of the book of Isaiah (Isa 65:17; 66:22–23).

The imagery used in these verses relates particularly to various sections of the book of Isaiah. The bride prepared for her husband (21:2) recalls the scene of Isa 61:10; the wiping away of tears (21:4) evokes the banishing of sorrow (Isa 35:10). The gift of water from the spring of life (21:6) is suggestive of the way that water functions as an image of life (Isa 35:6–7; 41:18), and the prominent place of the river of the water of life in the new Jerusalem (22:1–2) evokes Isaiah’s link between “the new thing” and “rivers in the desert” (Isa 43:18–21).

Likewise, the description of the spectacular beauty of the city and the careful itemizing of its measurements (21:10–21) imitates the section of Ezekiel where the Temple of his vision is carefully described and numerous measurements are provided (Ezek 40–42). What is noteworthy, of course, is the pointed declaration that “I saw no temple in the city” (21:22) and the insistence that the divine presence will provide more than enough light for the whole city (21:23– 25; 22:5).

Despite the author’s lengthy and intricate entwining with scriptural sources, in this final vision he points beyond the past, to a new form of the future. Yet still, he reaches back before the temple, to the times when the shining light signaled the divine presence (Exod 3:2; 13:21–22; Ps 78:14). In similar fashion, perhaps the prominence of the tree of life (22:2) is intended to supplant the many trees beside the river in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 47:12) and provide a reminder of the single tree in the creation story (Gen 2:9).

The closing scenes this provide assurance of God’s providential care of the people of Israel, and perhaps even of the whole earth. Indeed, the familiar patterns of this life, as we know it—night and day, light and dark, even life and death—will be transcended in this new order of reality. Written for a people in the midst of oppressive persecution, this glorious vision and triumphant conclusion provides assurance, reinforcing their faith with hope and certainty.

So it is no wonder, then, that the prayer of those who first heard these visions proclaimed to them, is simply: “Come” (22:17, 20). As we know, that coming was not, as was hoped for, “soon” (22:7, 12, 20). How we now apply these visionary words to our own times is the challenge that rests with us!

See https://johntsquires.com/2022/05/04/with-regard-to-revelation-and-rev-14/

*****

This blog draws on material in JOURNEYING WITH JOHN: an exploration of the Johannine writings, by Elizabeth Raine and John Squires (self-published 2014)

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What language shall we use?

Lately I have been in some conversations relating to the language we use. We all speak English; a number of us speak or read another language, or languages, in the course of our days. But mostly, in most situations, we use English.

For many years, much of my work was focussed on making sense in the English language of material that was written in another language. The books of the Bible, as we should know, were not first written in English. Our Bibles are translations from Greek, in the case of the New Testament, and Hebrew (and a few chapters of Aramaic) in the case of the Hebrew Scriptures. So choosing the right words to render those foreign language texts into our English language is an important task.

Indeed, when it comes to Bible translations, we have allowed the Enlightenment to drive us into an incessant search for The Right Word/Phrase/Translation. Since translating is a skill that relies on nuance and subtlety, the offer of multiple options is just too good to refuse—and it invites us to explore, to question, to search for ourselves. That can only be good for our own discipleship and faith development.

These days, my work is focussed more on other areas where language matters. Sure, I still am involved in Bible studies where the meaning of a particular word or phrase in a biblical book might be a point of consideration. But more often during the week, I am involved in conversations where I am listening to people speak in the words and the phrases of their own choosing.

My task in such conversations is to listen carefully, to seek to understand what is being said by my conversation partner. Grasping the words that are spoken and sensing the meaning of what is being conveyed are important processes. We all do it when we converse. In ministry, listening carefully, hearing and understanding correctly, are vitally important skills.

Another area where understanding the words used—and making decisions about what words to use—is worship. I have long been of the practice that I will try to choose hymns and songs that don’t include complex, inscrutable, incomprehensible words—theological jargon, in particular. (To be honest, sometimes, if I really want to use such a hymn or song, I will “translate” such terms into more manageable words, and put them into the lyrics on the screen—although nobody seems to notice!)

I also have a personal dislike of hymns that persist in using “thee” and “thou”—fine, common words in Shakespearean English, but not at all in common use in the 21st century! A simple change from “thee” to “you” is easy and clear. The same goes for verbs that end in “-est” and “-eth”, like “thou doest” and “they saieth”. They are strange to people listening with a 21st century ear and not readily understandable in the contemporary context.

The matter becomes a little more complex when thinking about other terms often found in traditional hymns—and even in contemporary choruses. Persistently calling God “he” and referring to human beings as “men” really grates with me—and has for half a century, now. Using inclusive language is the policy of the Uniting Church, and that should carry into our hymns and songs in worship.

Likewise, I avoid hymns or songs that reflect particular theological viewpoints that I don’t personally adhere to (like hymns glorying in the shed blood of the lamb and extolling him as the

substitutionary means of atonement for our terrible sins). We can sing about how we relate to Jesus without adopting medieval theological terminology that has “stuck” in some quarters of the church long beyond its use-by-date.

In the same way, we can seek out those songs, poems, and prayers that move away from the stultify ing predictability of calling God “Father” or “Lord” over and over, never deviating from these so-called “biblical” names for God. Why, there are many names for God that are found in scripture—Holy One, Righteous One, Eternal One—and a proliferation of terms that identify a quality of God—Gracious God, Loving God, God of justice, Compassionate God, Faithful God, and so on.

There are also ways of addressing God that have been developed more recently—Ground of our Being, and the variant threefold pattern of “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” come to mind. And I recently found someone, writing about our care for creation, referring to God as “Gardener God”. I like that! Surely we ought to rejoice in the diversity of divine names that we have at our disposal.

And another pet peeve I have is the way that some grand favourite hymns simply assume that we are in the northern hemisphere; that Easter is taking place when the temperature is warming and the flowers are budding; that Christmas is celebrated at the time of the year when days are shortest and temperatures are coldest, with snow on the ground and warm fires burning.

That’s not my experience, and it feels weird to sing as if it is, when it isn’t! There are Southern Hemisphere alternatives that can be sung—not just “The north wind”, but many others that have been written downunder in recent decades by writers such as Shirley Erena Murray, Colin Gibson, Robin Mann, David MacGregor, Craig Mitchell, Leigh Newton, Heather Price, Malcolm Gordon, and more.

We have, in our midst, some fine wordsmiths who write new songs for us to sing—songs that use contemporary words, that avoid theological jargon, that employ inclusive language, that relate to a contemporary “downunder” context. People have always created new songs, and they still are today. Fostering that creativity by singing these songs and hymns is good to do.

There are also talented folks who are able to revise the words or even craft new verses for existing hymns, maintaining the traditional beloved tunes, but inviting people to sing using words, concepts, phrases, and ideas that more readily reflect the natural way of conversing and speaking in daily life.

I’m thinking of Sue Wickham and Sarah Agnew within the Uniting Church; I am sure there are many more. Sarah writes fine poetry for use in worship; and when it comes to poetry, the work of Jason John is excellent, also—although not always geared for liturgical use. (And there’s often a language warning with Jason’s work!)

That’s a good thing, I believe; articulating the Gospel in ways that make most sense within the context is an important thing to do. It’s perhaps somewhat akin to paraphrases that people make of biblical passages—or, indeed, preaching, where the aim is to communicate the message of scripture in ways that connect into the contemporary context.

Sadly, I know not everyone shares my interest and delight in discovering “new words for old tunes”. Some people think that the ”traditional” words shouldn’t be changed or interfered with in any way. However, if the original is acknowledged as the inspiration for the reworking, then I think that should be acceptable; it indicates that the person reworking the old hymn is finding inspiration to express in refreshing and invigorating ways, the age-old truths of the Gospel.

And really, this is actually doing what many fine hymn writers of the past have done—they reworked their own words, they reshaped verses from other writers, they wrote whole new sets of verses for tunes that were popular in their day (although they weren’t bound by the laws of copyright as we are). It’s part and parcel of the fine tradition of hymnody that we celebrate within our church.

So choosing the right words is a very good thing to be concerned about. What language shall we use? The language that conveys our faith in relevant, understandable, enlivening ways, right here, right now! I’m all for that.

See

Sarah Agnew at https://www.sarahagnew.com.au and https://praythestory.blogspot.com

Jason John at https://ecofaith.org

Sue Wickham at https://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=925

Robin Mann at http://www.robinmann.com.au/Robin-Mann-Songs-pg23732.html

David MacGregor at https://dmacgreg1.wordpress.com and https://togethertocelebrate.com.au/songs-for-free-streaming/

Craig Mitchell at https://craigmitchell.com.au/music/

Leigh Newton at https://leighnewton.com.au/

Heather Price at https://heatherprice.com.au/

Malcolm Gordon at https://malcolmgordon.bandcamp.com

Shirley Erena Murray at https://hymnary.org/person/Murray_SE and https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/worship/singing-the-faith-plus/posts/a-jolt-of-reality-the-hymns-of-shirley-erena-murray/

Colin Gibson at https://hymnary.org/person/Gibson_C1 and https://songselect.ccli.com/search/results?List=contributor_P130845_Colin%20Gibson&CurrentPage=1&PageSize=100

See also links to all manner of reworked and new material at http://lectionarysong.blogspot.com

UCA Music at https://ucamusic.com.au

the Centre for Music, Liturgy and the Arts at https://www.cmla.org.au/shop/

and original songs at https://www.paddingtonuca.org.au/music

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IDAHoBiT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia

May 17 is IDAHoBiT, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. IDAHoBiT is a day to draw attention to the discrimination experienced by LGBTQI+ people internationally.

The day is marked worldwide in over 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are still illegal. The first day was held in 2004 to raise awareness of the violence and discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including all people who have diverse gender identities or sexual expressions.

The date of 17 May was chosen for IDAHoBiT as this was the date in 1990 when the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Despite this, LGBTQI+ people across the world continue to face hate, discrimination and violence.

The theme for IDAHoBiT 2022, adopted after consultation with LGBTQI+ organisations worldwide, is Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights.

The theme claims the rights of sexually- and gender-diverse people to live their sexual identity and to express their gender freely. It also signals a desire for such people to be free from physical violence, free from conversion practices (mislabelled as “therapies”), able to access transition services for Trans people, and free from the forced sterilisation of Intersex people.

The website for this day (https://may17.org/) states that the theme provides a reminder that “many of us around the world live LGBTQI-phobias in their very flesh every day and that our bodies are being abused, ruining our lives. Our bodies are our lives. And we have a right to live free and in dignity!”

For myself, I do not identify with any of the letters in the LGBTIQA+ acronym. I have lived my life as a male who is heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to me at my birth correlates with my sense of personal identity and gender)—in short, I am what is referred to as heteronormative. And, as a white male in the Western world, my life experience has certainly been privileged and sheltered from internal or external disturbances and challenges related to my sexuality or gender identity.

So I have no personal experience of the gender dysmorphia that others experience in their lives; nor have I had any experience of the prejudice or persecution experienced by people identifying as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. My understanding of what such people have experienced has come through relationships, conversations, readings, and personal thinking through of the issues. It has required empathy and understanding, and I think that it’s clear that I haven’t done this perfectly; but hopefully I have done so at least adequately.

I’m also a person of faith, and thus embedded within a community that, sadly, has demonstrated a collection of failures in the way that sexually and gender diverse people have been seen and treated. The Christian Church has shown a persistent lack of understanding, a continual marginalising (or “othering”), an aggressive assertion about the sinfulness of the particular identity or lifestyle, and undertaking attempts to “change the protestation” or “reverse the gender” of some people. All of these attitudes and actions have been unloving, uncaring, and indeed (in my view) unChristian.

Recent events in a number of churches have indicated that these attitudes and actions remain, tragically, alive and well in churches today. The United Methodist Church has become the Untied Methodist Church, as the so-called Global Methodist Church splits off in schismatic separation from the UMC because of differences of opinion about sexuality issues.

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, this week, has been debating the definition of marriage, and has shown a continuing need by many within its ranks to condemn (once again) all manner of people living outside the narrow norms that are set up, by some, as being “biblical” requirements.

My own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, has struggled with these issues over decades; more intensely, and intentionally, in the last decade, addressing matters relating to gender identity and sexual attraction. Recently the National Assembly agreed to a proposal “that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts (SOGICE) are harmful to people’s mental health and wellbeing”. The proposal cited the Uniting Church Statement, Dignity in Humanity, which states that “every person is precious and entitled to live with dignity because they are God’s children”.

See https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/human-rights/uca-statements/item/484-dignity-in-humanity-a-uniting-church-statement-on-human-rights

How are privileged, cis-gender heterosexual people like myself to respond to a day like IDAHoBiT? I think we need to cultivate empathy and develop understanding. I think we need to seek out and develop respectful relationships in which we can hear stories, learn of experiences, articulate our own inadequacies and sorrow for how we have acted or interacted with people in the past. Most importantly, I believe we need to learn ways by which we can support survivors of gender identity change efforts and help prevent harm from the ideology and practices of such gender identity change efforts.

Underlying this is my own firm commitment to an understanding of human beings as intentionally created by God, exactly as we are, to be exactly who we are, without qualification or change. The “doctrine of sin” that the church has promulgated has impressed on us that we are all “fall short of the glory of God”, that we all do wrong things—and who would argue with that?

But this doctrine has also been used to identify and persecute specific sinfulness on the part of identifiable minority groups—gays, lesbians, bisexuals, intersex, and transgender people in particular—not recognising the nuances of differences that actually do exist across the spectrum of humanity. That’s a misuse of the doctrine, in my opinion. It should not be used to persecute someone on the basis of differences that are perceived.

What gender a person believes that they are, and what attraction an individual has to other people, is built into the very DNA of them as a person, wanting to force change in either of those matters is, to my mind, one of the greatest sins. I think it’s important for “allies” such as myself to remind others of this truth, and to stand in solidarity with “rainbow people” each and every day.

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, let us ensure that each and every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or otherwise identifying people knows that we accept them, value them, and love them, exactly as they are!

And let us be strong in calling out any sign of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia, when we hear it expressed or see it enacted.

For information about IDAHoBiT in Australia, go to https://www.idahobit.org.au/

I close with a short prayer written by the Rev. Josephine Inkpin, for IDAHoBiT Day

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Fairly produced, fairly traded: for World Fair Trade Day 2022

World Fair Trade Day will be Saturday 14th May this year. Fair Trade helps support small-scale farmers, artisans and producers to cultivate safer, healthier and more sustainable communities around the world.

The theme for World Fair Trade Day this year is Climate Justice. We are all aware that climate change is causing major problems across the world. Climate change is affecting the people in the world unevenly.

It is clear that we are not all suffering from the changes in climate in the same way. Those who are least responsible for the climate crisis are the ones who are most affected by its impacts.

Fairtrade is a way to support those who are most vulnerable, those who are most exposed to the impacts of climate change. There are more than 1.9 million farmers and workers in Fairtrade certified producer organisations, in 71 countries in Asia, South America, and Africa—some of the countries that are most at risk because of rising sea levels, the spread of drier desert climates, the increasing number of catastrophic weather events such as floods or bushfires, and other effects of climate change.

47% of all Fairtrade farmers produce coffee, and 41% of all FairTrade workers produce flowers. But many other products are produced in ways that ensure they are fairly produced and fairly traded: tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, rice, honey, nuts, vanilla wine—but also textiles and cotton, used in our clothing. There is even, now, a Fairtrade Carbon Credit scheme operating under the auspices of Fairtrade International.

An easily-recognised symbol on products marks them as Fairtrade. This symbol that designates products certified in accordance with Fairtrade Standards.

These Fairtrade Standards require producers to meet minimum social, economic and environmental requirements. In addition, participating organisations are encouraged to provide an ongoing improvement of farmers’ employment conditions or the situation of estate workers. 

