Mary & Joseph (2) – Finding

Mary & JosephWhen my son was about four years old, he was playing in the street with his friends. At one point I couldn’t see him so assumed he’d gone to one of the other children’s homes – it was that type of street. It was safe. A bit later on, I looked out again – no, still not there. I called around to his friends but they didn’t know where he was. The worry began to kick in – where on earth was he? What’s happened to him? Then, after what seemed an eternity but in reality was probably only a few minutes, there he was coming down the street. Alone and crying. We ran towards each other and I picked him up: “I didn’t know where you were.” His reply was priceless: “But Daddy, I didn’t know where I was either.”

Please read Luke 2.41-52

This is a significant event – a sort of ‘coming of age’: a rite of passage for the young Christ. While there were other 12 year-olds who went to the Temple to be questioned by the teachers, Jesus knew he was different. It may be that he has been told by Mary and Joseph about his miraculous conception, the flight to Egypt and the visit of the travellers but inwardly he knew this was not just the Temple: it was his Heavenly Father’s house.

Having spent family time in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover, Joseph and Mary are setting off home to Nazareth – a journey of about 120 miles. This was a time when families and travellers intermingled with ease and without fear, being looked after and fed by others. It’s also fair to speculate that their other children, being younger, probably distracted them from realising the absence of the eldest. At the evening stopping point, they started to look for Jesus among the others who were with them.

‘Oh, no! We’ve lost the Messiah!’

So, they set off back to Jerusalem – a day’s walk and three whole days pass before they actually find him. Can you imagine losing someone (or being lost) for three whole days? Bad enough when it’s three whole minutes.

And when they do find him, their reaction is natural: ‘Child…’ (Oh dear, watch out Jesus, you are in big, big trouble.) ‘Child, why have you treated us like this?’ they said. ‘Look…’ (another ‘the parents are really angry’ word), ‘Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ (Don’t you love the sanitised version Luke gives us!)

You get the drift. We’ve all been there (either as seeker or sought for). There’s the relief at finding someone safe mixed, as it so often is, with anger. In the heat of the moment, though, Mary and Joseph appear to forget just who their son is. They don’t understand why he was in the Temple; why he was sat talking with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Joseph and Mary responded like many parents would do. Jesus’ response is that of a 12 year-old going on 15: ‘Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I’d be here?’ Duh.

Tongue in cheek? Maybe. And while we can’t impose 21st century, Western adolescent behaviours on to 1st century Middle Eastern culture, such events, not for the only time, remind us that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Why shouldn’t he react like other 12 year-olds?

The Holy Family are a human family. This incident shows us that there are times when being holy is perhaps not that different from simply being human.

No doubt, once the emotions had settled down, the anger calmed, and a few sorries had been said, Jesus increased in wisdom and divine and human favour, as Luke’s Gospel puts it. And while it may not have felt like it at the time, Mary, and not forgetting Joseph also, would indeed have treasured these things in their hearts.

In our ordinary day to day lives we, like Joseph and Mary, will spend time with other people; we, like Mary and Joseph, will be distracted by many things; and how easy it is for us, like them, to lose the Messiah in the midst of it.

And yet all the time, what a great assurance it is to know that Jesus always knows where he is – and that place includes being right with us in all our distracted seeking.

Looking back over your last few days (or longer if you wish), and reflecting on the events and distractions of your life, in what ways were you looking for Jesus? Did you know where he was?

Or did you come to this story and think, ‘I didn’t know where I was either.’

NEW: The Uncondemned Woman – (2) Absolved *

After things had gone wrong, the words I wrote had meant well. It was written from the heart. I asked for forgiveness and it offered forgiveness. It was responded to with condemnation. It was not the response I had expected.

‘Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”’ (John 8:9b-11)

As elsewhere, on many, many occasions, Jesus’ concern is shown, as one writer put it, not with the law but with people, their own integrity and their relation to God. We see here, as Paul described it, ‘the gentleness of Christ’ (2 Cor 10:1).

As well as the encounter with the woman from Samaria we can compare this incident with another woman judged by others to be sinful (see Luke 7:36-50 – and as an aside, the woman in that incident is not, as was mistakenly thought for hundreds of years, Mary Magdalene or the one involving Mary of Bethany).

Jesus’ words to the woman, ‘Neither do I condemn you’ reflect once again that he did not come in to the world to condemn it but to save it.

And yet, she is forever remembered as the woman caught in adultery: forever labelled by her mistake.

