Poetry not Prose

Poetry not prose.

[Job 38:1-7, (34-41); Psalm 91:9 -16; Isaiah 53:4-12; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45 ]

Over the past few weeks those of us who lead services and use the lectionary have been offered a choice of Old Testament readings – two parallel streams, one of which claims to be “thematically related” to the NT readings and the other which is a kind of OT greatest hits compilation. What you are supposed to do is pick one strand or the other. What you are not supposed to do is to compare the two streams and notice the very different theologies that are represented by the two options. Taking the two streams together we do get some of the Bible’s better poetry and imagery. Very varied voices. Very different ideas about God and the human condition. Powerful images, but don’t get hung up on literal interpretations and exactly how it might work. indeed, if you push some of the imagery very far you end up in very strange places. But different voices at different times reflecting on the human condition and what a God might have to do with it. 

[In our Zoom eGathering we gave a a very brief introduction to each one, then heard the reading. After that a period for reflection with some music for 2 or 3 minutes. The music and picture of course had some more or less obscure connection for those who chose them, but that wasn’t important, it was there to make space, not to make a point.]

But we couldn’t resist saying a little about the gospel , James and John asking for the top places in the kingdom:

Mark 10:35-45

One does have to ask if the disciples really were that thick and that bad at hearing the message of a man they had chosen to follow and had spent that much time with. But I guess that’s the way with stories – I suspect the stupid disciples are just a useful framing device to provide a lead in to the saying.

Whoever wants to be first must be last.  One of those sayings that, once you have heard it, colours everything – at least as it is usually preached upon. It has been called an invitation to hypocrisy. Certainty we all know the manipulative way in which those who present themselves as weak or lesser manage to get their own way. And the way the powerful in the Church tell those in the pews not to get self-important and do as they are told and not disturb the status-quo.

It is interesting to observe that the powerful here remain powerful – it is actually talking about how that power and position is used.

But perhaps we can look at it another way: was the disciples’ problem they were having that they were taking Jesus too literally. They had been hearing all his talk about “the kingdom of heaven”, all those parables and instead of seeing metaphor and imagery they were seeing a real earthly kingdom. One with rulers and thrones. They were listening to poetry and hearing prose….

Steve Roberts 17/10/21

And from our Christmas Day service:

Nativity by RS Thomas

Christmas Eve! Five

hundred poets waited, pen

poised above paper,

for the poem to arrive,

bells ringing. It was because

the chimney was too small,

because they had ceased

to believe, the poem passed them

by on its way out

into oblivion, leaving

the doorstep bare

of all but the sky-rhyming

child to whom later

on they would teach prose.