“When you buy Fairtrade certified products, you are part of an effective global movement for change,” says Uniting Church minister and longterm Fair Trade Advocate, John Martin, who is a member of the Executive Committee of the Fair Trade Association (ANZ). “You are also contributing, in a small but significant way, to lessening the impact of climate change.”

The Fairtrade organisation began in the UK in 1992, and has now spread around the globe, with strong support in Australia and many other countries with big purchasing power—the USA, Canada, India, Japan, and over 20 European nations.

Springwood Uniting Church is one of a number of UCA congregations which is strongly supportive of Fairtrade, holding an annual Fairtrade Festival to promote the initiative and e courage people to buy Fairtrade. About a decade ago, the Synod of NSW.ACT agreed to use Fairtrade products, and encouraged congregations and organisations in the Synod to do likewise.

That proposal was brought by the Revs. Elizabeth Raine and John Squires, who have a personal commitment to buying all their food and clothing from organic, fairly produced, and fairly traded sources. Elizabeth says, “it can sometimes be a challenge to keep to this regime; but we believe that the time it takes, and the extra cost that is sometimes (not always) involved, is really not much to ask. We don’t want to be supporting any product that exploits, degrades, or oppresses anybody involved in making it”.

In keeping with the Climate Justice theme for World Fair Trade Day 2022, the lectionary for the next Sunday (15 May) includes Psalm 148–a wonderful statement where the whole of creation praises God.

In this Psalm, the whole of creation praises God: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Ps 148:7–10).

The psalm causes us to ask: how can the whole creation praise God when the life is being stifled out of it by ecological damage principally caused by climate change? Perhaps you can refer to World Fair Trade Day and use this psalm in worship this Sunday—and encourage your congregation to adopt Fairtrade products.

For further resources, see this excellent 1 minute 32 sec. video and other resources prepared by the World Fair Trade Organisation:

https://wfto.com/fairtradeday2022/page1.html

To see how Fair Trade enterprises use sustainable methods in the production and packaging of their products:

https://wfto.com/fairtradeday2022/

If your church uses Fairtrade products, you can apply to use this logo at https://fairtradeanz.org/what-is-fairtrade/get-involved

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Voting on 21 May (7): Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The final area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World.

The UCA resource notes that “we are a nation that works in partnership with other nations to dismantle the structural and historical causes of violence, injustice and inequality. Our government upholds human rights everywhere, acting in the best interests of all people and the planet.”

It further notes that we remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with the highest median wealth per adult, and fourth highest average wealth per adult. “Historically, we played a significant part in reducing world poverty and making significant gains in human flourishing. COVID-19 has made the world poorer, less equal and less secure.”

“Climate change and increased geopolitical competition is destabilising democracies and increasing the number of refugees in the world. In 2020, Australia boosted aid to our local region to support pandemic response, however, the current government has capped ongoing aid to pre-COVID levels, the lowest since 1961.”

“Despite our relative wealth, we are ranked an ungenerous 21st on the global list of overseas development aid as a percentage of gross national income. The recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine reminds us again of the urgent need to rid the world of weapons capable of catastrophic, widespread destruction.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• Centering Australia’s foreign policy on a commitment to justice and peace; collaborating internationally to deliver community development and human rights.

• Legislate Australian Aid to reach 0.5% GNI by 2026 and 0.7% GNI by 2030.

• Increase support to fight COVID globally.

• Sign on to the global treaty banning nuclear weapons.

• Increase support to vulnerable nations to help address the impact of climate change.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Splitting a church, maintaining a prejudice: the sad case of the (un)United Methodist Church

A new church was formed this month. The so-called Global Methodist Church (GNC) was launched as a new denomination—in effect, a sectarian schismatic movement, splitting from the United Methodist Church (UMC)—on the basis of, you guessed it, sexuality.

The GMC has placed to the fore a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and clergy must adhere to this in their ministry. This has been a point of persistent debate, dissension, and division in the UMC for decades. Many efforts have been made to hold the different points of view together under the one umbrella of the UMC. That fragile union cracked with a decision last year, and now the moment has been seized by the breakaway group, acting unilaterally, to set up its own structures.

Rev. Keith Boyette, chairman of the new denomination’s Transitional Leadership Council and until now a United Methodist minister in Virginia, complained that “some bishops are intentionally blocking churches from using certain processes for exiting the denomination”—a reference to the fact that the UMC’s Council of Bishops has twice delayed holding a General Conference that would enable a friendly parting of the church.

The COVID pandemic had been the reason for delaying the General Conference first set for 2020, and then for 2021; this year, the delay has been credited to the delays being experienced in the US of the processing of visa applications. The United Methodist Church currently claims 6.3 million members in the U.S. and 6.5 million overseas, so half the representatives would have been travelling into the US and would have needed visas.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton, who recently became the President of the UMC Council of Bishops, said that the continuing United Methodist Church was “not interested in continuing sexism, racism, homophobia, irrelevancy and decline … what we are interested in is a discovery of what God has in mind for us on the horizon as the next expression of who we are as United Methodists.”

I have taken this information from an article at https://www.columbian.com/news/2022/apr/30/united-methodist-church-split-official-as-of-today/. It’s important to note that the trigger words used here—sexism, racism, homophobia—are Bishop Bickerton’s words; I am simply quoting him.

Sadly, it seems to me that this is just another instance of people within a Christian church perpetuating actions that will impinge in negative ways on people in society—and, indeed, within the church. The discriminatory actions of the new schismatic denomination will have a negative impact on a small, but significant, minority group within society.

It’s simply a fact that the majority of the population identify as heterosexual (experiencing sexual attraction to people of the opposite gender) and cis-gender (the gender assigned to them at birth correlates with their sense of personal identity and gender). LGBTIQA+ people do not identify as either cis-gender, or as heterosexual, or as both. So whilst it is true that they are a minority in society, that should not affect the way that they are treated in society, and by churches.

However, the key plank in the formation of the GMC is a perpetuation of a discriminatory attitude towards same-gender attracted people who are seeking to be married in a service of Christian marriage. The GMC will not allow its ministers to marry such people. There are many denominations around the world who, sadly, share that attitude.

Up until 2018, my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia was one. All of this changed with a decision taken by the National Assembly in 2018, which meant that ministers now do have discretion to marry people of the same gender. That is part of a continuing trajectory within the Uniting Church, affirming and valuing the place of LGBTIQA+ people within the life of the church, and, indeed, within society.

See https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/a-diversity-of-religious-beliefs-and-ethical-understandings/ and the various links included in that blogpost.

For the various affirmations that the Assembly has made that have led the church to this latest decision, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/

It’s my hope that we can continue along that trajectory, continue to marry people regardless of their gender identity, and hopefully in due course issue an Apology to LGBTIQA+ people for how the church has treated such people in past years.

See also

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For an exploration of the forces that worked for so long against this, and earlier, enlightened moves relating to sexuality within the UCA, see my series of posts that are linked below.

For my series of blogs on the failed strategy of conservatives in the Uniting Church over the decades, see

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Voting on 21 May (6): Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote, and Urban

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The sixth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Flourishing Communities, Regional, Remote, and Urban—with particular reference to issues of housing and mental health in rural and remote areas.

We live in communities where we are connected and we care for one another. In communities all over Australia, from our big cities to remote regions, we seek the well-being of each Australian and uplift those who are on the margins.

People in Australia living in rural and remote areas tend to have shorter lives, higher levels of disease and injury and poorer access to and use of health services, including mental health care, compared to people living in metropolitan areas. The housing crisis and mental health crisis are converging in regional Australia as rental vacancy rates in some regions fall below 1%.

Regional towns have experienced a significant reduction in available properties and rental affordability, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. The Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, the state’s peak body for community mental health said the situation was “pushing people experiencing mental distress into homelessness”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about these two major areas:

(1) Improved mental health support for people in rural and remote Australia that is adequately funded, able to be flexibly used and well managed locally.

(2) Governments to do more to provide affordable housing in the regions – to boost housing for vulnerable people and strengthen local economies.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Love one another: by this everyone will know (John 13; Easter 5C)

The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday contains a well-known saying of Jesus: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35).

The command to “love one another” is a striking element in this Gospel. Unlike what we find in the Synoptic Gospels, in this Gospel there is very little in the way of explicit ethical instruction in John’s Gospel. The focus is much more on the revelatory task that Jesus undertakes, as “the one who comes from heaven” (3:31; 6:38) to declare “the truth” (8:45; 14:6; 18:37), to “speak plainly of the Father” (16:25), to “make known everything that I have heard from my Father” (15:15), to glorify the Father (17:1–5).

His task is to teach the people (7:14–16; 8:2) and so he is regularly addressed as Teacher (1:38; 3:2; 8:4; 11:28; 13:13–14; 20:16). Indeed, in this Gospel, Jesus is no less than the authoritative teacher, revealing God to those who have already been chosen (13:18; 15:19).

Consequently, the basic position with regard to ethics is that those who know Jesus, will do as God wills (13:35; 14:7). As for those who do not know him, they are condemned to the darkness (3:19; 12:35). As a result, there is no urgency about instructing believers how to behave; for they will surely know what to do.

Rather than providing believers with guidelines and resources for living faithfully in the world, the Johannine Jesus assures his followers, “I have chosen you out of the world” (15:19).

Following Jesus is not a pathway to faithful living in the world, but rather a journey towards the cosmic Christ, who leads believers into mystical unity with God.

Nevertheless there are some pointers, in this Gospel, to what is required of believers. The Synoptic Gospels report that Jesus commanded his disciples to perform various actions, including those which subsequently became sacramental (communion, Luke 22:19; baptism, Matt 28:19).

In John’s Gospel, at his last meal, Jesus commands his disciples to wash one another’s feet, following his own example (John 13:14–15). The ethics of the Johannine Jesus are summed up in similar fashion: “just as I have loved you, so you should love one another” (13:34b). This “new commandment” sits at the centre of this Gospel (13:34–35; 15:12–17) and will inspire subsequent literature in the Johannine tradition (1 Jn 2:7–11; 3:11, 23; 4:7–11, 16–21; 5:3; 2 Jn 5–6).

Yet in contrast to the scriptural commands to love God and neighbour, cited by the Synoptic Jesus (Mark 12:28–31) and Paul (Rom 13:8–10), the command of the Johannine Jesus focuses on love of God and love of “one another”. It is limited to those within the faith community, and does not include “neighbours” (let alone love of “enemies”, as in Luke 6:27).

Another Synoptic instruction which is echoed in this Gospel is the command to serve, but once again with a narrower scope. Jesus instructs his disciples to follow his example and serve one another (Mark 10:42–45; Luke 22:24–27), but the Johannine Jesus exhorts them simply to serve him (John 12:26). Later, he informs them that they are no longer to be called servants, but friends, for they know all that God intends them to know (15:15). Even this ethical category is now obsolete.

In John’s Gospel, there appears to be little need for specific instruction about particular ethical situations, such as we find in the letters of Paul, James, Peter, and the teachings of the Synoptic Jesus (Matt 5–7; Luke 6; and so on). Rather, belief in Jesus brings with it an inherent sense of what must be done for the good.

This is expounded, not through ethical instructions, but by means of images which offer glimpses into how the central quality of love is made possible. In the image of the vine and the branches (15:1–11), Jesus portrays the foundations of ethical awareness; because believers abide in the Son, he is then able to bear fruit in their lives and “become my disciples” (15:8). So, love is made possible for those who believe, because they abide in the love of Jesus (15:10).

Employing another image, Jesus declares that he comes as “the light of the world” (9:5), inviting those who believe in him to follow the light (8:12), walk in the light (11:9–10), and thus become “children of light” (12:36).

A third image with potential for much ethical exposition is the statement by Jesus that “I am the way” (14:5). This image has been developed in other New Testament books, and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in this direction. However, the Johannine Jesus appears to see “the way” simply as the way to intimacy with God (14:6–7).

Each of these images provides a sense of certainty for the believer—who abides in Jesus, who walks in his light, who follows his way—without having to spell out particular attitudes or behaviours which must be followed. In the end, the Jesus of this Gospel invites his followers to walk into unity with him, and thus unity with the Father. Right behaviour, it is assumed, will simply follow on.

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Voting on 21 May (5): An Inclusive and Equal Society

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The fifth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for An Inclusive and Equal Society, with particular reference to how we age well within contemporary society.

The Uniting Church seeks a fairer Australia where wellbeing in older years is protected and defended, and is also committed to appreciating and recognising the value of care work undertaken in Australia. This vision is based on the dignity of all human beings created in the image of a loving God. “We believe in a world-class aged care system. Older Australians should have access to the appropriate and affordable support and care services that they need, when they need them”, the resource notes.

It further notes that “the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety identified many barriers to providing universal access to high quality aged care. Over the past two years in particular, the aged care crisis has escalated significantly and threatens the continued operations of the sector. A key component of that threat is the capacity to attract and retain enough workers; aged care workers are the lowest paid caring workforce and yet are doing some of the most important work in the nation, supporting our ageing and aged citizens.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about a clear commitment to makes sure all parts of the aged care system have adequate funding, and to fair wages for aged care workers.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (4): An Economy for Life

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

The fourth area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for An Economy of Life. This was the title of an extensive document on economic policy which the Twelfth Assembly adopted in 2009. See https://ucaassembly.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/17

The resource notes that our “government makes economic decisions that put people first: decisions that are good for creation, that lift people out of poverty and fairly share our country’s wealth. The economy serves the well-being and flourishing of all people. We believe in an Australia where prosperity is shared fairly, embracing all people regardless of their privilege or upbringing.”

The resource makes these observations: “Aspirations for shared prosperity in Australia are unravelling under the sustained, twin trends of weak wage growth and rising asset prices. Over the past 10 years wage growth has limped under 2.5 per cent annually. Over the same period share portfolio and real estate values have grown around 10 per cent annually.”

“These settings deliver economic gains toward those with assets and away from those doing it tough, resulting in a greater and growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Greater inequality strongly tracks with stress, hunger, poor physical health, poor mental health, homelessness and social exclusion, and has a negative impact on economic growth.”

“Older women are more at risk of reduced financial security after a lifelong gender pay-gap, interruptions to employment for care and reduced superannuation. The retirement savings gap between males and females in 2019 was almost one quarter. The result is that 34 percent of single women in Australia live in poverty.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• A clear commitment to undertake a review into the past decade of low-income growth.

• An increase in social security payments, especially Jobseeker.

• Tax reforms to increase the progressive nature of the Australian tax system to address unhealthy inequality.

• A clear commitment to make superannuation contributions on top of the government Parental Leave Pay.

For the full series of seven posts, see

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Voting on 21 May (3): A Welcoming, Compassionate, and Diverse Nation

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

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The third area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for A Welcoming, Compassionate, and Diverse Nation. The election resource acknowledges that we are a nation of diverse cultures, languages, faiths, ethnic groups and experiences, and affirms: “We celebrate and value the strength of this diversity. We see this diversity reflected in our leaders, key decision makers, institutions, industry, sports and media. We are a compassionate nation, where every person who seeks refuge here is treated fairly and made to feel welcome and safe – regardless of their country of origin or mode of arrival.”

Australia’s immigration policies continue to leave some people in indefinite detention. Some refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne’s Park Hotel have been in offshore and onshore detention for up to nine years. Across the country, it is estimated more than 70 people are being held in hotel detention, and, as of 31 December 2021, 105 people remained in PNG and 114 on Nauru. In response to the Afghanistan crisis, the Australian Government has committed to 10,000 humanitarian and 5,000 family reunion places over four years.

However, the 10,000 places will be taken from Australia’s current refugee and humanitarian program, which was cut by 5,000 places a year from 2020. Australia has received applications from more than 145,000 Afghan nationals and very few of those people have any hope of building a life of safety in Australia1. In addition, the recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine will see more people fleeing their homes in fear, seeking refuge in other countries.

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• An end to mandatory and indefinite off-shore and on-shore detention either in Alternative Places of Detention (hotels) or detention centres.

