LENT REFLECTIONS WEEK 6 & HOLY WEEK
WED 10 APRIL—Micah 6: 6-8
Animal sacrifice was the mainstay of Jewish worship expression. It was central to the relationship between God and God’s people, from repentance to thanksgiving. But to most people it had become ritual. Animal sacrifice had become more of a superstitious cultural expression than an act of worship. Some had even bought into pagan notions of child sacrifice in order to appease God (cf vs 7b). The heart of what God wanted for His chosen nation had been lost. The prophet Micah rebukes them and draws them to the heart of God’s call: Do justice (expressed in actions), love mercy (take joy in being merciful), and walk humbly with God. Are these amongst the most important expressions of your faith?
THURS 11 APRIL—Matthew 23: 23-25
In this passage Jesus criticises the scribes and Pharisees very directly and publicly. For some time He has been disrupting their long-standing power structures by healing on the Sabbath, associating with sinners and tax-collectors, and challenging the burdensome laws that they forced people to follow. Like the people in Micah’s time, they had lost the heart of who God is. He accuses them of hypocrisy, and alludes to yesterday’s scripture when He accuses them of losing sight of the “weightier matters of the law”. Jesus is not scared of speaking out against abusive and unjust power. This is dangerous stuff though, which is why we are sometimes silent. How can you speak into an injustice in your context?
FRI 12 APRIL—John 8: 2-11
Jesus was not only a verbal critic of the culturally entrenched power relationships in His society. He was above all an action-critic who actively turned these structures upside down in how He lived and ministered. This reading is a powerful reminder of this (though only one of many). He opposes the religious leadership, who are trying to trick Him. He opposes the established gender attitudes of the day (where is the man, who presumably was also caught in the act?) He opposes violence as a Godly-resolution, He opposes the honour/shame matrix of the culture in which He was embedded (where shame had to be avenged in order to restore honour). We will probably never know just how radically Jesus takes on the powers within His culture. In spite of the inherent danger, we are called to challenge our culture too.
SAT 13 APRIL—John 12: 9-11
When we are unable to identify the power that we have, we end up losing perspective. Instead of focusing on the miracle that Jesus had performed by raising Lazarus from the tomb (even after decomposition had set in), the chief priests concerned themselves with how Jesus was threatening their power. People were believing in Jesus on account of this miracle, presumably proclaiming Him to be the Messiah/Saviour. This is the same Jesus who challenged their laws and customs. He was bad for the establishment. In their narrow-mindedness they plotted to kill Lazarus rather than interrogate their own ways. Two lessons come to mind: 1. We can fall into this power trap too, so we need to always measure our ways against Christ’s witness. 2. Good News can be dangerous: it led Jesus to the cross, and many have died for it. How committed are you to the Good News of Jesus.
SUN 14 APRIL—John 12: 12-19
We begin Holy Week with the Triumphal Entry. Pontius Pilate was the powerful Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus. He was based in Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast. At Passover time, the Pilate would base himself in Jerusalem in order to oversee the rule of law. There needed to be an increased police (or centurions’) presence due to the crowds over this time. In addition, there were always groups of Jewish nationalist rebels wanting to destabilise the oppressive Roman government (Zealots and Sicarii). Any sign of upheaval or insurrection was dealt with swiftly and brutally. That the crowd hailed Jesus as King of the Jews was a dangerous thing! Pilate would enter Jerusalem from the West with a powerful military show of force. Jesus entered from the East on a donkey. What does this say about true power exercised God’s way?
MON 15 APRIL—Matthew 21: 12-13
What, that Jesus would want to overturn, lies on the tables of our church? We have spent time this Lent reflecting on many passages that challenge our cultural practices, including church culture, our generosity, our attitudes towards the poor, women, men, the vulnerable, ethnic groups and so forth. Jesus would want His church cleansed of all injustices and unloving attitudes.
Reflect today on what He might want removed from your life, or the life of our church. Will you go to the cross with Him in order to achieve a more just and loving community?
TUES 16 APRIL—Matthew 22: 1-11
Once Jesus had entered Jerusalem for what would be the last time, one can discern an urgency and passion in His ministry. Throughout His ministry we see exchanges between Him and the Pharisees. But here in Jerusalem He begins to turn up the heat on them. He is overtly outspoken against the injustices of the Temple authorities. In this passage Jesus warns the crowd not to do as the Pharisees do. Evidently they were living hypocritical lives, and their religion was merely a show. The word “hypocrite” refers to an actor! We are called to follow Christ without the “show”. How does this passage speak to you about the flashy churches that have been in the news lately, feasting on gullible and spiritually hungry people?
WED 17 APRIL—John 6: 47-51
This passage forms part of one of the “Ego Eimi” or “I Am” passages, where Jesus claims to be the Bread of Life.. It is a Messianic claim, echoing God’s “I Am” revelation to Moses. Later in John’s Gospel, the Last Supper is situated in the Jewish celebration of Passover—a religious and cultural celebration of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery. The new covenant, foreshadowed by today’s reading, is that all believers will be delivered through the bread from above, the body of Jesus. We at Ascension celebrate a “mini-Passover” each week as we share in Jesus’ body and blood, and celebrate our liberation from the slavery of sin and death.
THURS 18 APRIL—John 13: 1-17
“Humility” is a key word in today’s passage. It is an essential concept to practice if we are to live Godly lives. A detailed university study in Australia has provided compelling evidence that humility was never considered a virtue in the ancient world. Its conversion into becoming a virtue coincides with the time of Jesus and the establishment of the church. The evidence points to it stemming directly from Jesus’ teachings! True power and leadership requires humility and service toward one another, and particularly the most vulnerable. Paul echoes this in an early Christian hymn that he cites in Phil 2. Do you serve others? DO you serve the vulnerable? How does this translate into your family and/or work dynamic?
FRI 19 APRIL—John 19: 30
We have spent several weeks reflecting on what we are called to both personally and as a church. Hopefully we have exposed some of the areas where we fall short of God’s perfect standard. It was a confluence of sins that sent Jesus to the cross: the people’s apathy, the power-hunger and greed of the Pharisees, Sadducees and High Priest, Pilate’s self-preservation, and many more. Sin has brought us to this point: Jesus’ brutal death. Each of our sins contributes to the darkness of Good Friday. As we near the end of Lent, let us once more reflect today on the Ash Wed call to “Turn away from sin and believe the Good News”.
SAT 20 APRIL—John 19: 38-42
Jesus’ family would not likely have been able to afford a proper burial. Generally people who had been executed would have had their bodies thrown into the “pit”: the Valley of Hinnom probably below the Southern wall of Old Jerusalem. Rabbinic literature describes it as the destination of the wicked! By God’s Grace, 2 wealthy people undertake a brave act of love and devotion towards Jesus and His closest followers. They plead with Pilate for the body, prepare it for burial and provide the tomb. It is most encouraging that Nicodemus joins Joseph in this act. Maybe his encounter with Jesus in John 3 allowed him to reflect and change? Not all Pharisees are bad! He is changed by the cross. Have you been?
SUN 21 APRIL—John 20: 16-18
Death is overcome, sin is defeated. We are healed by His stripes!
HE IS RISEN-