Discipled for the Kingdom of Heaven: Blog for Sunday 26 July 2020

With this edition I return to my diocesan blog in its more ‘traditional’ form i.e. primarily exploring the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday. The lectionary Gospel is Matthew 13.31-33,44-52 and I comment on it below. However I intend also to continue to incorporate other material and reflections when available. This week I want to share with you some thoughts by Andrew Caspari, our diocesan secretary, inviting your prayers for Ammi, the son of Grace our senior diocesan safeguarding adviser, who is very ill.

The blog actually appears on St Mary Magdalene’s day (22 July), and Alan Amos, my husband, has deliciously taken up the cudgels on her behalf! Mind you Alan and I disagree how you spell Magdalen(e) – but you can’t have everything!

And I include a prayer I myself wrote about 14 years ago which takes as its starting point the lectionary Epistle for this coming Sunday, Romans 8.26-39.

I am hoping to continue to produce the blog on a weekly basis, but would very much welcome offers by laity and clergy in the diocese to take responsibility for it on a given week.

Dr Clare Amos
Director for Lay Discipleship, Diocese in Europe
clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

 

matthew on shoulders of isaiah

This window in Chartres Cathedral, France,  depicts a (little) Matthew on the shoulders of a (large) Isaiah. It is one of a series of four of the evangelists on the shoulders of the Old Testament prophets. It resonates with the theme of ‘Treasures Old and New’ in this week’s Gospel reading. 

*****

As Director for Lay Discipleship in the Diocese in Europe I have a vested interest in this week’s lectionary Gospel reading. It is the conclusion of the passage that I find especially intriguing. I quote from the NRSV (even though in this instance I don’t particularly like the translation).

‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

The Greek word translated as ‘trained’ is a passive form of the verb matheteuo. It is a verbal form that is related to the noun mathetes, which means ‘disciple’. The noun mathetes, ‘disciple’ is of course very common in the New Testament, the related verbal form isn’t[1]. It appears four times in total in the New Testament, three times in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 13.52; 27.57; 28.19) and once in Acts (Acts 14.21). On the other three occasions when it appears the NRSV includes the word ‘disciple’ in the translation eg ‘after they had made many disciples’ (Acts 14.21). So, in my view, it is unhelpful that here in Matthew 13.52 rather than speaking of people ‘discipled for the kingdom of heaven’ the NRSV has chosen a translation of ‘trained’. It loses the connection both with the other times the verb appears, and with the fundamental noun ‘disciple’. (I note that Nicholas King’s recent translation does say ‘discipled for the kingdom of heaven’.)

I think it would be fascinating to write a short book on discipleship exploring the four different times that forms of the verb matheteuo appears. It seems to me to span quite a range of what Christian discipleship is supposed to be about. I have just added the idea to my personal – already rather long – ‘to do’ list. But the occasion when it appears here in Matthew 13.52, at the end of a chapter of parables, is especially interesting. It is the link that is made between discipleship and bringing out of the treasure store what is new and what is old. This, Matthew’s Gospel seems to be suggesting, sums up the nature of discipleship. It has sometimes been put forward that in the use of the verb matheteuo ‘Matthew’, the evangelist, is slightly cryptically alluding to his own name. If that is the case, and I think it is an intriguing suggestion, he is seeking to present his ‘writing’ as a ‘scribe’ – which is of course, this very Gospel itself, as a model for his ideal of discipleship. And I think this is worth serious reflection, because one can see how this particular Gospel does seek to offer treasures new and old, with its deep embeddness in  yet also critique of Old Testament traditions and imagery.

I almost wrote a Lent course a few months ago based around the theme of ‘Treasures New and Old’. The ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland had invited me to write their 2020 Lent course, and had offered me free rein as to the theme. Such ‘freedom’ can of course be a challenge – and I was torn between a range of possibilities I would have been interested to explore. Although eventually I went down another route[2], at one point I was seriously considering taking the motif ‘Treasures New and Old’ as the overall theme, and exploring how both the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ are valuable in the life of the church and need to engage in dialogue and dialectic with each other eg in worship, social views, theology, understanding of mission, ministry etc.