• Community detention of refugees and asylum seekers must allow access to education, work and housing support.

• A target for Afghan and Ukrainian refugee resettlement much higher and appropriate to the magnitude of the problem.

• Permanent protection for Afghan people already in Australia but on temporary visas.

• Enhance safeguards for people on temporary visas including including overseas students andmigrant workers.

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (2): the Renewal of the Whole Creation

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn Our Vision for a Just Australia, a 40-page document expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

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The second area reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for living sustainably and responsibly as an integral part of the global environment. The Renewal of the Whole Creation is a vision and a commitment that was articulated in the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union, adopted in 1977, and which has continued to inform policies and practices over the ensuing decades.

The church seeks the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures, in which “we act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human-induced climate change”. To achieve this, government, churches, businesses and the wider community need to work together for a sustainable future.

The UCA resource acknowledges the current Government commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but notes that “we need to do more, and sooner. Global temperatures are rising as human activity continues to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Australia faces significant climate change impacts: rising sea levels, extreme heat and flooding, longer droughts and bushfire seasons and the loss of coral reef. Our neighbours in the Pacific and elsewhere are suffering the impacts of climate change, to their lands and waters, their livelihoods, their culture and identity.”

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:


• Setting more ambitious targets for 2030 – committing to a 45-50% carbon reduction as a minimum but working towards a target closer to 70%.
• A strong renewables target – which embraces the potential for Australia as a global leader.
• Just transitions for impacted communities currently dependent on fossil fuels.
• Australia must play a significant role in our region and globally in addressing the causes and
impacts of climate change, responding to the call from Pacific countries, including the Pacific Conference of Churches, for our country to act more decisively to reduce carbon emissions.

For the UCA national climate action plan, see https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Assembly-National-Climate-Action-Plan.pdf

For the full series of seven posts, see:

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Voting on 21 May (1): Putting First Peoples First

Australian citizens go to the polls to elect a federal government on 21 May. The media, in true form, has dumbed things down, making us think that it’s about voting directly for a Prime Minister, and that it’s all about the mistakes the candidates make and the economic impact of their policies.

Our system, of course, is not simply a two- person contest; the 17 million people eligible to vote will be electing both a local member to sit in the House of Representatives for the next three years; and a number of senators, to sit in the Senate for the next six years.

And it’s not just about personalities; it’s actually about policies. We need to think about each party is promising to do, in relation to a wide array of policy areas—not just economics, but a whole array of matters.

To assist voters in considering how they might vote, the Uniting Church has prepared a resource that identifies a number of issues, in seven key areas, that should inform the way that we vote, if we take seriously how the Gospel. calls us to live.

The seven areas are drawn from a fine 40-page document that was prepared and published last year, Our Vision for a Just Australia, expressing the Uniting Church vision for a just Australia and why our Christian faith calls us to work towards its fulfilment. It can be read in full at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

The Assembly has prepared a shorter 8-page document as a Federal Election Resource, in which key matters in each of the seven areas are identified. That document is found at https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Federal-Election-Resources-2022_11-April.pdf

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The first area featured in this resource reflects the vision of the Uniting Church for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. It acknowledges that these people were nurtured and sustained by God before invasion, and so are to be celebrated at the very heart of what it means to be Australian.

The Uniting Church affirms First Peoples’ sovereignty, and believes that First Peoples have a voice in the decision making of our country and in how they live out their right to self-determination. “As First and Second Peoples”, the resource states, “we walk together, creating socially just and culturally safe relationships, listening and learning from one another”.

The Statement from the Heart developed at Uluru has been given to us by First Peoples as the basis for how we can work together to build a better future, but governments have not followed their lead. First Peoples communities, whether remote, regional or urban, experience heightened levels of disadvantage, including a lower life expectancy and worse health, education and employment outcomes than other people in Australia.

The key issues to inform our voting in this regard are what each candidate or their party says about:

• Constitutional change to enshrine a First Nations Voice to Federal Parliament.

• Recognising the sovereignty of First Nations People and establish a commission for treaty making, truth telling, justice and reconciliation.

• Sufficient funding to achieve the Closing the Gap targets, prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to deliver services wherever possible.

Subsequent posts are at:

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Moving ahead as an inclusive, respectful community

Last year, the Uniting Church adopted a statement, Our Vision for a Just Australia, which articulates in detail the values that we hold as people of faith, following the way of Jesus.

See https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Our-Vision-For-a-Just-Australia_July2021.pdf

This statement includes an affirmation that “we live together in a society where all are equal and free to exercise our rights equally, regardless of faith, cultural background, race, ability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity”. The statement asserts that “we defend those rights for all.”

It also makes the key claim that “A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity does not impact on their ability to live, work and contribute to society.”

On that basis, the Uniting Church has been working consistently towards valuing, accepting, and affirming “rainbow people”—those who identify with one of the letters in the now-familiar shorthand way of referring to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, or identify their gender and/or sexuality in other ways.

In the recent pastoral response to the debate surrounding the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill earlier this year, President Sharon Hollis wrote, “We believe every person is entitled to dignity, compassion and respect, and that the community flourishes when all people are included and accorded the dignity and respect they deserve.” That fundamental commitment undergirds all that the Uniting Church seeks to do.

President Hollis continued, “I note with sadness not all LGBTIQA+ people feel fully welcome and safe across the Uniting Church. I encourage members of the Uniting Church and people of faith to offer prayer and support to those around them who are feeling particularly vulnerable because of the political and public debate taking place.”

It is, indeed, a sadness that we do not yet have consistent practices right across the church, in how we accord dignity and respect to LGBTIQA+ people. Within the Uniting Church we are continuing to learn how best to do this, and to avoid what causes distress and anguish to “rainbow people”. Many Congregations have become explicit about their acceptance and welcome of such people, even as some communities of faith double down and refuse to make this gracious openness a marker of their life.

In recent times, governments in Australia have given consideration to banning practices which seek to alter the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of the minority of people who fall into the category of LGBTIQA+. Popularly (but unhelpfully) known as “conversion therapy”, such practices have been conducted by people of faith, in the name of Christ—attempting by persuasion, by prayer, by coercion, even by physical intervention, to “change” the attraction that an individual feels towards people of the same gender. Such “conversion” is valued by these people as a clear marker of “repentance” and “commitment” to the faith that they hold.

It is widely recognised, however, that such practices are harmful; the use of coercion, emotional manipulation, medical intervention, even physical acts, cause damage that has ongoing affects for decades. Survivors of sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts (often referenced as SOGICE) attest to the many ways by which such practices have harmed them.

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Jones, T, Brown, A, Carnie, L, Fletcher, G, & Leonard, W. Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia. Melbourne: GLHV@ARCSHS and the Human Rights Law Centre, 2018.

A 2018 study, entitled “Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice – Responding to LGBT conversion therapy in Australia”, drew on the lived experiences of “15 LGBT people with experiences of conversion therapy, documented through social research”. These participants had engaged with various conversion therapy practices between 1986 and 2016 “as part of their struggle to reconcile their sexuality or transgender identity with the beliefs and practices of their religious communities”.

This study found that “responding to conversion practices in Australia requires a multi-faceted strategy”, and proposed “a number of legislative and regulatory reforms, with a particular focus on young people given their vulnerability”. It is hoped, say the study’s authors, “that this research will raise awareness of the severity of the harms occasioned through conversion therapy, and support the development of more appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people of faith.”

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A study published in 2021, by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society of LaTrobe University, concluded that “many people who experience attempts to change or suppress the LGBTQA+ elements of their selves are severely harmed by those attempts.”

Jones, T.W., Jones, T.M, Power, J., Despott, N., & Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2021). Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University.

The study, Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices, was a joint project involving the Brave Network, the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council (AGMC), the Victorian Government and researchers at La Trobe University and Macquarie University. The project was funded by the Victorian Government and the Australian Research Council.

The study made some significant findings. First, it found that “at least one in ten LGBTQA+ Australians are vulnerable to religion-based pressures and attempts to change or suppress their sexuality”. Second, it noted that such practices “may involve formal conversion programs or ‘counselling’ practices, but more often involve less-formal processes including pastoral care, interactions with religious or community leaders, prayer groups and other spiritual or cultural practices initiated within particular communities.”

Sadly, a third key finding is that “core to both these formal and informal change and suppression practices is the message conveyed to LGBTQA+ people that they are ‘broken’, ‘unacceptable’ to God, and need spiritual or psychological healing.” That is certainly of great concern to people of faith, especially in the Uniting Church, given what our President has articulated regarding the “dignity, compassion and respect” to which every person is entitled.

The study further reports that “psychological research has demonstrated that LGBTQA+ change and suppression efforts do not reorient a person’s sexuality or gender identity and an increasing body of literature has documented the negative impacts that these pressures and attempts have on LGBTQA+ people’s lives.”

The imperative to act in relation to instances of SOGICE, as well as the importance of providing supportive pastoral care to survivors of SOGICE, cannot be underestimated.

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In 2021, whilst advocating to the ACT Government to pass legislation that would outlaw such activities, a group of UCA ministers in the ACT wrote about the biblical understanding of human beings as created by God, infused with the spirit, and perfectly acceptable to God just as exactly as they are—whatever gender identity or sexual orientation each individual possesses.

We quoted from research undertaken by Elizabeth Raine, who has argued that “all creatures are ‘nephesh’, or sentient beings.

We have a soul, a state of being, a life that is fully formed and given by God. All human beings are created with the spirit of God within us (Gen 1:20, 21, 24, 30, 2:7; Job 12:7-10). There are no exceptions to this in biblical understanding. All human beings exist within this understanding. Our human identity is grounded in the creative work of God’s spirit. Who we are is how God has made us to be—each human being is made in God’s image (Gen 1:27; Sir 17:3).”

See https://johntsquires.com/2020/08/24/sexuality-and-gender-identity-conversion-practices-bill-a-christian-perspective/

It’s my view that this fundamental biblical insight should guide our actions as the church today—accepting people for who they are, placing no value judgements on how they understand themselves or how they express themselves in loving, committed relationships. That is a key way by which we live out our faith in our lives and our relationships.

One organisation with the Uniting Church, Uniting Network, stated that “we call on all religious organisations in Australia to explicitly state their rejection of LGBT conversion therapy, and any statements along the lines that LGBTQ people are disordered, broken or otherwise not whole individuals”. See https://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org/uniting-network-australia-calls-for-action-to-end-formal-and-informal-lgbt-conversion-therapy/

The 16th Assembly of the Uniting Church, meeting this coming weekend, has before it a proposal that is a direct response to this call, and sits firmly in line with the research findings from the studies noted above.

The Assembly is being asked to recognise “that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts (SOGICE) are harmful to people’s mental health and wellbeing”, and to prepare resources which can inform congregations, agencies, and individuals so that they might “help prevent harm from SOGICE ideology and practice”. See https://uniting.church/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/40-Preventing-Harm-from-Sexual-Orientation-Gender-Identity-Change-Efforts-SOGICE.pdf

It’s an important proposal which merits careful and prayerful consideration. Its a direction that is well-supported, both by individual stories told by survivors of SOGICE, and by careful academic research in this area. It’s a proposal that should inform our pastoral care practices as well as our public advocacy and our local community engagement.

It’s a matter that people right across the Uniting Church (and beyond) would do well to consider—to ensure that we do not contribute to the (sadly) continuing harm being caused to our “rainbow” brothers and sisters.

*****

On the various affirmations in the area of sexuality that the Assembly has made, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/

The studies cited above are accessible at:

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Responding to LGBT Conversion Therapy in Australia at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580025f66b8f5b2dabbe4291/t/5bd78764eef1a1ba57990efe/1540851637658/LGBT+conversion+therapy+in+Australia+v2.pdf

Healing Spiritual Harms: Supporting Recovery from LGBTQA+ Change and Suppression Practices at https://www.latrobe.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1201588/Healing-spiritual-harms-Supporting-recovery-from-LGBTQA-change-and-suppression-practices.pdf

See also

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The Father and I are one (John 10; Easter 4C)

Each year, on the fourth Sunday of the season of Easter, the Revised Common Lectionary provides a section of John 10 as the Gospel reading for the Sunday. That chapter is where Jesus teaches about his role as “the good shepherd” who lays down his life for the sheep. The chapter is divided over the three years: 10:1–10 in Year A, then 10:11–18 in Year B, and 10:22–30 in the current year, Year C. For this reason, this particular Sunday is sometimes called the Good Shepherd Sunday.

The section offered in Year A concludes with the classic claim of Jesus, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10). The passage set for Year B begins with the famous affirmation, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:14-15).

Both passages develop the image of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep, in intimate relationship with the sheep; the shepherd knows his own (10:15), calls them by name (10:3), shows them the way of salvation (10:9), and lays down his life for the sheep (10:11, 15, 17–18).

The third section from John 10, offered in Year C, is set at a different time. The earlier sections (10:1–10, 11–18) had followed on from the story of the man born blind (9:1–41), which itself has emerged out of the conflicts between Jesus and Jewish authorities (7:10—8:59), reported as taking place in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths (7:2). That sequence of conflicts had culminated with the Jewish authorities picking up stones to throw at Jesus (8:59).

The second moment when Jewish authorities in Jerusalem prepare to stone Jesus (10:31) is at the end of the later part of John 10, in this Sunday’s reading (10:22–31). This section, still in Jerusalem, is set during the Festival of the Dedication (10:22), some time later than the earlier Festival of Booths (7:2). It includes a further statement about the shepherd: “my sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (10:27–28).

However, the focus on this section is less on the shepherd and the sheep, and more on Jesus and his relationship with the Father. Indeed, the lectionary ends the section before the climax of the conflict, when Jewish authorities pick up stones (10:31). Rather, the final verse places the emphasis in quite another direction: “The Father and I are one” (10:30). This is one of a number of key verses in this Gospel where important claims about Jesus are placed onto his lips.

Wayne Meeks (in his classic article, “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism”, JBL 91 (1972) 44–72) notes that the claims made about Jesus in the fourth Gospel function as reinforcements of the sectarian identity of the community. As this community had come into existence because of the claims that it had made about Jesus, so the reinforcement of the life of the new community took place, to a large degree, through the strengthening and refining of its initial claim concerning Jesus.

Claims made about Jesus, the Messiah (Christ) thus function as markers of the emerging self–identity of the new community, over against the inadequate understandings of Jesus which continue to be held in the old community (the synagogue), still under the sway of the Pharisees. This function can be seen in a number of other terms which are used of Jesus in the Gospel according to John.

As Meeks notes, one of the most common self–designations of the Johannine Jesus is that he is “the one sent from God”. This is another phrase which is unique to the Gospel according to John; the nearest Synoptic equivalent is found in the parable of the vineyard (Mark 12:1–8 and parallels).

The phrase may well originate in the Jewish notion of the shaliach, or messenger (for the wordplay involved in this word, see 9:7). A recognisable form of this phrase occurs 42 times in this Gospel (for instance, at 1:33; 3:34; 4:34; 10:36; 11:42; 20:21).

This claim consolidates the link between Jesus and God, binding his mission to the mission of the Father, and making a claim for Jesus which transcends the kind of claim which could be made of a chosen messenger figure.

Jesus is clear that he belongs to the world “above”, the heavenly realm, where— according to the worldview of the time—God is to be found. He declares, “I am from above…I am not of this world” (8:23); this is in contrast to the Pharisees, who are “from below” and “of this world”.

As king, he informs Pilate, he rules over a kingdom which is “not from this world” (18:36). The distinction between Jesus and the earthly authorities of the day is firmly held; Jesus belongs with God. He comes to earth in order to bring into effect the judgement of God over “the ruler of this world” (12:30–33).

Another characteristic which dominates the Christology of this Gospel is the Father-Son relationship (3:35–36; 5:19–23, 26; 6:37–40; 8:34–38; 10:32–38; 14:8–13; 17:1–5). At the conclusion of the Prologue, the importance of this relationship is established: “it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18).

