"So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed".(Heb 12:11-13)
Don't you love it when religious people get on their high horse? We've had quite a bit of it recently one way or another and it spans the various denominations and political spectrum. In fact I think we are all a little bit guilty of the childish tendency to blame others, quick to point out failings, yet reluctant to acknowledge our own. There is also a distinct lack of graciousness (and that does involve 'Grace') in in our discourse and dealings with each other!
So, when we are confronted by a reading from Hebrews that talks about God disciplining children because God loves them, or as in Luke's Gospel, Jesus issuing warning as about those who will not be welcome in the Kingdom, how are we to take it? It is an unfortunate fact of life that many innocent people (and creatures lets not forget in this time of planetary distress) are chastised by the very fact of being poor, in the wrong place, destroyed by war, illness cruelty and so forth, and is it really true that our God loves chastising us, maybe, I don't know, but I sincerely hope not!
And yet there are good people, decent people, who use these words to get at others, to chastise those who they either discern are, 'not being orthodox' in their faith, or who are simply outside their comprehension or perhaps more importantly 'comfort zone'. I don't know about you but my conscience pulls me back when I indulge in this kind of spiritual one upmanship, it's just not on, why, because these words I use against others are actually meant for me. I cannot let myself off the hook.
Now, having listened, digested and read these particular warning words in Scripture, what then can we learn from them?
Two things: encouragement, 'strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees,'(Heb 12:11) and the compassionate inclusivity of God: "And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
Doesn't that say something very different to us about God, an apparent openness to all, even if we can't accept it?
If we miss these points about encouragement and inclusivity, we misunderstand what is really going on between God and us. Here is an insight. Travelling back to Oxford from my retirement home in Fowey, I sat on Par Station, when a young mother and two young children came to sit nearby, it was obvious something had happened, the little boy (4yrs) sat on the bench with his toy looking pensively at his mother and sister, whilst his sister (3yrs) looked sombre, sullen and distinctly unhappy! The Mother said; 'Now are you going to say sorry for what you did?' The little girl after pouting and grimacing said in a tiny voice, 'I'm sorry', then the Mother said, 'You shouldn't have done that, I expect better of you, but it's alright now' and gave her a big hug saying, 'I don't like telling you off, but you are my very good girl now', she smiled and then her brother spontaneously gave her a hug too!
Isn't that what we really want, chastisement to be tempered by unconditional love, not cruelty or nastiness but the healing corrective of patient love as that Mother showed towards he child? God alone knows I fail at this all the time, but I am grateful for the corrective, and grateful for the love God gives me towards others. So despite our problems and difficulties, let us lift up our tearful faces and take our places at the table of the Lord!
Two Stories from the Desert
She also said that neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that. There was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, 'What makes you go away? Is it fasting?' They replied, 'We do not eat or drink.' 'Is it vigils?' They replied, 'We do not sleep.' 'Is it separation from the world?' 'We live in the deserts.' 'What power sends you away then?' They said, 'Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.' 'Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?'
A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, 'Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.' So he did. The old man then said, 'Shoot another,' and he did so. Then the old man said, 'Shoot it again,' and the hunter replied 'If I bend my bow so much I will break it.' Then the old man said to him, 'It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.' When he heard these words "the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened."
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