Posts for July 2010
5 Posts found

Matthew 25.14-30 – Parable of the Talents
Posted: 24 July 2010 in Matthew

Clicking on this italicised passage will open the full text in a new window.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two…..”

Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel contains a couple of takes on the Last Judgment, and they both make it clear that we will be judged on the basis of what we have done with our lives. At first sight this seems to conflict with the equally clear biblical teaching that salvation is dependent upon God’s grace, and upon his prior decision to save those he has predestined to eternal life. But both teachings are present in the Bible, and so both must be taken seriously. It seems to me personally that the Thomist position comes closest to resolving the conflict, according to which the desire to please God is a grace given to the elect alone – with the works of mercy, listed later on in chapter 25, following on from that.

The Parable of the Talents approaches the subject of judgment from the angle of the gifts and talents which have been bestowed upon us by God, and the use we have made of them in our lives. Not to make use of those endowments, or even worse, to misuse them for our own ends, will bring judgment down upon us.

The parable makes clear that God does not bestow his gifts equally – a truth which I suppose can easily be verified by looking at the world around us – but unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (Luke 12.48). Somebody with numerous abilities and talents will potentially have more to answer for, come Judgment day, than somebody whose abilities are few, but who, in serving God, has used them for the purpose they were given.

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2 Kings 2.1-18 – Accepting God’s will
Posted: 23 July 2010 in 2 Kings, Scripture

Clicking on this italicised passage will open the full text in a new window.
And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel……

Elijah is now taken up into heaven, and Elisha returns to Jericho

And they [the sons of the prophets] said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the LORD hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley…… They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not.

Implied by this passage is a previous revelation by God, in which he discloses his intention to take Elijah up into heaven. Unable to accept this, Elisha sticks to him like glue, and, wherever Elijah goes, Elisha goes also. A little while later, after Elijah has been taken up into heaven, Elisha returns to Jericho. There he meets the sons of the prophets, who reveal that they too are unable to accept the accomplished fact.

The point of the story is that even something, which is good in itself, can become an evil when it impedes submission to God’s will. There is certainly nothing wrong with human affection (if there were more of it there might be fewer wars) but even it can be harmful in our relationship to God, if it inhibits our acceptance of what God has done, or is about to do. There are several places in the New Testament where Jesus makes the same point (cf Matt 8.21-23).

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1 Timothy 4.1-7 – Not so modern heresies
Posted: 22 July 2010 in 1 Timothy

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth…… If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. “

The New Testament is full of warnings against trying to remake Christian doctrine to fit our own needs and desires. But when I look on the internet today, I find myself taken aback by the extent to which Christians feel free to do just that – especially in America. Is the doctrine of the Trinity difficult to comprehend? Let’s dump it then. And the divinity of Christ? Oh well, we can do without that as well. Ancient heresies such as Modalism and Arianism are making a big comeback.

It is no secret that Europe is largely secular today, but the Christians that do remain, in Britain and elsewhere, seem to be fairly orthodox in their beliefs. At least at the moment: It is always possible that this is another American export, getting ready to cross the Atlantic.

I suppose this all flows from the extent to which religion has become just one more item on the shopping list of people who live in a culture dominated by consumerism. Consumers feel free to specify the colour of their new car, or the size of the screen on their new television, so why shouldn’t they be able specify the doctrines their religion is going to incorporate?

The trouble with that is that God is not offering us a consumer product. He is telling us the way by which we must come to salvation. Nobody tries to decide for themselves whether or not Newton’s three laws of motion are true, and a customised Christianity makes no more sense than a customised physics.

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Matthew 23.3-12 – Self Glorification
Posted: 21 July 2010 in Matthew

All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

It struck me that this passage relates to the one in Matt 7.21-23, which I posted about a few days ago. There Jesus gives a more general warning against pursuing our own projects, rather than God’s will, no matter how religiously inspired those projects may appear to be. Here he is warning specifically against an ostentatious piety, which is motivated primarily by a desire for self glorification, rather than by a desire to glorify God. The self absorption, and disregard for God’s will, which flows is the very opposite of what God requires of us.

Following on from the above passage, there is a series of what are perhaps the most caustic comments ever to leave the lips of Jesus.

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Matthew 26.6-13 – Loving in the here and now
Posted: 20 July 2010 in Matthew

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.

In this passage Jesus reminds his disciples that not everything in life can be reduced to a cost-benefit analysis, nor to any other form of crass pragmatism. Such an attitude is especially inappropriate in the presence of God, to whom we can offer nothing except our worship and adoration (cf Mary & Martha).

Even worse, the disciples appeared to be devaluing Jesus, the flesh and blood person they had there in front of them, in favour of some hazy concept such as “the poor”. Abstract concepts such as “the poor” make no demands upon us, unlike real people, and they are easy to manipulate (consciously or unconsciously) for our own ends. Coupled to the fact of original sin, that is why every movement which sets out to create heaven on earth creates hell on earth instead.

It is also why the two great commandments are about loving in the concrete, and in the here and now – not about creating the future paradise which only God can bring about.

It is inevitable, I suppose, that government sponsored welfare systems will reduce people to numbers, but it is an evil, and one which wouldn’t be necessary if we all observed the two great commandments.

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