In one of his disputes with the Jewish authorities, Jesus declares that he does his works “so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (10:38). This mutual interrelationship is brought to the pinnacle of its development in the lengthy prayer of chapter 17. The purpose of describing this relationship in this way is to strengthen the claims made for Jesus, to validate him as authoritative, in the context of debates with the Jewish authorities.

Finally, Jesus is perceived as being “equal with God” (5:18). At the narrative level, this is a polemical view of Jesus, attributed to the Jews. However, the author of the Gospel clearly wants the readers to agree with the claim. This is supported by further comments such as: it is clearly evident that he is the Messiah, for he is “doing the works of God” (10:24–25); he is one with the Father (10:30); he is “making himself a god” (10:33); “he has claimed to be the Son of God” (19:7); and he is acclaimed as “Lord and God” (20:28).

This is the strongest claim made about Jesus; it lifts him above the realm of human debate and, as a consequence, it also lifts the claims made by his disciples, in his name, above that human realm. By this means, the community of his followers lay claim to a dominant, privileged position, vis–a–vis the Jewish authorities.

The Christology which is proclaimed in the written Gospel has thus been developed and refined in the controversies and disputes of the community over the preceding decades, as each of these markers of the identity of Jesus were debated amongst Jewish groups, and as the community formed around Jesus differentiated itself in various ways from the dominant stream of Pharisaic Judaism (especially in the period after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE).

Later Christian theology developed the doctrine of the Trinity, in which God, Jesus and the Spirit relate to one another as equals. Whilst the Gospel of John provides biblical warrant for the equality of Father and Son, the role of the Spirit is less prominent. Jesus is endowed with the Spirit at his baptism (1:32– 33) and gives the Spirit to others through the words he speaks (3:34).

However, the Spirit is clearly subordinated to the Son in this Gospel. It is not until after Jesus is glorified that the Spirit is given (7:39; 20:22). The role of the Spirit is to be the Advocate of the Son (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), sent by the Son to testify on his behalf (15:26) and to represent what has already been spoken by Jesus (14:26; 16:13–15). As the Son testifies to the truth (1:14, 17; 8:32, 45–46; 14:6; 18:37), so the Spirit is “the spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

So the long, extended scene in Jerusalem ends as “they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands” (10:39). Jesus moves “across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier” (10:40), where many expressed their belief in him. The next, more intense, conflict still lay ahead of Jesus—by raising Lazarus from the dead (11:38–44), Jesus placed himself firmly in the sights of the Jerusalem leadership; his own death was brought firmly into view (11:45–53; 12:10–11).

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Back to the lake, back to fishing: a late resurrection story (John 21; Easter 3C)

The Gospel of John seems to come to a clear cut end with a summary and conclusion at the end of chapter 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

The addition of another chapter, featuring the scene beside the Sea of Tiberias in which Simon Peter figures prominently (21:7, 11), and the subsequent focus on Peter as Jesus affirms and commissions him (21:15-17), are curious. My view is that, together, they provide a later “corrective” to the Johannine focus on the Beloved Disciple, over and above Simon Peter. We have already noted this as being a distinctive perspective within this Gospel. See https://johntsquires.com/2022/04/28/the-third-time-that-jesus-appeared-to-the-disciples-john-21-easter-3c/

That is one reason for viewing this scene as a later addition to the Gospel, which has already come to a clear and definitive conclusion (20:30-31). Why was this chapter added?

In Mark’s earliest narrative, Peter is one of four disciples called at the start of Jesus’ activities in Galilee (Mark 1:16-20). Luke transforms this call narrative so that it both focusses almost exclusively on Peter, and also highlights his calling to a special vocation (Luke 5:1-11). This account briefly notes the presence of two other disciples (“James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon”, 5:10), and omits any mention of Peter’s brother Andrew, in maintaining a clear focus on Peter as the counterfoil to Jesus in what takes place.

John’s Gospel includes a story that is remarkably similar to this Lukan call narrative, but locates it at the very end of the narrative, rather than in the earlier stages of the story. The many similarities within the story include: the location, by the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1) or beside the lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1); Simon Peter as a key character (John 21:3, 7, 11, 15–17; Luke 5:3–8, 10); a lack of fish after a night of fishing (John 21:3; Luke 5:5); an appearance of Jesus (John 21:4; Luke 5:3); a command to try again to catch fish, to cast the net to the other side (John 21:6) or to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4); a miraculous catch of many fish (John 21:6–8; Luke 5:6); and a confession of faith in Jesus as “the Lord” (John 21:7, 12; Luke 5:8).

Whereas for Luke, it is Peter who makes the confession of faith in Jesus (Luke 5:8), in John’s narrative it is “the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” (John 21:7). This is reminiscent of the way that John reshapes the high christological confession of Peter, “you are the Messiah” (Mark 8:30), so that this high claim is spoken by Martha, sister of Lazarus: “yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:27). If the author of the book of signs knew the Synoptic traditions, he has apparently intentionally removed these confessional statements from Peter’s mouth.

The scene on the sea in Luke ends with the command, “from now on you will be catching people” (5:10), maintaining the earlier Markan report of the words of Jesus, “follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). By contrast, the Johannine scene is extended with a potent vignette; the invitation to follow is delayed until the end of this extended scene (John 21:19).

In the extended vignette in John’s version, a threefold “rehabilitation” of Peter takes place (John 21:15–17). Three times, Jesus asks a question of Peter, to which he responds in the affirmative; each time, Jesus issues a command to Peter: “feed my lambs … tend my sheep … feed my sheep”.

This triple sequence of question—affirmation—command is often linked to the threefold denial of Jesus by Peter found in all three Synoptics (Mark 14:68, 70, 71; Matt 26:70, 72, 74; Luke 22:57, 58, 60) and also John (18:15, 25, 27). Indeed, the Synoptic accounts explicitly note that Jesus says to Peter, “you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:72; Matt 26:75; Luke 22:61), and each narrative indicates that this has fulfilled a prediction made by Jesus (Mark 14:30; Matt 26:34; Luke 22:34).

This precise prediction is missing from the Johannine narrative; nor does this version make anything of there being three denials. This account simply ends, “again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed” (John 18:27). There is nothing explicit in the account of John 21:15–17 to suggest that it is explicitly looking back to “three denials” by Peter and seeking to redeem him with the threefold question—response—command of the Johannine account.

If the source of chapter 21 of John’s Gospel is other than the context in which the body of the Gospel (chapters 1–20) was formed, then it could well be that the insertion of this short scene does intend to refer back, not to the way that the book of signs portrays the denial of Jesus by Peter, but to the Synoptic account with its explicit noting of the “three times”. The “primacy of Peter” is laid over the narrative which has accorded that place to the Beloved Disciple.

Nevertheless, it is striking, I think, that after this interaction between Peter and Jesus, we are offered commentary on the way in which Peter would die (21:18) and a final invitation, “follow me” (21:19). “Follow me” is what Jesus says to various people during his active public ministry: Peter and Andrew (Mark 1:17), Levi the tax collector (Mark 2:14), an unnamed rich man (Mark 10:21), an unnamed traveller on the road (Luke 9:59), and, in the initial scenes in John’s book of signs, to Philip (John 1:43). Indeed, in John’s account, Jesus explicitly tells Peter, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward” (13:36–37).

Immediately after this comes the prediction of his betrayal by Peter (13:38). Peter is unable to follow Jesus at any point in the story that follows—he denies him (18:15–18, 25–27) and then disappears from the story until he is drawn back into the narrative by Mary (20:2). His “redemption” is not complete until the explicit invitation from Jesus, “follow me”, beside the Sea of Tiberias (21:19). John has reworked and reshaped traditions that we can see in one form in the Synoptic tradition; his reshaping serves his own agenda in terms of the leadership of the Beloved Disciple.

It is that disciple who has the last word in this Gospel, with the curious interaction about his own death (21:20–23) and then the ultimate concluding claim by the author: “this is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true” (21:24). The claim provides a neat segue into the claims made by the author of the letter we know as 1 John: “we declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1).

And the final, final word (John 21:25) hearkens back to the initial claims about God acting in and through Jesus as Word (1:1); concerning the full extent of what God does in and through Jesus, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (21:25). The all-knowing author has knowledge beyond even what the present Gospel conveys.

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Images drawn from the past, looking to the future, as a message for the present (Revelation; Easter, Year C)

During the season of Easter this year, we are following a short sequence of readings from the book of Revelation. The first such reading (Rev 1:4–8) was last Sunday, setting out the writer and the audience, as well as the key focus of the book: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5).

The book begins with a striking opening phrase—in Greek, it reads apokalypsis Iesou Christou (1:1). The first word in this phrase can be translated in two ways, resulting in the two most common titles for the book—“Revelation” or “Apocalypse”.

The word revelation is related to a Latin word which means to disclose or make known; the word apocalypse is the Greek term which means to uncover or expose. This word sums up the distinctive nature of the book right at the start—this is an exposé of the highest degree!

The content of this exposé is declared to be “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:2, 9). The book ends with a reminder that Jesus sent his angel to John with “this testimony for the churches” (22:16). All of this is being done in a context of some urgency: “the time is near” (1:3), for Jesus is coming soon (1:7; 22:7, 12, 20; see also 2:16; 3:11; 22:6).

The book was written to be read aloud (1:3; 22:18); it seems to invite the people listening to the story to envisage what is being described by using their own imaginations. This is already evident in the way that the dramatic tone builds in the opening sections of the work. First, in the section of the book set for last Sunday, there is a hymn in praise of Jesus, reminiscent of poetic sections in other New Testament books as well as in Hebrew Scripture (1:5–8).

Next comes a description of the author and the process of creating the book (1:9–11). This was apparently initiated by “a loud voice like a trumpet” (1:10) —a voice which belonged to a distinguished figure with an ominous presence (1:12–16), whose appearance caused the writer to “fall at his feet as though dead” (1:17). The scene is thoroughly biblical, in keeping with the pattern of portentous announcements in Hebrew Scripture as well as in the early chapters of some Gospels. This will be the first of a number of visions, in which startling creatures declare unnerving messages in vividly dramatic ways.

The Revelation of John was not the first book of this kind ever written; in fact, Jewish writers had been producing literature like this for some centuries, recounting visions of the heavenly realm and reporting teachings which have been passed on by ancient figures from the heavens. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are sections of the prophetic works which have the same kind of tone, as prophets report the visions they have seen and the oracles they have heard from the Lord.

Indeed, within other parts of the New Testament, there are indications of similar interests and ways of viewing the world—a view that is often characterized as “apocalyptic”. The figure of John the Baptist can best be appreciated as an apocalyptic figure, declaring that the Messiah has come and the kingdom is at hand (Mark 1:7–8; Matt 3:2).

Jesus continued the apocalyptic message of John by announcing that the kingdom of God was near (Mark 1:15; Matt 4:17) or, indeed, present (Luke 17:20). Many of the parables of Jesus and not a few of his teachings reflect an apocalyptic view of reality (for instance, Mark 13:14–37; Matt 24:45–25:46, Luke 17:20–37).

The letters of Paul contain clear pointers to the way that Paul viewed the world through an apocalyptic lens, in which the return of Jesus would take place soon and the kingdom of God would be ushered in (1 Thess 4:13–5:11; 1 Cor 7:29– 31, 15:20–28; Rom 8:18–25). The view that “the last days” were to come was also held by other writers (Heb 1:2; James 5:3; 2 Tim 2 Pet 3:1–5; Jude 17–19).

The apocalyptic worldview had been developing in Israel for some centuries. From their origins, prophets had delivered oracles in the name of the Lord; over time, they also began to incorporate accounts of visions in their messages (Isa 6; Jer 24; Ezek 1, 2–3, 8–11, 37, 40–44; Dan 2:19; Joel 2:28–32; Amos 7–9; Obad 1; Hab 2; Zech 1–8).

In the later stages of the prophetic movement in Israel, this form of communication becomes dominant. The last half of two prophetic books (Daniel 7–12; Zech 9–14) contain interrelated sequences of visions in which contemporary events, and perhaps also future events, appear to be depicted in symbolic form.

This trend continues on in a number of books written through the second and first centuries BCE, many of which still survive today. In this period we find various works which use heavenly messengers to reveal insights about mysteries and provide predictions about the future.

Most widely-known are 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch; in addition, a number of works in the Dead Sea Scrolls are apocalyptic in nature. All these works contain literary features typical of apocalyptic works, as well as certain theological elements relating to the end of the ages.

As we read the book of Revelation, we can identify certain literary features which are quite characteristic of apocalyptic literature. The authority of the author is a key concern (1:9–10; 22:8–9) and the declaration is made that what is now being revealed is a mysterious secret (1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7). This revelation comes direct from God through his authorized messenger (1:1–2, 11– 20; 22:8–10).

The warning not to change the text (22:18–19) is characteristic of apocalyptic, as is the regular reminder of the author’s expectation that the present era is coming to an end (2:26; 21:1, 4) and his description of a vision of the beginning of a new era (1:1; 7:9–17; 11:19; 21:1–22:7; 22:12, 20). The role of angels and visions reflects typical apocalyptic features.

Also typical of apocalyptic are the many coded depictions which are conveyed in numbers: four (4:6–8; 5:6, 14; 6:1–8; 7:1–3, 11; 9:14; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4; 21:16); ten (2:10; 12:3, 18; 17:3, 12–16); twelve (12:1; 21:12–14, 21; 22:2); twenty-four (4:4, 10; 11:16; 19:4); 144,000 (7:4–8; 14:1–4); and the intriguing 666 (13:18).

Of course, the number seven, which recurs in numerous places throughout the book, is very significant: there are seven letters, 1:11; seven golden lampstands, 1:12, 20; seven stars, 1:16, 20; 2:1; seven angels, 1:20; 3:1; 15:7; seven spirits, 1:4; 3:1; seven seals, 5:1; seven horns and eyes, 5:6; seven trumpets, 8:2; seven thunders, 10:3–4; seven diadems, 12:3; seven plagues, 15:1, 6; seven golden bowls, 15:7; 16:1; and seven heads, 17:3, 9–10.

Finally, there is the crucial appearance of Babylon as a coded symbol of Rome (17:5, 18). This is a code used also in Jewish apocalyptic works.

The reader (or listener) of this work is invited into a world of unfettered imagination, with evocative imagery, enticing language, and disturbing rhetoric. The book appears to be describing the events that will take place in the immediate future; these chapters set the scene set for what will later be revealed as a colossal, cosmic battle between good and evil.

However, the style of the work is never straightforward and the message is never declared in direct propositional form. Many of the scenes contain words, images, and ideas which are already familiar from the Hebrew Scriptures— although they appear to be arranged in inventive new ways. Making sense of this book requires an act of creative imagination alongside a process of careful exploration, investigation, and interpretation.

The visions that are included in this spectacularly dramatic book evoke biblical language and imagery in various ways, as the author envisages the future by drawing from the scriptures of the past and reworking the images and ideas found within them as a message for the present.

“Worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered”: a paradoxical vision (Rev 5; Easter 3C)

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The third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples (John 21; Easter 3C)

The Gospel passage which the lectionary offers for this coming Sunday (John 21:1–19) includes some distinctive features worthy of comment. The scene, like many of the scenes of the resurrection of Jesus, is found in this one place only. This contrasts with the empty tomb account, which is found in all four Gospels (Mark 16:1–8; Matt 28:1–10; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–18), albeit with variations and differences in each version.

Other resurrection accounts are one-off reports: to the eleven disciples in Galilee (Matt 28:16–20); to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–32); to “the eleven and their companions in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33–49); to a group (unnamed) of disciples meeting behind locked doors, presumably in Jerusalem (John 20:19–23); and to the disciples, including Thomas, a week later, behind closed doors (John 20:26–29). (This collection of appearances is bundled up into the Longer Ending which was added to Mark’s Gospel in a later century, as Mark 16:9–20.)

