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13th Sunday after Trinity – Resist your inner Pharisee
Is there a tendency, within the church, to revert to the Pharisee, to retreat into rules and constraints and the sanctuary of the few? As each generation passes religions can tend – perhaps they can’t resist – to add some extra rules of their own. What may have started as a kernel of truth, some central and pure experience of God, builds and builds, adding layer upon layer of man-made disciplines and regulations, until something beautiful and unconditional, becomes smothered and obscured with decrees and laws and conditions. Do we recognise this in ourselves? And if so, what can we do about it?
Times change, empires rise and fall, entire cultures are born only to die again, new technologies emerge and are replaced, history flows like an everlasting river; and human nature remains substantially the same. From the time of Moses to the time of Jesus and his disciples an epoch of time had elapsed, another 2000 years lie between us and the disciples and …as the French saying goes: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change – the more they remain the same. Just how much have we progressed, how much have we learned, have we truly listened to the voice of Jesus?
In our Gospel reading today Jesus speaks of welcoming the child, and not just the child in years, but the young at heart. For elsewhere in the Gospel he also says that we should come to him as if we too were children. In our more modern and supposedly advanced times, we have gained a certain security perhaps, technology has taken away from of the drudgery and danger, medical advances have extended our lives, our surroundings are comfortable, predictable, tamed. There is a well-known saying “Take what you want, says God, as long as you accept there is a price and you must pay for it”.
If that is so, what have we paid, and just what have we bought with it?
Sometimes there are sentences and phrases in the Bible that are so familiar, that we pass over them rather too rapidly, supposing we know what they mean. And on one level that’s understandable. The text would be unreadable if we stopped at every and, if or but trying to uncover a multiplicity of interpretations – we would never get to the end. But having read a passage it is often well to go back over the ground, to see whether we might dig beneath the surface. And in today’s Gospel we have just such a challenge.