Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Wednesday, 21st of March, 2012, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

John 5:17-30

A Baggy Old Frock - One Size Fits All

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It does us no harm sometimes to be baffled by Scripture. As the years pass, we hear it a lot, and become used to its rolling phrases and grand ideas, and whilst the words change relatively little (although the Old Order of one translation sufficing for several centuries has long since passed), but the ears with which we listen, do. Life raises different questions for us from time to time, and with those questions in our minds, we listen afresh, and what once was a hint or a whisper, becomes a firm loud voice, or even sometimes a shout.

What shouts at me from today’s Gospel is that it’s not answering my question. Mindful of Rowan Williams’s announcement of his retirement as Archbishop, my lurking question is, “who’s in charge, then?” John’s Gospel was written in the context of that very question. To ancient Judaism, the answer was, simply, “God”. But John is pointing us in a new direction “Yes, of course God, but also Jesus”, and today’s passage exemplifies this. We are in transition from autocracy to committee rule, from the tsar to the politburo. And yet it’s very hard to tell if Jesus actually wants the job (would-be archbishops, take note). The Father “has entrusted all judgement to the Son”, who is to be “supreme judge”, which seems fairly straightforward delegation. But, Jesus says, “I can do nothing by myself, I can only judge as I am told to judge”. Hmm, this is starting to look like “you can buy any colour car so long as it’s black”. And then there are those who “listen and believe”, who will not be “brought to judgement”, which starts to look like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly. These people are the ones who have eternal life already. But then there’s another catch – the dead are going to leave their graves, and those who have done good will rise again to life. But what happened to all that listening and believing?

So, we have a supreme judge whose hands are tied, and a two-tier system of appraising the evidence. This is at the very least confusing. How are we to get out of this one?

The error is perhaps to have been looking all along for a seamless robe. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for me, or you. If one size is going to fit all, that robe is going to have to have a bit of growing room in it, and it might need patching from time to time. It is so easy for those of a religious disposition to turn the phrase on its head, and insist that “all must fit one size”, and we apply it to Scripture, and we apply it to each other, regardless of how much of Scripture, and one another, we might have to chop out to achieve it.

God did not command his messengers, editors and translators, to chop and change Scripture until it made sense. God does not command us to chop and change our brother and sister Christians until we all agree. There is something for everyone in the baggy old frock which is the Gospel; God give us ears to hear the Good News. Amen.

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
March 2012

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for an unusual look at John's Gospel. Unfortunately, I'm now picturing Jesus in a 'Baggy Old Frock'. :(