There are also claims, made by Paul, about appearances of the risen Jesus, “to Cephas, then to the twelve … then to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time … then to James, then to all the apostles; last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15:5-8). None of these correlate precisely with the appearances noted in the Gospels.

The location for this particular appearance of Jesus is “by the Sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1). It is only the book of signs that identifies Tiberias as a region which Jesus visits, and then only once, when he feeds to 5,000 (6:1–14, 23). In introducing that story, the author explicitly equates the Sea of Galilee with the Sea of Tiberias (6:1). This sea appears often as the location for stories in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:16; 7:31, both paralleled in Matt 4:18; 15:29; see also Luke 5:1, where it is called the “Lake of Gennesaret”). The story told in Luke 5 is important, as we shall explore below, in considering the John 21 narrative.

La seconde pêche miraculeuse
by James Tissot (1836–1902)

Seven Disciples by the Lake

The group of seven disciples present when Jesus makes his appearance are identified as “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples” (21:2). This list of those gathered beside the sea is interesting for who is present, and who is missing.

The author of the book of origins has begun his account with an idiosyncratic list of the earliest followers of Jesus. The first named is Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, who is introduced as one of two disciples of John the baptiser (John 1:35–40). The other one with Andrew is unnamed. Andrew draws his brother, Simon, into the story (1:40–41), providing the first confession of Jesus as Messiah (1:41); although it is Andrew who makes this confession, Jesus bestows a new name upon Simon—to be known henceforth as Cephas, that is, Peter, the “rocky one” (1:42).

Peter figures in many stories in the Synoptic Gospels; Andrew, less often. By Paul’s own admission, “James and Cephas and John” were the “acknowledged pillars” of the Church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9); James and Peter were key voices amongst “the apostles and the elders” in the gathering often known as the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13–19).

Also amongst the earliest followers of Jesus in the book of origins are Philip, “from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter” (1:43–44) and Nathanael, whom Jesus declares to be “truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (1:45–47). Nathanael provides a triple declaration that Jesus is “Rabbi … the Son of God … the King of Israel” (1:49). Curiously, these earliest followers of Jesus have already made the key confessional affirmations about Jesus in their initial encounters with him—more a literary device than an historically-plausible event.

Icon of Philip and Nathanael with Jesus

Peter, of course, figures in the Johannine version of the story about Jesus—only once in the earlier narrative section (John 6:68) but a number of times in the final sections of the story (13:1–11, 21–30, 36–38; 18:10–11, 15–18, 25–27; 20:1–8). The lesser role of Peter, and the way he is contrasted a,onside “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, will be further explored below.

Philip and Andrew are noted as being present both in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (6:8–14) and when “some Greeks” worshipping in Jerusalem ask Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (12: 20–22). This request evokes a significant response from Jesus, speaking about “my hour”, the seed falling into the ground, and the familiar teaching, “whoever serves me must follow me” (12:23–26). Philip also poses one of the requests put to Jesus during his “farewell discourse”, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (14:8–14). Nathanael, by contrast, is absent from the story until this final post-crucifixion narrative (21:1–3).

So five of the seven who gather by the sea in this post-crucifixion time are clearly identical with individuals named in the Synoptic Gospels. Simon Peter was the earliest disciple called, along with his brother, Andrew (Mark 1:16–18; Matt 4:18–20) and always heads up the list of The Twelve whom Jesus “appointed as apostles” (Mark 3:14; see the list at Mark 3:18 and parallels, and Acts 1:13).

In Synoptic tradition, the sons of Zebedee were the next two disciples called by Jesus (Mark 1:19–20; Matt 4:21–22), where they are named as James and John; they also figure in the list of The Twelve (Mark 3:18 and parallels; Acts 1:13). These two sons are never named in John’s book of signs; nor do they appear anywhere else in the earlier stories of Jesus.

Thomas is named amongst The Twelve in Synoptic traditions (Mark 3:18 and parallels; Acts 1:13). He is noted on three occasions in the book of signs (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24–29); see https://johntsquires.com/2019/04/23/in-defence-of-thomas-a-doubting-sceptic-or-a-passionate-firebrand/

Philip, introduced by John in company with Nathanael (1:43–51) is linked with Bartholomew in Synoptic traditions (Mark 3:18 and parallels; Acts 1:13). Bartholomew is not mentioned at all in the book of signs; could the Synoptic Bartholomew be the same as the Johannine Nathanael? The identification is often made by interpreters.

The Beloved Disciple and Simon Peter

Who were the other two, unnamed, disciples in that group of seven beside the Sea of Tiberias that early morning? The verses immediately after the section offered by the lectionary provide a clue. The narrative continues, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?'” (21:20).

The disciple whom Jesus loved has appeared earlier in the book of signs at two key moments: at the meal with the disciples that included the footwashing (13:23), and beside the cross (19:25–27). There is some question, also, that he may have been “the other disciple” with Simon Peter in the courtyard of the high priest (18:15–16; “the other disciple” is identified as “the one whom Jesus loved” at 20:2).

This disciple actually occupies a more prominent place in the book of signs than Simon Peter, who predominates in the Synoptic accounts. The Johannine narrative of the empty tomb places Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple at the tomb (20:1–10). Whilst the two disciples run to the tomb, the Beloved Disciple arrives first, ahead of Peter, and makes the first confession of faith (20:3–8).

The disciples Peter and John running to the tomb
on the morning of the resurrection
Painting by Eugène Burnand (1898)

There is a similar dynamic at work in the Johannine account of the final supper, as the Beloved Disciple reclines next to Jesus; at the request of Simon Peter, he asks Jesus about his prediction of betrayal (13:21–25). In both scenes, Peter appears to be in a subservient position to the Beloved Disciple: arriving second at the tomb, asking the Beloved Disciple to ask a question of Jesus.

This contrast is heightened in the Passion Narrative, as the Synoptic accounts of the threefold denial of Jesus by Peter (Mark 14:66–72 and parallels) are replicated in John’s book of signs (John 18:15–18, 15–17), whilst the Beloved Disciple stays close by Jesus, standing at the foot of the cross with his mother, in John’s narrative (19:15–17).

The “competition” between these two early disciples is one clue as to the origins of John’s book of signs. Raymond Brown has developed a complex hypothesis about multiple stages of development of this Gospel, with the figure of the Beloved Disciple providing a focal point of leadership and identity (and perhaps also serving as the earliest source for the distinctive Johannine traditions?). This is a counterpoint to the leadership accorded to Peter in Mark’s account (Mark 1:16-18; 8:29; 10:28; 14:29; 16:7) and the subsequent strengthening of his leadership role by Matthew (Matt 16:13-20).

I still find Brown’s proposal to be quite persuasive. There is a detailed summary and valuable critical analysis of Brown’s hypothesis by L. Jared Garcia at https://leejaredgarcia.com/2020/10/29/the-community-of-the-beloved-disciple-by-raymond-brown-a-book-review/

*****

See also https://johntsquires.com/2022/04/29/back-to-the-lake-back-to-fishing-a-late-resurrection-story-john-21-easter-3c/

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John whose other name was Mark (April 25)

In the Uniting Church’s resource provided for worship leaders, Uniting in Worship, there is a Calendar of Commemorations, based on the cycle of annual feast days for saints in the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox churches—but broadened out to be much wider than this. Many days of the year are designated to remember specific people. Today (25 April) is the day allocated to remember John Mark, fellow worker with Paul and, by tradition, the author of the earliest Gospel.

Mark, it is believed, was a young man at the time of Jesus. The first explicit mention of this young man comes in Luke’s description of the community of believers, gathered together. When Peter was released from prison, he went to “the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying” (Acts 12:12).

It’s interesting to wonder whether this gathering in the house of this Mary might have been in the same place, with many of the same people, who gathered in Jerusalem, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but before the Day of Pentecost. That gathering was in “the room upstairs where they were staying”, without the owner of the house being noted. Included in the people participating in this gathering was “Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Acts 1:12–14). John Mark is not mentioned amongst those named in this group on that earlier occasion.

John Mark is mentioned further time in Acts after the gathering in Jerusalem in Acts 12. After working for a year in Antioch (11:26), Barnabas and Saul “returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark” (12:25). It seems that John Mark had been sharing in ministry with Barnabas and Saul in Antioch.

The final reference to John Mark occurs at a critical moment in the narrative about the mission that Barnabas and Saul had been undertaking. They had spent time in Antioch in Syria (11:22–30), Cyprus (13:4–12), Antioch in Pisidia (13:13–52), Iconium (14:1–5), Lystra and Derbe (14:6–20), Barnabas and Saul travelled back to Antioch in Pisidia (14:21–23) and then on back to Antioch in Syria (14:24–28).

After a council of the church was held in Jerusalem (15:1–29) and a report from that was given in Antioch (15:30–35), there was some discussion about revisiting “the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (15:36).

Luke reports that “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work” (15:37–38). This earlier desertion of the apostles—not actually noted in the text at the time it was said to have taken place—was the basis for Paul’s opposition to this proposal.

Luke indicates that “the disagreement became so sharp that they parted company”; the word that is used here, paroxysmos, is sharp and cutting (we derive the word paroxysm from it). So “Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord (15:39–40). Silas would be the ongoing companion of Paul for some time thence.

There is an ancient church tradition, however, that identifies John Mark with “a certain young man”, not named in the text, who was “wearing nothing but a linen cloth” (Mark 14:51). This young man, perceived to be one of the followers of Jesus, was with Jesus in the garden at the critical time when, as the Gospel reports, all those who were with him “deserted and fled” (14:50). The text explicitly notes of this “certain young man” that the “crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes and the elders” (14:43) caught hold of him as the others fled, “but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked” (14:52).

This young man—the first Christian streaker!—has been identified as John Mark, and it’s further claimed that he was the author of the work we know as the Gospel according to Mark. The “evidence” in the text is as clear as the clothing that the young man was wearing—it slips away in an instant, it is nothing of any substance at all.

What else do we know of John Mark? Is he the “Mark, cousin of Barnabas” mentioned at Col 4:10? His name appears here and in Philemon 24, amidst a similar cluster of men identified as fellow-workers of Paul (Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke; see Col 4:10–14). The names of three of these men (Mark, Delmas, and Luke) recur amidst the people noted at 2 Tim 4:9–11; also named are Crescens, Titus, Alexander, and Tychicus).

This section of 2 Tim may well be an historical fragment from the time of Paul, inserted into a letter written at a later time, claiming Pauline authorship (but betraying many signs of a later composition). But nothing definitively links this Mark with the John Mark of Acts (nor, for that matter, with the author of the earliest extant Gospel).

The later relationship between John Mark and Paul is also hinted at in a further letter, attributed to Peter (but most likely not authored by either him), which concludes with a note that Silvanus (whom some think may have been Silas) assisted in writing the letter, and that “my son Mark sends greetings” (1 Pet 5:12–13).

This verse has contributed to the tradition that Mark was a disciple of Peter (the word translated “son” could also infer he was a “disciple”)—and thus, that Mark’s Gospel came from when Mark, “in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory—though not in an ordered form—of the things either said or done by the Lord”, as Papias declared (Eusebius, Church History 3.39). The lion is the symbol that is traditionally attached to this Gospel.

But this claim about authorship comes from a later century, and is not an observation made at the time the Gospel was written. See

The closing words of the letter attributed to Peter are a fitting conclusion to our consideration of the mercurial John Mark: “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” (1 Pet 5:14). If he was, indeed, with Peter, and if this was, indeed, their wish for “the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet 1:1), it stands as a fine testimony from this first century follower of Jesus.

Mark is subsequently credited as being the founder of the church in Egypt. The Coptic Church (the Church of Alexandria) is called the “See of St. Mark”; it is claimed as one of the four earliest sees: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. John Mark regarded in the Coptic Church as the first of their unbroken 117 patriarchs, and also the first of a stream of Egyptian martyrs.

An apocryphal story told about John Mark concerns an incident soon after he had left Jerusalem and arrived in Alexandria. On his arrival, the strap of his sandal was loose. He went to a cobbler to mend it. When the cobbler, named Anianos, took an awl to work on it, he accidentally pierced his hand and cried aloud “O One God”. At this utterance, it is said that Mark miraculously healed the man’s wound. This gave him courage to preach to Anianos. The spark was ignited and Anianos took the Apostle home with him. He and his family were baptized, and many others followed.

It is said that John Mark went to Rome, but left there after Peter and Paul had been martyred; he then returned to Alexandria and was martyred there in the year 68, after an altercation with a crowd attempting to celebrate the feast of Serapis at the same time as the Christians were celebrating Easter.

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Seeking peace amidst the turmoil: the terrible tragedy of warfare

As we draw nearer to the annual ANZAC Day commemorations, we prepare to remember those who have served in military forces in many theatres of war over the past decades. As I keep on hearing, now, this annual day is not a day to glorify the exploits of those who took part in those wars (which is how I experienced it, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s), but rather, a day to reflect on the cost, even the sacrifice, of those combatants.

Certainly, the mood of sober reflection on the cost of war, the damage that it does to those who have served, and also the courage that many showed under situations of great adversity and danger—this is what usually predominates in our time. (Although my liturgical sensitivities still cringe, every time a local RSL branch leads an ANZAC Day service using antiquated language and creakingly-obsolete theology via the “approved order of service” and the hymns that are taken straight from the vault of Antiques Roadshow.)

I recently read about a visit that Pope Francis made to Italy’s largest military cemetery. It was in 2014, but what the Pope said merits our consideration: “war is madness; humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.”

The report indicated that the Pope believed, even back in 2014, that we were in the midst of a Third World War—a piecemeal war, but a world war, nevertheless. The current Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the sturdy resistance of the people of Ukraine, and the consequent involvement of NATO and western nations, could well be seen to be the most immediate sign of this war.

(See https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-10/russia-invasion-ukraine-rumblings-world-war-three-decades-ago/100977334

If this is a world war, and if the West is heavily invested in this war, then will the West be able to gain victory? The bottom line, for me, is that war is never a winning strategy. There are no winners in warfare. Certainly, there appears to be winners—in the short term—as well as losers—also in the short term. But in the long term, everyone loses. There are no winners. War causes such pain, such turmoil, such hurt, such dislocation. “War is madness; humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.”

World War I was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”. The Armistice signed in late 1918 was supposed to ensure peace in Europe, and across the world. However, within two decades, the world was at war again. World War II was, in many ways, dealing with the consequences of the way that World War I was resolved, both on the battlefields, and in the negotiating rooms. The League of Nations became the United Nations, pursuing a programme of seeking peace across the world—a programme that still, today, is ongoing, and never-ending.

Can this current war be won? Should resources and personnel be devoted to “winning the war”? Certainly, Russia is showing every sign that it intends to “win the war”; whether they will, remains to be seen. And the Ukraine is valiantly demonstrating that it intends not to be the “loser” of the current war being waged in its territory; whether this will be the result, will depend on the tenacity of Ukrainian troops and the level of support (military, sanctions, trade embargoes, and the like) from NATO and others. Only time will tell who the short-term “winner” and “loser” will be.

It is true that going to war is seen by many as a legitimate way to resolve disputes and solve arguments, on a large scale. There have even been, through the ages, sophisticated arguments mounted to justify warfare. The Just War theory (originating in Ancient Greece, developed by St Augustine, and further developed by Thomas Aquinas) could presumably be used to support a western pushback to the current Russian invasion. Fighting evil is seen as essential. War is reckoned as the way to do this.

But, as the Pope said, “war is madness; humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.” We know that war has many consequences. It damages individuals, communities, societies, and nations. It has many more innocent victims than the casualty lists of enrolled personnel indicate. And there is abundant evidence that one war might appear to resolve one issue, but often will cause other complications which will lead to another war.