Surely there is much more value in remembering her as the uncondemned woman? As the woman who was saved from death by Jesus. As the woman, who like many others, would have a story to tell about her encounter with the Son of God and how she received a response she did not expect.

Pope John Paul II said this encounter between the woman and Jesus shows us that: ‘In whatever condition we find ourselves, we can always open ourselves to conversion and receive forgiveness for our sins.’

If you are a regular churchgoer, you will I am sure be familiar with the saying of a prayer of confession at the beginning of each service. Thankfully, we can come to God to ask forgiveness at any time of day (or night!). Time to acknowledge when the beam in our own eye is so big that it hits other people in the face. Time to acknowledge those things which are ‘distance creators’ between us and God. Time to ask God for forgiveness for those things we believe are unforgivable.

Many of us condemn ourselves for the mistakes we made (as I imagine this particular woman did also). Sometimes it doesn’t need anyone else, let alone God, to add to that condemnation.

In God’s love and mercy, the intention is not that we will be remembered for what we did wrong or the mistakes we made (although, alas, it is inevitable that some will be). The intention is that we will be remembered for knowing we are not condemned and that we too can go on our way and endeavour not to sin again.

 

Are there aspects of your life about which you feel the need for forgiveness?

 

Woman from Samaria (2) – Pride

The woman at the wellThey stand at the well.

And they talk.

Please read John 4:7b-15

Continuing as it does to verse 28, this is the longest recorded conversation between a woman and Jesus in the whole of the Gospels. Initially, it has a feel of jolly repartee to it as if the woman is jesting, flirting even. After all, she has had five husbands! ‘Sir, you have no bucket… the well is deep… so where do you get this living water… are you greater than Jacob?’ (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.) But the very fact she engages in conversation reflects her deep need for love, acceptance and respect.

Initially, Jesus responds in a calm, pragmatic way: ‘Everyone who drinks of this water (in the well) will be thirsty again.’ But see how effortlessly he turns from the practical to the spiritual – ‘but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.’ Jesus addresses her thirst. A thirst for acceptance. A thirst for love. She’s a mess. She’s had five husbands. She’s living with someone. She’s been excluded. Life is not good. Life is dry and she is thirsty.

Here, now, in the heat of the midday sun, stands a man, perhaps the first man, who accepts her for who she is and who loves her because she is to be loved. Through meeting Jesus, she finds her pride has been restored.

So what do we learn from her story in the day to day reality of our life and faith?

As with the woman from Samaria, the issues we face and the difficulties we have may not go away. The woman did not go to a wishing well to find a magic wand: and Jesus didn’t give her one in return for her efforts. And neither will he do so for us. But it is by going to the source of this living water, by reaching beneath the surface to the place of deep refreshment that will provide a different perspective.

We might think of ourselves as coming to the well in the heat of the different aspects of our lives. Thirsty for acceptance. Thirsty for love. Bringing the parts of our lives which are dry.

Jesus offers each of us the gift of living water. He offers water to quench our thirst, to refresh the dry areas of our life. The water Jesus speaks of is everlasting. It’s constant and continually flowing. It will never dry up. And, like the woman at the well, we have a choice about whether to drink from it.

Or think of it another way: are you a fountain or a spring?

A fountain is dramatic. Everyone watches the water as it plays out in different shapes and forms. Yet fountains recycle the same water all the time. They don’t need much depth to operate. They can be switched on and off. Some people have fountain-like faith – church on Sundays, everyone sees them, they say the right words and sing the right hymns, they get up and sit down at the right times. They sit on committees. But the tap gets turned off when no one else is looking.

A spring is different. Often quieter. Sometimes unnoticed. Spring water is always fresh, always changing, a constant flow 24 hours every day. Springs rise up from the depths. They feed in to the well of those of who draw upon them. People who are like springs have a stability and security in their faith: drawing on deep refreshment. There is a depth often marked by wisdom and a love for others – and themselves.

This water dwells deep within us. The woman from Samaria and Nicodemus encountered these depths of the love of God by taking the time to be present in his presence, listening to him and talking to him. Alongside setting aside the time, setting aside the place is also important. For the woman it became the well. For Jesus it was the mountains and other places where he could be alone. Putting aside time and having a specific place within one’s home can help: a place set apart for prayer, Bible study, worship or whichever way enables the drawing up of water from the well. A place free from other distraction. A place set aside for you and God to meet.

Which aspects of your faith and your life are like fountains and which are like springs?

In what ways do you feel the water of eternal life gushing up inside of you?