Modern society believes that you should get what you deserve. Perhaps society has always believed this. That’s why we have a suspicion of those struggling to live on benefits (‘scroungers’, receiving ‘handouts’) and of overpaid footballers and bankers.
This summer I visited Norwich Cathedral. In the garden is a labyrinth marked out on the grass and I started walking along the path. I knew that following it would take me to the centre but I frequently ended up feeling just as far away from the end as when I started.
One of the most significant people within the Christian story is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. For many (although by no means all) Christians, Mary is an enduring figure of faithfulness and love.
‘If this is how you treat your friends, small wonder you have so few!’ The 16th-century nun Teresa of Avila didn’t mince her words: when she was annoyed with God, she said so. She knew their relationship was strong enough to take it. Their friendship was real.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” - Matthew 5:44
I was surprised when, in thinking about this theme of “Gentleness”, these verses from Luke’s gospel came to mind. Birth is not a gentle process, and certainly not in stark, bare and unfamiliar surroundings.
In some bible translations this section is entitled "Jesus comforts the sisters of Lazarus". Jesus sees the distress and grief of Mary and is "deeply moved". Then "Jesus wept". Only two words: Jesus wept. But so profound.
Jesus has a radical message about power and how it truly operates. In contrast to popular notions about strength and success, Jesus speaks of the power of sacrifice and brokenness which can have an amazing effect.
Last Sunday’s reading was Paul’s letter to Philemon. Apart from the fact that it was full of names, as our reader struggled to pronounce them (how do you say Phil-ee-mon?), it’s a wonderful passage. It’s about the fact that all of us do things we’d rather we didn’t.