As I have noted, when we look at the outcome of the Armistice at the end of World War One, we can trace a direct sequence of events that led from World War One to World War Two. The same connections can be made, for instance, between colonisation (itself a process that involves warfare, as invasions require the subduing of Indigenous Peoples) and subsequent civil wars in the USA, Sri Lanka, and in various countries in Africa and Asia.

Sometimes, pitched battle warfare seems to be the only possible way forward. In the current situation, resisting the Russian invasion seems to be a vital strategy, especially as we see the pictures beamed from building reduced to rubble, lines of homeless people seeking to find refuge, hospitals that have been bombed but are seeking to continue to operate under difficulties. These pictures pull at our heartstrings, and validate our support for a direct western response to Russian aggression. A non-violent response seems harsh, uncaring, selfish, and doomed to failure.

Yet, overall, a commitment to peace is surely what we need to foster. An aversion to war is what we need to develop. As we follow the man from Nazareth who advocated turning the other cheek, praying for those who abuse you, and loving the enemy—the man who blessed those who work for peace—it would seem that a non-violent response is essential. And that is the ultimate goal.

To achieve that ultimate goal, a culture of respectful disagreement and honest negotiation, rather than pitched rhetoric and savage violence, is surely what we ought to aspire towards. However, that can’t suddenly be brought to bear in the current situation. I think the imperative to respond “in kind” is too strong to ignore. The justification for an aggressive western response is strong.

But over time, our leaders need to foster a much more constructive sense of relating in positive ways through diplomacy that is nurtured over time—rather than public posturing and media-oriented sound bites. That takes hard work and persistent commitment. Instead of rattling the sabres to grow in popularity during the current battle, why not commit to the military response that is currently required, but also seek to develop robust ways of developing respectful and mutually-constructive ways of operating.

That longer path of peace must surely be the direction that our governments must work for in the coming years. The Uniting Church has had a long commitment to seeking peace in local, national, and international spheres, stretching right back to a 1982 decision of the National Assembly, affirming that “the Uniting Church is committed to be a peacemaking body, seeking to follow the Lord of the Church by encouraging political authorities to resolve political tensions by peaceful means.” (82.57(1)(c))

See https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/uniting-for-peace

We know that “war is madness; humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.” Those papal words might inspire us to pause, reflect, weep—and pray. And as people of faith, the ultimate goal of peace (not just of “winning the war”, but of “bringing peace with justice”) must surely be the focus of our prayers—as we pray for those displaced, injured, or mourning in this current war, so too, we pray and work for peace in the world on the basis of justice.

So may it be.

*****

On civil war in the USA, see https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2020/03/a-war-for-settler-colonialism/

On civil war in Sri Lanka, see https://hir.harvard.edu/sri-lankan-civil-war/

On civil wars in former colonies in Africa and Asia, see https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/asia-and-africa

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It was yet another Passover meal—or was it? (Maundy Thursday, Year C)

The following liturgy was written in April 2022 and conducted at Tuggeranong Uniting Church on Maundy Thursday, 14 April 2022. The liturgy was conducted around a labyrinth, laid out in the worship area. There were six tables, each forming the focus of one section of the liturgy.

Seven candles were lit at the end of the first section, as reflective music played. Participants were invited to remove their shoes for the service, to sit and meditate or gently walk the labyrinth whilst the reflective music was playing.

After the words for each following section, a candle was extinguished, and reflective music was played, during which participants could sit and meditate, or walk a section of the labyrinth. Participants were encouraged to stay in their place on the labyrinth, or move to a nearby chair, as the words of each section were spoken.

The first and last sections took place focused around a table on which some cups, grapes, and bread were set, forming the elements for communion in the last section.

***** *****

A LITURGY FOR MAUNDY THURSDAY in the YEAR OF LUKE (Year C)

1 The Room

(Please remove your shoes)

Tonight, we gather, and remember;

we remember, and rejoice …

for it was Passover time.

Now of course, it began in celebration;

a gathering of friends and family;

a joyful occasion, with the drinking of wine,

some singing, some laughing; a meal shared together;

but then, a kiss … a betrayal … a denial … a trial …

Yet it began in celebration.

For years, it was so; for decades, for centuries,

on this very night, we would gather, joined as family,

to remember, to rejoice, to recall the act of liberation.

So we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who have chosen us and made us holy,

a nation of priests, a people set apart.


Yes, we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who create the fruit of the vine.
Yes, we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who bring forth bread from the earth.

We praise you in the lighting of the candles,

signs of your presence amongst us tonight;

in these sparkling, enlivening lights,

we remember that we are a light to the nations.

THE CANDLES ARE LIT

SONG: Bless the Lord, my soul (Taize)

*****

2 The Road

It was yet another Passover meal — or was it?

We began like every other Passover meal;

we began by recalling the story …

and yet, although we did not know it,

this time it would be different;

a different Passover celebration;

a different time entirely.

It probably began with what he said

as he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

Looking back, we can hear the resonances;

the hints were there; but we were deaf.

We couldn’t grasp these words;

for the journey was the moment,

the crowds that surged as he healed,

the crowds that marvelled as he taught,

the crowds that continued with him on the way,

enthralled, persuaded, believing.

You see, the journey was the moment,

destination Jerusalem, holy city,

city of the prophets, city of the kings,

the holy place where God still dwells.

Hosanna, blessings, celebration;

“Bless the king, sound hosannas;

peace in heaven, the promise is near,

glory abounds”, the crowd cries out;

the day of salvation is at hand.

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

We cared not for those hard words now;

the swirl of the crowd, the shouts of acclamation,

the spreading of cloaks and waving of branches,

reminders of the times of triumph,

anticipation of the coming glory.

Blessed is the king;

he comes in God’s name.

He comes in God’s glory,

he comes bearing peace.

When would we see it?

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 2

SONG: Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to the king of kings

*****

3 The Room

Now the festival drew near:

unleavened bread, called the Passover,

the celebration of redemption,

the time of God’s salvation.

God came, God saved us,

we hurried to respond;

no time to prepare, no time to bake the bread;

we gathered what we could, left hurriedly,

in haste, intent on being ready—

it was the Passover of God,

when God saved the people.

So we gathered, now, to remember,

retell the ancient story,

relive the present promise.

The table was set, with bread and wine,

for this festival of the Lord,

the celebration of Passover …

We met around the table; a family extended,
with brothers and sisters, children and friends;
aunts … uncles … cousins … disciples …
a cacophony of colleagues, family and followers.

As we met around the table, we joined our voices,

with a psalm of celebration; a psalm of hallelujah.

We gathered as a family,

with roasted lamb and bitter herbs,

unleavened bread, four cups of wine;

we gather now, to celebrate,

and as we do, we anticipate:

God, you saved us then;

O God, save us now.

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 3

SONG: Laudate Dominum

*****

4 The Room

You know the Passover is coming,

when God will save the people;

“and the Son of Man will be handed over;

they will mock him, they will whip him,

they will nail him to the cross, to die.”

For the Passover is coming,

when God will save the people.

“I have eagerly desired to share this time,

to celebrate this Passover, with you, my friends.”

First, the cup which signals the kingdom to come;

“take it, drink from it, remember as you drink”;

then the bread, “this is my body”,

words that strained our incredulity.

Then yet again a cup, the covenant renewed;

familiar ground? yet curiously,

“the cup poured out, a new covenant,

sealed in my blood, shed for you”.

Then words of betrayal; woe to that one,

one we had trusted, one we had honoured.

What was going on in his mind?

We could not know:

of the gathering of leaders, we knew not,

of the plot to seize him quietly, we knew not,

of the thirty pieces of silver, we knew not.

Unthinkable, it turns out, what he was doing:

unimaginable, the consequence of this squalid deal.

But we were at a meal that was filled with celebration;

the somber notes he sounded were lost amidst the joy.

It was the Passover of God,

when God has saved the people.

It was a gathering of friends and family;

a joyful occasion, with the drinking of wine,

some singing, some laughing; a meal shared together.

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 4

SONG: Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom (Taize)

*****

5 The Garden

Not too long after the betrayer left him,

not too long after, they came for him.

Not just the crowd in the garden,

not just the priests from the temple,

not just the elders who had formed an unholy alliance,

scribes and priests together, on the hunt;

but they came with their thugs, the temple police,

intent on arresting him, as if he were a criminal.

“I was with you, day after day, in the temple,

and you didn’t come for me there. But now—

but here, in this dark moonlit moment,

under cover of night, you seize me?

This is your hour; this is the power of darkness.”

So began this cruel, twisted fate,

from Gethsemane to Golgotha.

With brute force they manhandled him;

to the High Priest, mocking him on the way.

The mocking continued in the assembly,

priests and scribes, elders of the people,

taunting, baiting, condemning.

And then to Pilate, accusing him of crimes

that made no sense to our listening ears.

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

That’s what we remembered him saying.

They said, however, that he perverts the nation,

forbids the paying of taxes,

claiming to be Messiah,

claiming to be king.

So Pilate sends him to Herod;

and Herod sends him back to Pilate;

and Pilate insists there is no charge to answer.

Of course there was no charge to answer!

His words cut to the heart of what it means

to be a disciple, to be committed to the covenant,

to share generously with those in need,

to put the concerns of others before oneself,

to open the eyes of the blind

and enable the lame to walk,

to proclaim good news for the poor

and liberation for the captives …

… then again, then perhaps,

that can sound somewhat …

confrontational …

revolutionary …

no wonder that they say he came

to turn the world upside down.

But we had no notion of this

as we walked the road, while he healed and taught,

or as we entered the city, surrounded by jubilations,

or as we sat with him at table, remembering with joy.

Yet there he stood:

charged, condemned;

sentenced to be crucified,

the punishment of slaves,

the fate in store for rebels,

perhaps, even, the inevitable outcome

of a predetermined plan?

Lord, have mercy;

Lord, have mercy …

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 5

SONG: Stay with me (Taize)

*****

6 The Hill

So they led him away, to the top of the hill,

the place of punishment for rebels and criminals.

There were no echoes, now,

of the jubilant cries of the crowd;

there was no sound that fitted

with family celebrations at Passover;

there most certainly was no longer the basis

for acclaiming him as King,

for announcing him as Saviour,

for decreeing he was Lord.

Naked, bloodied, scourged, humiliated,

brought down to common status

as the wooden beam was lifted high;

the mocking words of the soldiers,

the scornful tongues of the leaders,

the taunting cry of the disbelieving thief;

the silent sobbing of companions on the way,

the eerie overshadowing, the turmoil of darkness.

This, to be sure,

was a cruel, twisted fate.

So he died.

What cry pierced the air?

Distraught rejection, some would say;

a cry of sheer abandonment.

Others claim it was far more serene;

“Abba, Father, into your hands

I commend my being, I place my spirit.”

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

Who remembers those words now?

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED on table 6

SONG: Be still, and know that I am God

*****

7 The Room

We returned to the room;

the place of celebration;

the place of remembering.

There is no doubt that we would remember;

the events of the past few days

are seared into memory,

caught in the web of recollection,

every year, every month, every day.

But how could we celebrate?

The Passover of God,

the time of salvation,

the deed of redemption,

in the days of Moses.

That surely would continue;

we would most certainly recall,

we would indeed remember,

embedding the story for our children

and their children.

Would this passing of the master

be a Passover for God?

How could this untimely ending

be the cause of celebration?

So we gather, we remember.

It began in celebration;

a gathering of friends and family;

a joyful occasion, with the drinking of wine,

some singing, some laughing; a meal shared together;

but then, a kiss … a betrayal … a denial … a trial …

“Sell all you own, care for the poor;

Take up your cross, come follow me;

Lay down your life, deny yourself.”

SONG: Eat this bread (Taize) as we exit the labyrinth

(Around the final table)

So he took the bread,

as they had always taken the bread;

and lifting it high, he offered his prayers to God.

And we take the bread, and break it:
and we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who bring forth bread from the earth.

WE EAT THE BREAD

Then he took the cup,

as they had always taken the cup;

and lifting it high, he offered his prayers to God.

And we take the cup, and drink it,

and we praise you, Lord our God, King of the universe;
You who create the fruit of the vine,

You who bring forth hope from anguish,

You who bring forth what was promised,

You who bring forth life from death.

WE DRINK THE CUP

A CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED

For it was the Passover of God,

when God redeemed the people,

when God saved his chosen people.

And it is the Passover of God,

when God still redeems his people,

when God still saves his faithful people.

And the shouts of acclamation

and the silent shedding of tears

join mysteriously in celebration,

join as one across the years.

In this cruel, twisted fate

is the Passover of God;

for God still redeems his people,

for God saves his faithful ones.

THE FINAL CANDLE IS EXTINGUISHED

We step out in faith

we walk forth in hope

treading the path before us

walking into life as his follow ers …

WE LEAVE TO THE MUSIC of Wait for the Lord

***** *****

Song playlist

0 As people gather, a selection of quiet meditative songs and chants

1 Bless the Lord my soul

2 Hosanna, hosanna

3 Laudate dominum

4 Jesus, remember me

5 Stay with me

6 Be still and know

7 Eat this bread

8 Wait for the Lord

Tables

1 In the Foyer, with communion elements. White

2 The Road. Green. Branches, cloaks

3, 4 The Room. Purple. Each has a cup and plate

5 The Garden. Red. Sword.

6 The Hill. Black. Cross.

7 In the Foyer. White. Broken cups and plates with elements

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Sensitivity to “the Jews” as we celebrate Easter (for Holy Week)

As we draw near to the annual celebration of Easter, we find that we have a story that is driven by antagonism and conflict, with scenes of aggression and violence. We need to think carefully about how we tell the story found in the Gospels, and reflect prayerfully about how we preach the good news from these narratives.

We know the main characters in the story: Jesus and his followers, and the key authority figures of his day, lined up against him: the Jewish Sanhedrin; Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea; and Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.

The way that the story unfolds, invites those who hear it—and those who preach on it—to make one party into “the villain”, even as others in the story receive (implicit) excusing. We side with Jesus, and that makes us view the other characters as “the baddies”.

So the danger sits before us, at Easter most especially: we might be tempted to target “the Jews”, to make negative or derogatory comments about Judaism and Jewish people, even (although I would hope not) to blame “the Jews” for the death of the Messiah. How close does this come to anti-Judaism, or even antisemitism?

We can be helped in our task by careful reflection on the nature of the texts, which we read, hear, explain, and reflect on, as we approach Easter, and especially as we move through Holy Week, from Passion Sunday to Good Friday.

Of the three key characters—the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Governor Pilate, and the tetrarch Herod Antipas—Herod has a somewhat tangential role: he appears only in Luke’s story (Luke 23:6-12) and simply rubber-stamps the decision of Pilate. Despite what Luke claims, there is no historical evidence that provides any reason why Jesus had to be presented to Herod, so the historicity of this scene is highly dubious.

‘Christ before Pilate’, by Hungarian painter Mihály Munkácsy (1881)

The Roman Governor, Pontus Pilate, is given a very big “exemption pass” in the Gospel narratives. In the earliest account, he questions the crowd as to whether he should sentence Jesus (Mark 15:5, 14). The same question is noted in Matt 27:23. By the time of Luke’s Gospel, there is a clear threefold affirmation of the innocence of Jesus (Luke 23:4, 13-16, 22).

By the fourth Gospel, the scene where Jesus is brought to Pilate is changed from a trial to a philosophical discussion (John 18:29-31, 38). In Mark’s account, Pilate (quite uncharacteristically) backs down in the face of a baying crowd (Mark 15:6-15, and parallels). In Matthew’s account, Pilate enacts the potent symbol of washing his hands of the whole affair (Matt 27:24).

The Jewish Sanhedrin, by contrast, is placed firmly in the firing line. All four Gospels tell the story in the same way: the central factor that leads to Jesus being condemned to death is the decision of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mark 14:63-64, and parallels), and their agitation amongst the crowd (Mark 15:11; Matt 27:20; Luke 23:13-16; John 18:38b-40).

