One of my fairly harmless vices is reading blogs- blogs for the unenlightened are on-line journals meant for others to read, blog being short for web-log. One of blogs I check in with on a regular basis is written by someone who was a student when I was a chaplain at the University of Sheffield, and who I had the pleasure of marrying to her husband. It is to them that I owe this story.
H is a cautious woman, she likes to save treats for that special occasion, but of course there’s always the danger that it never comes. Aware that she was having a tough time, her loving husband recently bought her some bath bombs- sweet smelling frothy treats for an extra special bath. Of course they are still sitting in isolated splendour on the bathroom shelf waiting to be used, and this led him to gently remind her that they were a present and when she does use them it will be his pleasure to buy her some more. How often are we like this in our lives, so aware that we might use something up that we hoard it unnecessarily and fail to recognise that there is usually more where that came from- at least of the most important things. H ends her blog entry by vowing to ‘ enjoy the good things I already have in abundance.
Jesus preaching in his home town seems to be directing his attention straight to situations of scarcity of one sort or another- poverty, captivity, blindness and oppression. He links his teaching with the witness of the prophets who had much to say about the social and economic issues of their day by quoting two passages from the book of Isaiah. But these passages also foretell the coming of the one who will put an end to all poverty, captivity, blindness and oppression- the Messiah. And Jesus shocks and horrifies his hearers by telling them that he is the long-awaiting one- today this scripture is fulfilled in their hearing.
Not only that, the pious hearer would have recognised that he had omitted a portion of one of the scriptures he quoted and added the quotation which refers to recovery of sight for the blind. What was omitted would have been highly significant, speaking as it did of the day of vengeance to be directed at all those who were not part of the people of Israel. Was Jesus daring to suggest that the abundance he offered was open to everyone, not just the chosen few, did that mean there would still be enough to go round? And who were the blind that Jesus was referring to?
The reaction to Jesus’s words, which we’ll hear more about next week, indicated their displeasure with what he said. Did they just not want to hear it, were they determined to turn away from such a revolutionary message, or was it a failure of imagination, at least from some of them. A failure to see how God’s abundance can never be exhausted and his healing is available to all.
Perhaps also his hearers refused to recognise themselves as the poor, captive, blind and oppressed though it ought not to have been a leap of imagination in a country under occupation to recognise themselves as captive and oppressed. Why should they see themselves like this, you may ask. Well, simply because it was true, and they proved this by their actions. They were too poor to afford such extravagant hope, too captive to prevailing norms about expectations and their fulfilment to interpret scripture in this way, too blind to see the Messiah in the son of a neighbour, too oppressed by the Roman occupation to rejoice in the coming of a different kind of kingdom.
The sad thing was that had they been able to recognise and admit that about themselves Jesus was ready and poised to pour the abundance of God’s healing and transforming love into their lives.
And what about us? can we admit our poverty, captivity, blindness and oppression in the midst of our material affluence?
Some years ago I was fortunate enough to be visiting a friend in the South of france where he was working and one evening he took me to his church house group. it was in the rather sumptuous villa of an American writer, high in the hills above the cote d’azur. Everyone was very excited at the visit of a Russian pastor, this happening only a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall, they were looking forward to tales of the struggle s of the church in Russia and kept pressing him to speak.
He was not keen, but finally at the end of the evening he was prevailed upon and rose to speak. The audience rustle din anticipation, ready to enjoy their good fortune in comparison with the poverty, captivity and oppression of their Russian counterparts. What the Russian pastor actually said was how sorry he felt for them because they were too blind to see their own poverty and without that they could not receive God’s insight, God’s abundance, God’s new life.
Because the truth is that until we face our own scarcity, our own poverty, we cannot receive God’s abundance which is often not of the things that we think we want but of the things we actually need.
Professor Frances Young has written a very moving book about life with her child Arthur, who is severely handicapped- a particular sort of poverty. I’m sure that she struggled and suffered and mourned when she first dealt with the situation, yet her book speaks of the richness and abudnace of gifts that Arthur and those like him with whom she has been brought into contact have brought her. Gifts of acceptance, community, live, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness. The things that we really need in life.
Nehemiah in our story from the Hebrew Bible also faced in himself and his countryman the poverty, captivity and oppression of being exile sin the land of the conqueror. he longed to lead his people home and rebuild Jerusalem, but when the city walls were raised came the infinitely more challenging task of rebuilding a people fit to live there and be God’s covenant people once again. And so he had the priest Ezra read out again the story of God’s abundant love for his people, enshrine din the narrative of the law and God’s plan for them to live abundantly- sharing that love with each other and with those around them. And the people wept.
To admit that we are in need of God’s abundance does not diminish us, for coming to our God in our need can never diminish God’s people. God has already given us everything we need to be his people. To worship him, to eat with him and to be his friends. But we turn away, pretend we don’t need what God offers, or refuse to let our imaginations be expanded by the vision of God’s abundance.
And it’s when we can see that abundance in and through Christ that we can share it, like a cup overflowing with wine, like the horn of plenty spilling out good things for the hungry to eat. That is our calling as God’s friends, to share God’s abundance with a world as hungry what God offers as we are so that we can sit and eat together.
Father God, you know our hearts,
where there is poverty of imagination give us vision, where there is captivity to lesser goods free us, where there is blindness to our love in Christ illuminate us, where there is oppression from the cares of this world lift our hearts and minds and make us part of your abundant living, now and always.