Saturday, 4 December 2010

Turn again

Second Sunday of Advent 
Matthew 3:1-12

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

Last week I forgot to wish you a Happy New Year.

The Church chooses these weeks of Advent to begin again;to turn again.  You will notice that the mass books have changed and where we were once in Year C we are now in Year A. The years follow the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. 

The Church doesn’t even try to fit all of John into one year but keeps his writings for special occasions. For some feasts we only ever hear John’s voice but the rest of the year we get to hear similar accounts from three different people.  Similar; but not the same. It seems that at no time could the Good News be constrained to a single account; the ministry of Jesus has never been reported through just one set of eyes; between the Gospels, Paul’s writings and the letters we have always heard the Good News in more ways than one.

Is this meant to confuse us; to keep us on our toes? Or does it reveal Jesus in a more human way? If any group of people were asked to talk about a friend there would be differences of opinion; of experience; of sharing.  

Which is what the Gospels give us; which is why they are worth reading; not just listening to on a Sunday when you have missed the rest of the week – like watching a soap opera with missing episodes – but sitting and reading them as full accounts. Or even reading two or three side by side and noticing the nuances in the voices. 

At Scripture we have started reading Mark’s Gospel which most scholars believe is Simon Peter’s memories of his time with Jesus.

 It is a short, energetic and deceptively simple Gospel, a bit like Simon Peter really.

Mark and Matthew seem very alike; perhaps because they are both Jews. Alike, but not the same.

Why am I talking about Mark when we are reading Matthew?

At the top of this page  there is Matthew’s reading. The part of the passage that is in bold is virtually the same as Mark.  Reading the other paragraphs; I would ask you - what has Matthew brought to the Gospel?

It seems he has brought anger and a need for retribution. Matthew’s people are suffering; they are being cast out of the Temple; they are told that they are no longer Jews. The Temple that has no more accepted Jesus after his death and resurrection than it did whilst he was standing before them. Matthew puts the words of his frustration into the mouth of the Baptist.  

Mark’s words offer hope for everyone whilst Matthew’s point the finger of accusation and warning against those that caused him and his community so much pain.  

And my question would be – are we ever guilty of using Scripture like that? Do we ever hear the Word of God promising forgiveness and grace and think about someone… ‘except for you’? Do we ever use the Good News as a weapon; to justify exclusion or judgement? 

Matthew's words give us an understanding of the early church; its fears and its trials.  He speaks up against those who have tormented them. Now that we are the 'organised church' which side of Matthew are we  standing on.  

At this time of Advent we listen to John calling us to ‘turn again’ – we all, always, live in need of God's grace - do we turn with joy that we are called by the Beloved or with a need to prove ourselves worthy of His promise? 

Maybe the only important thing is that we turn.



claire said...

Thank you for separating Mark's from Matthew's gospel. It is fascinating the difference. Thank you for explaining the reasons behind the difference.

Yes, the important is to turn :-)


Word in the Hand said...

Thanks for reading Claire - interesting what a few years can do to the Message,