Musings from the Manse – 28th June 2020 Rev Nik Wooller
Matthew’s Gospel introduces us to the twelve disciples. Imagine going to a Quiz Evening; a question is asked: “Can you name the twelve Disciples of Jesus? One point for each correct name!” There are some names that readily spring to mind: Simon (or Peter as he is better known to us), Matthew the Tax Collector; Thomas of course – which Thomas has not been referred to as “Doubting Thomas” at some point? James and John and then there’s Judas Iscariot – remembered for all the wrong reasons. I have a dread then, as all eyes seem to be looking at me, of my memory failing as all in the room expect me to “rattle off” the rest of the names! I know the song we learnt to remember them is ‘52 Mab St’, but these days I don’t always remember why it is supposed to help!
Fortunately, perhaps what is more important than remembering the names of all the twelve Disciples is to have in mind the task that they were given. Jesus gives the Disciples their instructions. He tells them, “Go to the lost sheep that belong to the house of Israel.” Reading further we find that Jesus makes the point that proclaiming the message will not be easy. At times they will find themselves at serious risk of harm. He tells them, “Beware of human beings, they will hand you over to Religious Councils and flog you.” He then tells them that they will be like “sheep among wolves.”
This Gospel was written long after the death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. The story tells us what it was actually like for many who tried to be faithful followers of Jesus in the late First Century; how those who tried to shape their lives according to the teaching of Jesus were persecuted. Indeed, many sacrificed their lives because of their faithfulness to Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel was written at a time when Roman power controlled great swathes of lands both East and West from Italy. Peace or ‘Pax Romana’ as it was called, was maintained by the power of the sword. Yet Jesus told his Disciples that as they went on their way through life, they should proclaim a different sort of peace: the Biblical peace “Shalom”, which is less about power and far more to do with justice and what we often speak of as “life in all its fullness.”
Life for many people has in recent months seemed quite the opposite of “fullness”. There has been a great feeling of emptiness as ‘Lockdown’ has kept many confined to their own homes without contact with other family members or friends. There has been some relaxation in the restrictions as some shops have opened. But at the moment there can be no gathering of people together and services cannot take place in Churches. It will continue to be difficult particularly when our natural inclinations and instincts are to “gather together.” However, we cannot yet do this for, to borrow and adapt a phrase from the Gospel, we are still like sheep in the midst of the Coronavirus wolves. Difficult though this may be for us and other Churches, we must continue to play our part in trying to bring this terrible time to an end. As we journey together in the gradual exit from Lockdown, we do so in the sure knowledge that we share in the life of the Risen Christ. Until we can meet together once again; until we can worship together, may we be built up in hope and grow in love for the sake of Jesus Christ.