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Showing posts from November, 2011

Doing Good For The Right Reasons

Matthew 25.31-46
Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince

On one level the parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats is a straight forward story about the rewards of doing the right thing. Like the Happy Prince, the sheep and the goats discover that true happiness lies in serving others not in enjoying ourselves.

However, both the parable and Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince add a further twist to what would otherwise be a simple morality tale. The more deserving the recipients of our help, the more easily they might otherwise be overlooked, the greater will be our reward in reaching out to them.

If we only help those who can return the favour, that is not good enough. We must make sure of helping the people at the back of the queue, the strangers and the marginalised. If anything, these are the people to whom we should give priority.

And yet there are problems with this interpretation. First of all, shouldn’t doing good be its own reward. Why do we need to inherit a kingdom? Isn’…

Recognising where we are

Matthew 25.1-13
This Gospel reading is about our spiritual journey. It’s a story that gives a young woman’s perspective on the ups and downs involved. It’s like being a bridesmaid. Perhaps other religious communities, like the Muslim community, have a closer experience to the one Jesus recounts than a typical Christian or secular bridesmaid might have. Muslim bridesmaids might have to get dressed up to the nines and then hang around all day with the bride on about five separate occasions because in the build up to the wedding there could be a party every night of the week. No wonder then that it might be necessary to take a whole week off work just to get ready, psyche themselves up and then perform their appointed role.

A Christian or secular bridesmaid has to support the bride on the hen night, perhaps at some sort of eve of wedding party nowadays, and - of course - on the big day itself. There’s still plenty of room for things to go wrong - losing the bride on the hen night would be …

Dr Fox, Tony Blair and The Counsel of the Wicked

Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2.1-8

‘Happy is the one who does not take the counsel of the wicked for a guide.’ Why might Doctor Fox come to mind when we read those words? He didn’t take the counsel of the wicked, but neither did he take the counsel of his civil servants for a guide. Despite repeated warnings he failed to stick to the path laid out in the ministerial code and - in the end - he didn’t prosper. When judgement came he found that he could not stand firm in the assembly of the righteous.

Of course, he’s not alone. Tony Blair didn’t take the counsel of the wicked either, but he did take the counsel of spin doctors for a guide when he wanted to justify the war against Iraq. He followed the path laid out in the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’ and - like Dr Fox - he has been driven hither and thither like chaff, by the winds of public opinion. When judgement came, in the shape of the Chilcot Inquiry, he had plenty to say in his own defence - because Tony Blair is never wrong, of course - but…

The Golden Rule

Leviticus 19.1-2,15-18
Matthew 22.34-40
‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ It’s sometimes called The Golden Rule and yet the way it’s understood by the writers or editors of Leviticus is far from obvious to our way of thinking.

According to this passage it means being strictly impartial, neither favouring the poor or being subservient to the rich, but playing a straight bat. That’s all well and good, of course, but it’s not the traditional, Christian understanding of loving your neighbour, which is about showing special compassion to the outcast, the stranger, the poor and the weak. In fact, it has become fashionable for modern Christians to speak of God’s bias to the poor.

There are passages in the Old and New Testament - including Leviticus - which suggest that we are supposed to show partiality to the poor and the oppressed, but this is not one of them. Here loving your neighbour is about treating everyone the same, without fear or favour. The poor should not be condescended to. They d…