Thought for the Week: 16th August 2020

Our thought this Sunday is an edited version of a longer reflection by Louise Hampson.  The full version can be seen by clicking on the button below.

Break the bonds and embrace life in Christ

Our two Bible passages this week have at their heart the unifying of people who were previously divided whether by events or racial divide. These feel particularly pertinent in current times as we see the momentum of Black Lives Matter gain pace and we hear of the new accord between the UAE and Israel. Closer to home, the Covid pandemic has caused many to reflect on wider relationships, to become aware of the needs and vulnerability of their neighbours in ways which they were not before. The upsurge of goodwill and care which this has provoked is a positive aspect of a terrible situation: ‘normal’ petty divisions or historic slights have been set aside in the face of a greater need and it is to be hoped such goodwill outlives the virus.

We all know of families whose members live at complete loggerheads until death, or the threat of tragedy strikes, and they come to their senses. But in the Old Testament reading (Genesis 45: 1-15) we hear an extraordinary example of forgiveness and family making-up: the passage is the end of the story of Joseph and his brothers where in a ‘ big reveal’ (I’m trying not to keep seeing Jason Donovan in the musical version!) the rich and successful Joseph reveals his identity to his dumbfounded brothers who had sold him into slavery and likely death. Not only does he tell them all is forgiven and heaps food and money onto them, he tells them that he thinks their terrible crimes were all part of God’s plan so he could be on hand to save the Egyptians from the threatened famine which could have devastated their country. In other words, they were not to blame, they were instruments of the divine will. Joseph is offering the brothers a way out of a cycle of guilt and recriminations, not an ‘excuse’ but a way of leaving it behind them to start afresh.

In the story in Matthew 15: 21-28, we see division of a different kind, an ugly example of racial hatred. Jesus and his disciples are approached by a Canaanite woman. The land of Canaan, the original promised land of the Israelites, was by this time occupied by a people despised by the Jews for their pagan religious beliefs.  The language of the passage is shocking: Jesus compares the woman to a dog and initially denies her request. This is not the Jesus we expect; what is going on? The woman’s response is dignified and has all the hallmarks of someone who has heard and endured worse. She turns the insult aside, and in so doing is brought into the fold which Jesus has said is only for the lost sheep of Israel.

The woman sets aside the initial insult and rejection in order to receive joy, just as Joseph sets aside a great wrong in order to have the joy of reunion. They see the bigger picture, the better goal and move beyond the nursing and nourishing of hurts and grievances, the chasing of the desire to get even.

In Christ we are not only called to set aside our tally of injustices, our prejudices, our misplaced sense of superiority, we are challenged to accept that our interpretation of events which may have a terrible impact on us may not be the whole picture. This can be very hard and may not be possible for months or even years after the event, but until we do, we are trapped in a prison of our own making. In Christ we are challenged to see beyond ourselves, to break those bonds and to embrace the life he offers us abundantly.