Reflection for Sancroft Benefice: 1st April 2020 – Rev Gini Williams
The lectionary reading for today is John 8: 31-42 and verse 32 includes that well-known phrase “the truth will set you free”. In common usage, this often means that you can free yourself from the burden of harbouring a secret – you will feel better if you tell the truth, even if there are some difficult consequences to face. There is some wisdom in that idea.
But here’s the wider context of this phrase: John 8: 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
As usual Jesus had his followers confused and I think many of us are still confused about this today. Especially those of us who live in our relatively wealthy, democratic societies where we are free to make our own decisions and jealously guard that freedom. The truth Jesus is talking about here is infinitely bigger than the things we tell each other. He is talking about universal truth – truth which is fundamental to our world and our lives as human beings.
Jesus’ teaching is the truth and can be found in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Our challenge is to interpret his teaching which took place in person two thousand years ago. The rest of the New Testament makes a start and the whole bible has been scrutinized and pondered over ever since.
Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. John 14:6. For many Christians this means that we have to go through a conversion and commit ourselves to Christ in order to go to heaven. For others it means that, in the end, Jesus will judge whether we are admitted to our Father’s kingdom and we humans cannot tell what his judgement will be based upon.
We get very hung up on what we should be doing to find favour with God -we want to know how we can serve him best. We can learn an important lesson from the robber on the cross next to Jesus at his crucifixion. All the robber did was acknowledge the truth about who Jesus was. Luke 23: 41 “… we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Today here and around the world not many of us are feeling free. Shut up in our houses if we are lucky enough to have one. Separated from friends and family. Some of us working in vital areas to keep our countries going and who would rather be safe at home. Many people will be struggling to adjust to a new identity at this time as their movements, choices and activities are restricted. People are finding ways to help – simple ways to help people feel connected, making sure they get the food and medicines they need. But others for whatever reason, are simply not able or allowed to do what they would like to do to help and are feeling helpless and guilty for not doing more.
The truth is that our identity is more about who we are than what we do – as frustrating as it is we are human beings not human doings. When everything is stripped away and we are left with ourselves for company maybe it’s time to get to know ourselves a bit better, safe in the knowledge that we are in the company of a loving God who can deal with every bit of truth about us. Learning to live in the knowledge that we can never be separated from the love of God will surely set us free.
Mid-Week Reflection by Maria Price (Reader in training)
I was going to highlight the issue, that I particularly see within the text, that God provides, just as he did 4000 years ago but our recent concerns regarding the pandemic made me look again with a different point of view.
God had put into action the ability for the Israelites to escape from Eygpt after they had been enslaved for about 400 years. After the Exodus, the escape, they had been travelling for a couple of months. It was a hard journey through the hot, dry arid land. It was tough going, they were scared, they were hungry and people were moaning. God could have made them, these moaning, complaining, whinging Israelites, feel his anger and his wrath for their ingratitude but he didn’t do that, he gave them food. Food is comforting, it often tells people they are loved and in the giving we are looking after them. That’s what God was doing – reinforcing his love for his people. And as Moses and Aaron were explaining how this would happen the whole congregation of Israelites saw the glory of God, off in the wilderness in the cloud so there was no misunderstanding that this food was from God.
They were very frightened – what a huge change to their lives and this is what’s happening to us now. The life we are living is going to change; if you have money there’s plenty of food and material goods, we can go where we like, see who we like, don’t have to think too hard about others because they’re OK too. But now we’re being told things have to change; no amount of money is putting food on supermarket shelves, people are selfishly stockpiling, any travelling and visiting is likely to be extremely restricted, we might catch Coronavirus and people will definitely die. This is all quite scary and fear is contagious.
God provided the food for the scared and frightened Israelites. When they first saw the manna they didn’t know what it was; maybe we are still like those early Israelites – we don’t always understand the gifts that God gives us? And although God was sending this food, the quails still had to be caught and cooked – the manna still had to be collected and lifted. God wasn’t simply dropping the food into the Israelites laps. God provides and we can try to do our very best to play our part in processing those gifts.
We will be going through enormous changes over the next few months. Could we think about how to process the gifts that God provides in order to help others? Just as they had to catch the quail could we go catch some shopping for an older or vulnerable person that can’t get out. Could we maybe buy, or even make, some manna (bread) for someone that might benefit from it? Could we work together within our community, spreading God’s gifts.
I think this story tells us that God never abandons us. Thousands of years on from this story we are still sometimes frightened people and worried by change but God is our constant and he provides.