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Showing posts from June, 2008

Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Ishmael

Genesis 21.8-21
Something about this story doesn't quite add up. According to an earlier episode in the saga of Abraham and Sarah, Ishmael - Abraham's son by the slave woman Hagar - is already more than thirteen years-old and is therefore, in Jewish tradition, already a man when he and his mother are sent away. However, in this passage the story reads as though Ishmael were still only a little child, not old enough to understand what is happening. His mother is described as casting him under a bush when she sits down in the desert to die, and then - a little later - she lifts him up and holds him fast in her hand. It would seem, therefore, that he is really little more than a toddler in this particular version of the Abrahamic tradition.

The Hadith, a traditional collection of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, preserves a similar version of the story, in which Ishmael is not yet weaned. In both the Hadith and today's passage from the Bible account of Ishmael's life, t…

The Forgotten Part of Jesus' Ministry

Matthew 9.35-10.8

During his earthy life there were three aspects to the ministry of Jesus. He went around teaching, proclaiming good news and healing the sick. His teaching was not written down until long after his death, but much of it survives because it was treasured and carefully remembered by his followers until - eventually - it was committed to paper. The good news which he proclaimed was not just spoken, it was enacted. Jesus was not a First Century spin doctor dreaming up headline grabbing stories about God, or trying to put a positive spin on events. He lived the good news, proclaiming it in action as well as in words. Indeed, he would not have imagined that it was good news at all if people had not been able to see it unfolding before their very eyes.

Ultimately, of course, his proclamation of good news was to culminate in the tragic events of Good Friday, when he was put to death as a sign of God's self-giving love, and in the mysterious but powerful resurrection life w…

God's Righteous Anger

Hosea 5.15-6.6
Romans 4.13-25
Matt 9.9-13, 18-26

This passage is just one of a series of quite disturbing oracles in which we learn that Israel has incurred the wrath of God and he is going to tear and devour her much as a young lion might or, if she were already prostrate or dead, a swarm of maggots.

There is an uncomfortable ambiguity here, for the Prophet acknowledges that although God smites Israel he also loves and cares for. The oracle is not unlike the protestations of a partner who perpetrates cruel acts of domestic violence, only to shower the victim afterwards with love and attention. We are told that God will tear Israel, and then heal her; strike her down, and then bind up her wounds.

Of course, there are clearly differences here from genuine domestic violence. First, this is metaphorical language. God is not going to inflict actual bodily harm on Israel. Instead, she will be attacked by some of her human enemies. The Prophet's message is that God is so angry he will not pr…

Coping with Floods

Genesis 6.9-22, 7.24, 8.14-19
Romans 1.16-17, 3.22b-28
Matthew 7.21-29

One year on from the serious flooding in Yorkshire and the Humber, this week's readings are all about floods! The original 'Flood' was probably caused by the retreat of the ice sheet at the end of the last ice age, so to blame it on human sinfulness seems a bit unfair. But the next flood could indeed be the fault of humankind and some experts think significant climate change is now unavoidable. If so, what sort of ark are we going to build to protect the threatened flora and fauna of the world, not to mention the many millions of people living in low lying lands? There can be no doubt that God is calling us to radical action. Are we listening? One suspects that the current clamour for lower petrol and diesel prices tells us the answer.

Noah is a proverbial example of faithfulness, battling to save his family and, one presumes from the tiny dimensions of his frail three-decker craft, as many breeds of domest…