Coming back to this idea in Covid times, one of the learnings that the church and we as disciples have been through in the last few months, is surely in this area. We have been forced to evaluate what are ‘treasures’ and what are ‘dross’. What are traditions and practices that we want to hold on to and return to when life becomes ‘normal’ again, and what are the areas where the pandemic has encouraged (or forced?) us to find ‘new’ treasures? The art of blog writing, which I am definitely going to follow in this instance, is of course to pose the question rather than offer the solutions!

But at least I will leave you with the thought that an essential part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to ‘treasure’ both the new and the old!

 

*****

In God’s Hands

I am grateful to Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary, for these reflections. Please pray for Ammi and his family. Andrew certainly deserves his two weeks off!

We have been beset by some serious illness in my, now virtual, office of the Diocese in Europe. This is not Covid-19 but other things. Ammi, the 22-year-old son of one of the staff lies in hospital in a coma following emergency brain surgery. His Pentecostal mother, Grace, is arranging hourly prayers and this week he squeezed her hand to confirm he could hear her and in defiance of medical wisdom as to his condition. ‘Ah yes,’ Grace told the medics, ‘but we have been praying – you might want to join in.’

Another member of staff was rushed to hospital and did not take a phone charger. With the help of the chaplain I was able to go there and deliver a charger for her very old phone though I doubted it would work. Rev’d Samuel told me ‘we plugged in the phone and it lit up, it was as though you had brought the light of Christ to her.’ I disputed this saying it was the only thing I could do. I asked Samuel how he was managing as practically the only visitor in the hospital. He replied, ‘I just walk around talking to people. It is mostly about football as many don’t want to talk about God. But that is fine – that is what God is calling me to do and it makes people happy and better.’

Small things can make a big difference.

Many of us have been crazily busy and doubtless somewhat stressed in these past few months. Archbishop Justin Welby had words of comfort for me with a group of colleagues on a call last week. Speaking on zoom from an enormous chair in a wood panelled room, he told us of a Bishop he met in the Democratic Republic of Congo who was dealing with war, ebola and famine. When asked how he coped, the Bishop told the Archbishop: ‘I do what God enables me to do and leave him to deal with the rest.’ Archbishop Justin encouraged us to remember the verse in 1 Peter; ‘Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.’

So, with that thought in mind, I am taking a couple of weeks off.

*****

Mary Magdalen’s Complaint

I do wish people would call a halt
to debating my virtue in cyber space!
Two thousand years of argument
is, thank you, quite enough
without finding oneself
the centre of
a twitter storm!

These days you can’t have a boy friend
Without the most scurrilous
Accusations!
Not that my so-called ‘relationship’
with Jesus son of man
was ever what you assume!

No, it was not at all like that;
we lived in different times,
in different climes
mentally,
physically
and thank God,
spiritually!

I suppose you might say
I was on his ‘wave length ‘
Fair enough
But that was just
A matter of sheer grace
finding I could understand
because
I was understood.

And what about all my ‘sins’
you ask in
your prurient  way…
those devils that were cast out
what tribe did they belong to ?

Must you ask?
Is it not enough
To know you are forgiven
By God’s own self?
Do you have to rummage
through Judea’s dustbins
searching for ‘the truth’?

He called me his ‘strong tower’
and I rejoiced at that –
even if Peter got a bit envious –
he sent me with his newborn
Resurrection message.
The first to wing it with the news!

So there.  You have
quite enough problems of your own
without scraping history’s barrel
salivating over mine!

Thanks be to God!

Alan Amos

*****

I wrote the following prayer, based around Romans 8.12-39 while working for USPG and the Anglican Communion Office, and it was extensively used in the 2007 Set All Free campaign, which marked the 200th anniversary of the ending of the slave trade in the British Empire.

Abba,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
You have graced us with the spirit of freedom,
And the privilege of calling upon you by name.
May we use this precious freedom
To give a voice to all who are enslaved
By poverty or persecution,
Held captive by discrimination or disease.
Grant us courage to name injustice wherever it appears,
And to speak your Word of truth,
Sure that the love of God in Christ Jesus has power
To set all people free,
Enabling them to live in glorious liberty,
As your cherished sons and daughters. Amen.

 

 

I kings 3.5-12

[1] Both the verb matheteuo and the noun mathetes probably ultimately derive from the ‘primal’ verb manthano= I learn.

[2] I looked at scripture and explored parts of it that might set ‘our hearts on fire’. The course is still available in a digital form at http://www.ctbi.org.uk/lent/

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