Jesus about to be struck in front of former High Priest Annas
(Madrazo, 1803)

Matthew intensifies this by reporting that “the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’“ (Matt 27:25). John’s Gospel reports that “the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’” (John 19:12), reinforced by the later statement by the chief priests, “we have no king but the emperor” (John 19:15).

This telling of the story is, in my view, a rhetorical strategy which is employed by all four evangelists. It may well have been a common stance across the early church. The central problematic for the earliest followers of Jesus must have been that their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified by the Romans, who held great power at the time.

Crucifixion was a Roman punishment, and Jesus was crucified as a political rebel, on the basis of the notion that he was claiming to be “King of the Jews”. The phrase recurs as a regular refrain throughout all four accounts of the crucifixion (Mark 15:2,9,12,18,26; Matt 27:11,28–29,37,42; Luke 23:2–3,37-38; John 18:33,37,39; 19:3,12,14,15,19–22).

To identify as a follower of Jesus would be to stand in solidarity with him as a rebel, an unwanted criminal who was rightly (in Roman eyes) punished with death. That would be a very dangerous (and foolish!) place to want to stand. So a different strategy was required.

At the same time as the early church was considering how to continue living without being seen as a rebellious movement in the Roman Empire, a slow and growing struggle for this movement was taking place—initially, in just a few places, then spreading to many other places. The struggle was with the leadership of the local synagogue.

The Pharisees, in the decades after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, had been gaining a dominant position amongst Jews of the time. The tensions between the followers of Jesus and the Pharisees grew and developed over time. The way the Gospels report on the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees reflects the intensification of this relationship.

So, the Pharisees placed demands on the followers of Jesus, especially when made claims that Jesus was the Messiah. The earliest followers were all Jews, and they remained the dominant group in the movement for some decades. The followers of Jesus became increasingly discontented with their lives in the Jewish community, under the rule of the Pharisees. Accusations grew; tensions increased; conflict burst out into the open.

So, in retelling the story of how Jesus met his end, the followers of Jesus began, not only to downplay the role played by the Roman Governor (a very practical strategy, to be sure!), but also to increase the culpability of the Jewish authorities. And so grew the narrative of the last days, the arrest, trial, and sentencing of Jesus, that we are familiar with from the Gospels in the Bible.

The trap we must avoid, then, is this: do not read the Gospel narratives as straightforward, unadorned historical narratives. Do not accept “at face value” all that is recorded in those chapters. Apply careful, reasoned criticism as you approach the text. Consider the narrative of the passion, not only in its literary context, but in the context of the religious, social and political streams that were swirling in the later first century.

And invite those who reflect with you, or listen to your words, or read the stories in the text, to do the same—not to blame “the Jews” for what happened to Jesus; but rather, to consider how the story may well have been shaped, over the decades, in the face of the pressures and stresses of life for the early followers of Jesus, in the Roman Empire, with growing antagonism from (and towards) the Jewish authorities.

This is certainly quite consistent with the policy adopted by the Uniting Church National Assembly in 2009, which declares that “The Uniting Church acknowledges with repentance a history of interpretation of New Testament texts which has often failed to appreciate the context from which these texts emerged, viz. the growing separation of Christianity and Judaism with attendant bitterness and antagonism, resulting in deeply rooted anti-Jewish misunderstandings” (para. 9).

The Statement on Jews and Judaism also affirms that “The Uniting Church does not accept Christian teaching that is derogatory towards Jews and Judaism” (para. 16). We need to hold to this in what we preach at Easter.

See https://assembly.uca.org.au/resources/key-papers-reports/item/download/1022_7d707d6a8cd8a2fe2188af65d6f0454

See also https://johntsquires.com/2021/03/25/the-passover-seder-a-jewish-religious-festival-which-christians-should-not-appropriate-at-easter/

Amy Jill Levine has produced a helpful guide to the ways we might deal,with these texts, noting what is helpful and what is not helpful in the various approaches; see https://www.abc.net.au/religion/holy-week-and-the-hatred-of-the-jews/

For other blogs which canvass aspects of what is explored above, see

https://johntsquires.com/2019/04/18/easter-in-christian-tradition-and-its-relation-to-jewish-tradition/

https://johntsquires.com/2021/03/03/raise-up-a-new-temple-jesus-and-the-jews-in-the-fourth-gospel-john-2-lent-3/

https://johntsquires.com/2020/08/04/a-deeper-understanding-of-god-through-dialogue-with-the-other-romans-10/

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The tongue of a teacher, to sustain the weary (Isaiah 50; Lent 6C)

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word” (Isa 50:4). So begins this Sunday’s Hebrew Scripture selection that is offered by the lectionary—yet another passage from the section of Isaiah which is set in the period when Israel was in exile in Babylon. We have read other passages from this section of Isaiah on Lent 3 and Lent 5.

In considering those passages (Isa 43 and Isa 55), we noted that the experience of exile was experienced as a time of great difficulty for the people of Israel. The hope for a return to the land of Israel was strong and insistent throughout those years of exile. The imagery in the verses immediately before this passage (50:2–3) clearly convey this bitter sense. Hope is waning amongst the people. There is a need for strong leadership.

In this section of the text, the anonymous prophet speaks of an unnamed figure who will take on this function. He is known as the Servant (50:10).

In this song, the Servant specifically identifies himself as a Teacher, to encourage the weary and offer them hope (50:4). The Teacher is resolute, determined, fully committed. Yet he encounters opposition, resistance, aggression. He is called to stand up for what is right in the face of opposition (50:8) as well as to endure the negativity and abuse from those opponents (50:6). The call he has received is not an easy task. It requires resilience, being able to see the long view in the midst of immediate setbacks. The Servant, says the prophet, has “set my face like flint” (50:7).

The use of the term Servant at 50:10 (as well as at 42:1; 49:3, 5, 6; 52:13; 53:11) means that this passage is one of four songs known collectively as The Servant Songs (42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12). The identification of the Servant is contested. Do the songs refer to an individual? Or is the term intended to refer to the collective experience of Israel, as a nation? Certainly the hardships and oppression of life under various empires—Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian—would attest to this latter identification.

Another aspect which points to a collective understanding (the whole nation as the Servant of the Lord) is the occurrence of the imagery of light. Israel as “a light to the nations” (42:6; 49:6) reflects a national understanding, developing and extending the earlier sense that nations would come to Zion to worship God (Isa 2:2–4; Mic 4:1–4).

Both of these elements feed into the later Christian interpretation that these song provide a prefiguring of the person of Jesus, “the servant of the Lord” (Acts 3:13, 4:27). The way that Jesus was treated in his trials and on the cross resemble the mistreatment of the Servant—and worse. The insistent description of suffering in 52:13–53:12 particularly correlates with the sufferings of Jesus in his passion (Acts 8:32–33; 1 Peter 2:21–25).

And the universal extent of the “light to the nations” image is also deliberately applied to the way the message about Jesus spread across the world (Luke 2:29–32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). In Christian interpretation, the songs of the Servant are usually taken to provide a pointer to the fate of Jesus—dedicated to God, committed to his calling, speaking forth with passion, enduring opposition, being utterly humiliated and thoroughly abused, and dying an abject death. Yet the power of the figure of the Servant was such that—for Israel, and for followers of Jesus—the message and example of the Servant (be that Israel, or Jesus) lived on for centuries.

See also

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A community of prayer; a community of care; a community to share

“Oh, no—not another ZOOM meeting!” How often have you heard this lament? I confess, it has been uttered with some frequency in my household, over the last two years—with increasing frequency in the past 6–8 months!

Committee meetings. Worship services. Catch-ups over coffee. Bible study groups. Seminars. Why, even full conferences have been held online, by means of ZOOM. ZOOM meetings of Presbytery. ZOOM meetings of Church Council. Even the state-wide 2021 Synod was held online (although on a different platform from ZOOM).

Early on in the pandemic, the Synod organised for all Congregations to have a ZOOM account at a reduced rate, especially for church organisations. It meant that we were able to maintain connections with friends, family, people in our Congregation, people across the Presbytery, despite all the restrictions and lockdowns. There have been lots of online gatherings. People have been grateful for the continuation of connection that online gatherings have provided. And yet, people are getting weary of it. “Not another ZOOM meeting!”

However, there has been one opportunity for meeting online that has a different feel about it. It has only recently started. It has just begun to gain momentum in the past few weeks. At the beginning of Lent, opportunity was provided for people to gather, briefly, online, at the start of each day, and towards the end of the afternoon, for Daily Prayers. The offer was for something that lasted 8–10 minutes, a regular pattern of prayer, each weekday. It was an initiative of Elizabeth Raine, minister of the Tuggeranong Congregation, and was advertised across the Presbytery as well as on the TUC Facebook page.

Over five weeks, now, the online community has been meeting. There are about 20 people who participate—although, in true church style, “you never see them all together at the one time”, just like most Sunday morning worshipping communities! Over the weeks, the community of prayer has formed; the pattern and routine are becoming familiar. Each time, there are 8, 10, sometimes 12 or 13 people online. It changes each time.

The centering of heart and spirit for the day is now an expected part of each weekday morning. The slowing and gathering together at the end of the day is also a regular routine. And the invitation to reflect back on the past seven days, on Friday at 6pm, brings a sense of completion to the week. Each day the resources of the Northumbria Community (a dispersed monastic community) are used, providing reflective prayers, short scripture passages, and an opportunity to reflect in silence and then with gentle music.

But more than this has been taking place. The community of prayer has become a community of care. Some folks log in a few minutes early, chat with each other, share their news, and exchange plans for the day. More recently, one person reported that their partner was moving into palliative care. Those present, hearing this news, have ensured that this person and their partner are remembered in prayer; one participant has ensured that practical help and support is provided. Those gathering make gentle enquiries before prayers begin. The community of prayer has become a community of care.

And even more: the community of prayer, now a community of care, has become a community to share with still more people. Those participating are largely members of the Tuggeranong Congregation. A few people from elsewhere participate in the weekly online Bible Study of the Tuggeranong Congregation; some folks from elsewhere in Canberra, someone 300kms north, another person 250kms west, are joining in regularly for prayer.

Facebook advertising has drawn the group to the attention of a person in a large rural town; they are now “part of the group”, participating regularly. A welcome voice, an assurance of gratitude that they have joined, a clear expression that “we are glad you are here; you belong!” is all that it takes. The community is there, to share with others.

This is how the Church is meant to function! An open community, focussed around our spiritual needs; an invitational community, welcoming people in and actively ensuring that they are made to feel comfortable, valued, a part of the group. And offering food for the soul, a prayer gathering, can be a doorway into community as much as offering food for the body, a soup kitchen, or food for the mind, a Bible study group, or food for our relationships, a community worship service. For this Lenten experience, I am most grateful.

To join the Daily Prayer, go to the TUC website ( https://tuc.org.au ) and click on the Church Services icon.

To sample the worship resources of the Northumbria Community, go to https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/

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Boaz and Phoebe, on Mary and Jesus (John 12; Lent 5C)

A dialogue between two slaves at the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, written by Elizabeth Raine, presented at Tuggeranong Uniting Church on Sunday 3 April.

Boaz is a strict Jew and has a firm idea of custom and law. Phoebe is of Jewish Hellenistic origin, more liberal in her views and very interested in the message of Jesus. They have been serving dinner to the guests, including Jesus, after Lazarus’ was mysteriously raised from the dead.

*****

Boaz: It still find it creepy, I confess, being at the home of a dead man who somehow isn’t dead any more. Oh, I can understand the gratitude that Martha and Mary must have felt, and why they wanted to thank Jesus for restoring their brother to them. But you have to admit, the whole thing was strange. And that Jesus fellow, he is rather strange as well, don’t you think?

Phoebe: I thought it very kind of Martha and Mary to honour Jesus. I don’t find it strange at all. Everyone knows he is a holy man withwonderful powers from God. Lazarus’ raising was a miracle, a blessing from God. How can you think holiness in someone is a problem?

Lots of reasons. Holy men have a habit of coming to sticky ends. And I thought Mary’s gratitude was a little excessive. Fancy wasting all that expensive perfume. Where did she get the money from?

Well, I thought Mary’s anointing Jesus with that perfume was a beautiful demonstration of gratitude, and devotion. And surely you are not suggesting that she came by the perfume dishonestly.

No, of course not. But with a household to run, it seems an unnecessary expense to incur. And you must have heard the argument between Jesus and one of his disciples about it. You know, the one who keeps their accounts. Judas, I believe his name is. Judas wasn’t impressed by Mary’s action.

Well, I don’t think it is any business of Judas, or ours, or anyone else’s if Mary wished to thank Jesus in this way. How she spends her money is surely her concern and her business only.

I suppose so. But Judas had a good point. A whole jar of that perfume would be worth a year’s wages. Imagine how much good all that money could do for the poor. After all, we were commanded as Jews to give relief to the poor. Deuteronomy specifically states that we should ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land’”. And look at the teachings of Jesus himself. He is always on about helping the poor. I heard he even advised one wealthy young man to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Yet here he is accepting perfume worth a king’s ransom be wasted on his feet!

I can see what you are saying. But Jesus and the disciples have given lots of money to the poor over the last few years. You know they have. And inspired others to do the same. And Mary has a right to spend her money as she wishes. She clearly offered this gift out of her gratitude and great love for Jesus. After all, what price her brother’s life?

Well, I am not sure Jesus should have allowed a whole year’s wages to simply evaporate into thin air. Yes, it was a nice gesture and it did make the house very fragrant and pleasant. But what business has Jesus got to ask other people to be giving away or selling their things in aid of the poor when he allows such waste on himself? I still think Judas had a good point. All those denarii could feed a lot of hungry people. How can you be sure that Mary was doing the right thing? 

I say if you are going to be generous, then do it properly. And this is also an important part of all our traditions, to be generous in hospitality to our guests and to take care to show our appreciation for the favours of others. After all, the proverb says, “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.” Mary has given freely and didn’t withhold the appropriate thanks due to Jesus.

You sound just like that Rabbi Hillel with your liberal notions. I am sure this was not the intent of that proverb. But it wasn’t just the expense. It was what Jesus said in response to Judas, you know, about the poor always being around. You must admit that it was a very odd response for someone who says they are all for the poor and alleviating their suffering. He said that the poor would always be with us, but that he would not. This is not the attitude of a holy man. A holy man would think first of the poor.

I just told you that no one can accuse Jesus of ignoring the poor. Look at his recent actions. Apparently he managed to feed a whole crowd recently with only five loaves and two fish. In addition, I have heard some of the other followers of Jesus speak poorly of Judas. They say that Judas was not really concerned about the poor at all but was a thief who used to steal money from their common purse. Surely we cannot take his remarks seriously. Mary was motivated by love and gratitude,and Judas by selfishly wanting the money for himself. Mary, however, has surely given away a most precious possession with total selflessness.

Oh, you make it all sound very noble indeed. But just think about the way she went about it. Anointing his feet instead of his head. This isn’t customary. And letting her hair down in public like that, just like she was a prostitute. Whatpossessed her to do such a thing? She acted like she was repenting of something, not thanking the saviour of her brother. Or worse, making an offer of herself.

Oh, surely not. But I agree, it wasn’t the best image she presented of herself. I was a little shocked myself to see her kneeling at the feet of a man who wasn’t related to her, hair all over the place, wiping herself on his feet. I know they are good friends and all, but still – yes, there certainly was a breach of proprietary there. I just assumed she had forgotten herself in her great outburst of gratitude.

Well, though there is some truth in what you say, I wouldn’t want to make such an exhibition of myself. Wouldn’t a simple and heartfelt thank you in addition to the dinner be enough?

But you are forgetting just how great a miracle had been performed here – no wonder she knelt in worship at his feet. Jesus speaks about being humble and serving others. I am sure he wouldn’t be above anointing or washing feet himself. And only prophets anoint the heads of the great.

