On the hillside above the Sea of Galilee is the village of Korazin. It is a ruin today, but what remains, of houses and the synagogue, indicates that Korazin was a wealthy village. Its wealth was built on its good soil, and the quality of the grain that was grown there. Korazin was known throughout the Jewish world for the quality of its grain.
The gospels tell us that Jesus performed many miracles at Korazin, but that the people there did not respond to his message, his urgent invitation to respond to the coming-near of God’s kingdom. Korazin had good soil, but it was poor soil for the gospel.
Jesus had made his base at Capernaum, on the lake. But he told his parables and performed miracles in the surrounding towns and villages, and it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t have told the parable of the sower in Korazin: it is a parable made for the place.
The land is steep, and crops were grown on communal, terraced fields. Sowing took place by scattering seed liberally across the field. Some seed fell on the path. Paths were important: they gave villagers access to their particular patch of land, across their neighbours’ land. Without paths, people would have trampled any which way, and much more of the soil would be pressed down too hard. Good paths made for good neighbourly relations. Paths were important; but they weren’t productive soil.
In places, the soil was thin, the bedrock very close to the surface. And surface bedrock was important: it provided the natural foundation on which to build the walls that formed the terracing, that created level ground from which the soil would not be washed away. Rocky ground was important; but it wasn’t productive soil.
Around the edges of the fields, thorns grew. And thorns were important: not everywhere was as blessed as Korazin – subsistence farming was the norm, and people could hardly afford their labour to come to nothing because the crop was eaten by animals before it could be harvested. Thorns kept animals at bay. Thorns were important; but they weren’t productive soil.
So here is my question. What is important in your life (I don’t mean, what do we think is important, but isn’t really; I mean things that really are important) but has been allowed to get in the way of our being good soil?
What good things – relationships, foundational things (like church involvement), legitimate concerns – have somehow prevented us from producing a harvest that has fed the wider community in which we live?
The summer months are a good time to stop, step back from the good things were are involved in, and reassess; to repair paths and walls and even thorns where they have fallen into disrepair; and to take note where the good soil is, where we want most of the seed scattered in our lives to fall.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I thought I might start posting thoughts for some short talks (such as at the weekly midweek communion), as a way of my getting my head around what I am going to say, but also for anyone interested in digging deeper than the talks themselves might allow.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter [Peter, in Greek, means rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Jesus has become well known in Galilee. Everywhere he goes, crowds follow, and everyone has an opinion about him. From time to time, we see Jesus take his disciples out of the glare of the spotlight, off to some quiet place beyond the circles where they were known, so they could get their heads around all that was going on.
Caesarea Philippi was beyond the boundary of Galilee, but this wasn’t one of those getting-away-from-it-all times. Caesarea Philippi was the sort of place where today celebrities would go to be seen partying hard, not to recover. It was the sort of place every good Jewish mother warned her sons about, and worried they might go to. It was the sort of place no good Jewish boy would go to (except in their imagination). And the disciples must have figured out before they got there where Jesus was taking them. Can you imagine the hushed conversations going on behind his back as they followed him on the road? If news got out, people would be scandalised.
Caesarea Philippi was a shrine to the Roman emperor, who was worshipped as a living deity, saviour of the peoples of the empire, the son of the gods in human form. My view is that Jesus already knew that his Father had revealed his true identity to Simon, and that he deliberately took his disciples to this place, where the same claim was made of someone else, to underline what Simon had understood in big, thick marker pen.
Caesarea Philippi was pretty new, the latest thing, built to make the statement, ‘We’re all good citizens of the empire round here.’ But it was built right next door to the site of a much older shrine, to the Greek party-animal god Pan. At Pan’s shrine, everything and anything went – the wilder and more debauched the better. At the heart of the shrine complex was a large cave, known as the Gate of Hades – not the front entrance, you understand – that was somewhere in Greece – but the back door...And here, at the very gate of hell, Jesus declares that the gates of death will not stand against his church.
Jesus isn’t pussy-footing around. This is – quietly, deliberately, without making a scene – very confrontational. In a place where God’s followers wouldn’t go, he makes a stand.
So, where are the places we are told we ought not to go to, by sincere respectable people who fear that we will be corrupted by the sort of people to be found there?
Where are the places where people are idolised – the idols of sport, or entertainment, or intellect? Where are the places of extreme excess? What are the statements made in our society that we are supposed to sign up to – and be seen to sign up to, in order to enjoy good favour? Where are the places we are disapproving of, perhaps secretly curious about, but too afraid to step foot inside?
Where are the no-go areas? Because they are the very place where the church is supposed to be...