Hang on a minute. You are making it sound like Mary was recognising Jesus as the Messiah! Surely you are not suggesting this. Such ideas could be seen as blasphemous in certain circles. There have been whispers about this very thing.

Yes, I have heard the rumours as well. Apparently the chief priests are not happy at all with all the attention that Jesus has drawn to himselfsince the raising of Lazarus from the dead. I heard that they were trying to say that Lazarus wasn’t really dead; it was a stunt to suggest to the common folk that Jesus was the Messiah. You know, to drum up support from the peasants and get a movement going.

Yes, after Lazarus came alive, I did hear that the chief priests had called an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin. They wanted to discuss what had happened, I suppose. After all, everyone is talking about the many signs that Jesus has performed. I guess they would be thinking that if they let him keep going on like this, that soon everyone will be believing he is the promised kingand messiah. And any mention of ‘king’ and the Romans would be sure tocome and destroy both the temple and us. 

I did hear that Caiaphas, the high priest, had made some sort of plan. Someone did whisper to me that he got fed up with all the debate, and told the Sanhedrin they were all fools. I heard that they decided it was better to sacrifice Jesus. You know, better to just have one man killed to appease the Romans rather than the whole nation be destroyed.

Hmmmmm, do you think Jesus has heard about this? Might explain the very strange remark he made at the time Mary was wiping his feet. He said to Judas that the perfume was for his burial. I thought to myself at the time, ‘Who is he to be planning such an expensive burial ritual? And he is only young. Why would Mary be getting ready for his burial now?’ But if he had heard the rumours too, then that remark suddenly makes sense.

Do you really think that the priests have made up their mind to actually have Jesus put to death?

I think it possible, and what’s more, I heard that they had let it slip that anyone who might know where Jesus was should let them know, so that they could arrest him. Even heard there was a reward. If you are right about Judas being a money grubbing thief, then maybe he will try and claim it.

Oh, surely not. He and Jesus are so close. Don’t even think that. But Jesus needs to be careful. I thought I heard him say at the dinner that he was going to Jerusalem soon, and Jerusalem is a hotbed of unrest with Passover coming up. There was also some talk that the priests were planning to kill Lazarus as well, because everyone keeps coming to have a look at him. It isn’t every day that you can look at someone who has come back from the dead.


Well, Jesus wants to hope that the priests don’t hear of this latest extravagance and interpret Mary’s gesture and Jesus’ acceptance of it as some sort of symbolic anointing of Jesus as a royal Messiah. Otherwise he will be looking for a tomb, not a throne.

*****

See also https://johntsquires.com/2022/04/01/jesus-anointed-as-a-sign-of-his-fate-john-12-lent-5c/

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Jesus, anointed as a sign of his fate (John 12; Lent 5C)

How many stories about Jesus are told in all four Gospels? Apart from the trials and crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 14–15 and parallels), not very many. The story of a woman who anoints Jesus during a meal is one of them. The earliest version in the Markan account of the beginning of the good news of Jesus, chosen one (Mark 14:3–9) is repeated almost the same in Matthew’s book of origins (Matt 26:6–13). A similar account is included in the fourth Gospel, the book of signs (John 12:1–8). This version provides the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday.

All three accounts are placed at a key place in the narrative arc of each Gospel; the story forms the hinge between the public activities of Jesus and the events that take place in the last week of his life. All three accounts offer a symbolic looking-forward to the fate that lies in store for Jesus—his betrayal, arrest, trials, crucifixion, and burial.

Two Synoptic accounts specifically state that the anointing of Jesus prefigures the anointing of his dead body (Mark 14:8; Matt 26:12). The unnamed woman in the Markan account is honoured for her symbolic action: “what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mark 14:9; so also Matt 26:13). She performs a valuable and deeply spiritual role, signifying in advance the death of Jesus.

As this unnamed woman expends “an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard” in anointing the head of Jesus, she is doing in advance what a group of women will later attempt to do early on the morning after the Sabbath, as they “bought spices so that they might go and anoint [Jesus]” in the tomb where his body lay (Mark 16:1). The women likewise “prepared spices and ointments” in Luke’s account (Luke 23:56–24:1). The parallel in Matt 28:1 simply states that the women “went to see the tomb” (28:1); there is no mention of perfumes for anointing the body in this account.

The Johannine account of this anointing at a household meal is more subtle; Jesus indicates that the perfume had always been intended for “the day of my burial” (John 12:7); it would appear that this day now draws near. In fact, in John’s narrative, rather than the women, it is curiously Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who “took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial customs of the Jews” (John 19:38–41). They perform the actions traditionally ascribed to females by Jewish custom.

The story of the anointing of Jesus is substantially reworked by the author of the orderly account of the things being fulfilled, to produce a quite different account (Luke 7:36–50). In this version, it is a different woman (unnamed, but identified as “a woman in the city, who was a sinner”), who anoints the feet of Jesus, rather than his head (as in Mark and Matthew).

Rather than pointing towards his death, the anointing of the feet of Jesus appears to express the respect and deep veneration that the “sinful woman” has for him (Luke 7:38). The point of the story is not to prefigure the death of Jesus, but to focus on the gracious forgiveness of sins which characterises the ministry of Jesus (Luke 7:39–50).

The story is set in a different location, in the house of “Simon the Pharisee” rather than “Simon the leper” of the Mark and Matthew version. And the story, set in Bethany in Judea by Mark, Matthew, and John, is placed in a different location in the narrative flow of Luke’s story—much earlier, in Galilee (Luke 4:14 appears to set the general geographical location for all of chapters 4 to 9).

The woman, anonymous in the other three accounts, is named in the book of signs as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. (There is nothing here, or in other Gospel accounts, that in any way identifies her as Mary Magdalene.) In John’s telling of the story, the meal is linked with the previous story of the raising of Lazarus (11:1–44). That was the incident, according to John, which propelled the opposition to Jesus to crystallise into a fully-fledged plot to arrest and kill Jesus (11:45–57). So the narrative flow is clear: Jesus raises Lazarus, the chief priests and Pharisees order the arrest of Jesus, the woman anoints Jesus, the chief priests plan to kill Lazarus also, and Jesus then enters Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna!” (John 11–12).

This is in contrast to the Synoptic narratives, in which dissension regarding Jesus, evident from early times (Mark 3:6) is later crystallised into a full scale plot to arrest him and have him put to death. The camel that broke the straw’s back in those narratives was the politicised way Jesus entered the city and caused havoc in the Temple courtyard (Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47–48; Matthew softens this immediate impact at Matt 21:15, but describes the full plot at 26:3–5). The debates that Jesus undertakes with various Jewish figures whilst teaching in the Temple precincts (Mark 11:27–13:1; Matt 21:23–24:1; Luke 19:47–21:38) simply aggravates the dissension and accelerates the plot to arrest and kill him (Luke 21:37–2:2).

Perhaps the extravagant amount of perfume used to anoint the feet of Jesus, as was also the case in Luke’s account (not his head, as in Mark and Matthew) reflects the joy of the household in Bethany, as Mary and Martha rejoice that their recently-deceased brother, Lazarus, was now once more alive? Surely extravagant celebration was acceptable after such an event.

The raising of Lazarus was, as the author of the book of signs positions it, the climactic sign amongst the series of seven signs that mark the first half of his narrative (John 2:1–11:44). Whilst the earlier signs had evoked belief (2:11; 4:53–54; 6:29–34, 69; 9:35–38), opposition to Jesus had grown and many did not believe (8:42–47; 10:22–26), and this last sign had accelerated the conflict with the Jewish authorities into outright antagonism (11:47–53).

Judas, however, complained about how much perfume was used (some commentators suggest that 300 denarii was a full year’s wage for a labourer). Jesus has a snappy retort ready to give to him—“you always have the poor with you” (12:8).

These words of Jesus are often misinterpreted to suggest that Jesus reflects an acceptance of the state of “the poor”. On the contrary, Jesus is here quoting from the Law, where Israel is instructed, “since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth … open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour” (Deut 15:7–11). Recognition of who Jesus is goes hand-in-hand with serving those who are in need; indeed, careful attention to the teachings of Jesus intensify this duty.

The way that Mary has used the “costly perfume” indicates, in the end, that this is “the day of [his] burial”—Jesus is facing the cross. This will be “the hour” for which he came (2:4; 8:20; 12:23, 27–28; 13:1). What has long been in view, for Jesus, was now being publicly revealed. Soon, Jesus would pray, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son” (17:1). And events would take their course …

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A new thing, springing forth (Isaiah 43; Lent 5C)

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:18–19).

These words are attributed to the prophet Isaiah, who lived in the southern kingdom of Judea eight centuries before Jesus, serving as a “court prophet” during times of abundance. Isaiah was active a time when the southern kingdom of Judah was flourishing. He became active in the last years of the reign of Uzziah, who, it was said, ruled as king for fifty-two years (788–736). He lived through the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz (16 years each), and died towards the end of the reign of Hezekiah, who himself enjoyed 29 years on the throne.

The year of Isaiah’s death is uncertain; he may well have been alive, still, when the Assyrian army of Sennacherib laid waste to the northern kingdom (722–721) and deported the northerners to clear the land. In such a context of stability, however, the promise that God would do “a new thing” sits somewhat uneasily in the situation we can reconstruct.

This is one reason why many scholars maintain that the section of the book of Isaiah where we find this passage (Isaiah 40–55) is set some centuries later, after the southern kingdom itself had been conquered by the Babylonians (587–586), and the people taken into exile in Babylon. This became the pivotal event in the history of Israel, the people as a whole—at least in terms of the stories that we have gathered in the scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah focus on Jerusalem and Judah (2:1; 3:1; 5:3; 11:12-16; 22:5-8, 20-25; 26:1) and Assyria (7:10–25; 8:1–10; 10:5–12; 14:24–27); 19:23–25; 20:1–6; 30:29–33). The final section of the book (chs. 36—39) is clearly the describing events of the 720s which led to the Assyrian invasion and conquest of the northern kingdom, Israel.

By contrast, second section of the book of Isaiah has a primary concern for the power which had taken the people of Judah into exile—Babylon (43:14–21; 47:1–15; 48:14, 20–21). The prophet promises a return to Jerusalem (40:1–2), but it is identified as Zion (40:9; 41:27; 46:13; 49:14; 51:3, 11, 16; 52:1-2, 7-8).

There are many stories in Isa 1—39 relating to the personal life of the prophet, but no such personal connections in Isa 40—55. By contrast, a very direct historical reference, in a section referring to Cyrus, King of Persia (44:24–45:19), indicates a later setting. Cyrus ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 559 to 530 BCE and, after defeating the Babylonians in 539, issued a decree permitting the exiled Israelites to return to their homeland.

We have already reflected on one passage from this section of Isaiah (55:1–12, Lent 3), noting how it differs from the worldview and understanding of God from earlier periods in the life of Israel.

This passage thus comes from a time when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. It was not a happy time for many of the people of Israel. (Psalm 137 is the classic expression of this; note especially the anger expressed in verses 8–9.) The people of Israel yearned to return home (Jer 29:10–14; 30:1–31:26). They looked back on the past with longing eyes. They remembered their years in the land which God had given to them. Now, they were living among Babylonians—foreigners, conquerors.

Soon, they would leave behind these memories, and grasp hold of the future that God has for them. God would “send to Babylon and break down all the bars” (43:14). God, the prophet declares, is doing a new thing! (43:19).

And yet, that “new thing” is informed by the past. The people once travelled out of slavery in Egypt, into freedom in Canaan, leaving behind the Egyptian “chariot and horse, army and warrior”, stuck in the waters of the sea that suddenly swamped them—“extinguished, quenched like a wick” (43:17; cf. Exod 14:26–31, 15:4–12, 19, 21). In the time of the prophet, “the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation” as the people depart (43:14).

In like manner, now, the people will take the journey back home, pass through the desert, and return to their land. The one who made “a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” (43:16) during the Exodus from Egypt (Exod 15), will now “make a way in the wilderness” (43:19) for the people to follow, leading them right back to the land from which they had been forcibly removed decades earlier (2 Kings 25:1–21; 2 Chron 35:15–21).

As they were sustained in that desert journey long ago, so God now will give “rivers in the desert” (43:19) which will provide “water in the wilderness … to give drink to my chosen people” (43:20) as they travel on that way. That caled for shouts of praise to God! (43:21).

The Exodus imagery was potent for Israel; not only was the story developed over centuries to provide a story of origins for Israel, but it was also co-opted into the prophecies predicting the return to the land, providing those oracles with greater strength and rigour. (And, of course, the story continued on into the feast of Passover, the annual celebrations which continue amongst Jews right through until the present day.)

The Exodus imagery also undergirds the Christian story. Jesus, declared by John the Baptist to be the lamb of God (John 1:29, 36), affirmed by Paul as the new Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7), envisaged by the ageing prophet on Patmos to be the slaughtered lamb (Rev 5:6–14), is believed to enact a new Passover for his followers, according to the developing Christian tradition.

Just as the shedding of the blood smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites was their salvation (Exod 12:7, 13, 22–23), so the shedding of Christ’s blood is understood to effect salvation (Rom 5:8–10; 1 Pet 1:18–21). So the age-old imagery and symbolism is reworked by the early Christian writers, continuing the process seen in the words of the prophet speaking during the return from Exile (Isa 43:16–21).

See also

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Gilgal: place of transition (Josh 5:9–12; Lent 4C)

The Hebrew Scripture offered for this coming Sunday passage (Joshua 5:9-12) occurs at the end of the period of Wilderness Wanderings that the Israelites experienced. It takes place at Gilgal, to the east of Jericho, just inside the land of Canaan, which has been the destination in view throughout those forty long years of their wilderness journey.

At Gilgal, things start to change. There, the manna and the quails that had consistently been provided throughout their Wilderness Journey (Exod 16; Num 11), now ceased. The people had to leave behind that aspect of their past. And many of us would know that changing habits after forty years is difficult, is it not?

At Gilgal, the place of transition, the Israelites are now in the land of the Canaanites. Their diet would change. The Israelites would start to eat from the produce of the land. They would enculturate with the people already living in the land. Over time, they would marry Canaanites. They would adopt new customs. Their language would change. They would become, not wanderers in the wilderness, but settlers in the towns and villages of the land. Changes would happen. A very significant transition would take place.

This all begins at the place called Gilgal. Gilgal is a Hebrew word meaning “circle”. It was adopted as the name for the place in this story where Israel marked their transition from fugitives fleeing the slavery of Egypt, to invaders conquering the land that they believed they had been given. At Gilgal, a gilgal (circle) of stones was set up (Josh 4:1–9). The circle in this place marked the moment of transition, as the people cross the Jordan into the land.

The Hebrew offers a neat word play: where the circle is (Gilgal), the Lord rolled away (gallowti) the reproach of Egypt. The reproach was the fact that Israelite boys were not circumcised during the wilderness wandering (5:5)—the covenant which was signalled by the mark of circumcision (Gen 17) had been forgotten (Josh 5:1–5). So, Joshua ordered that circumcisions should be carried out on the Israelite males at this place (5:3). Once they had adhered to the forgotten covenant, and reinstitute the overlooked sign of that covenant, the people were able to live in the land that had been promised (5:6–9).

The Passover meal that is shared at Gilgal (Josh 5:10–12) recalls the swift departure from Egypt (Exod 14). Entry into the land means that the wilderness provision of manna ceases; “the land flowing with milk and honey” (5:6) would provide abundant nourishment. So it is, that both Passover and Gilgal signal transition—the liminal space of crossing over into a new experience. Stepping into the river, and then out on the other side, would effect a transformation in the people of Israel.

See https://johntsquires.com/2019/03/18/on-the-threshold-in-a-liminal-space/

On the Gospel passage for this Sunday

and, in relation to the Christian festival of Easter

See also