The Wedding at Cana / Jesus Clears the Temple: May 1st 2021

Joshua 19:1-21:19

Lots were drawn and the newly conquered territory in the promised land was allocated to the remaining tribes of Israel. The land was split up fairly and efficiently without tribes greedily acquiring more than they needed: ‘The inheritance of the Simeonites was taken from the tribe of Judah, because Judah’s portion was more than they needed (v.9).

After the land had been divided into allotted portions the leader of the Israelites, Joshua, was given the town he had asked for, Timnath Serah (v.50). We need to remember to adequately reward our hard-working leaders and pastors.

The Israelites gave the priestly tribe, the Levites, thirteen towns to live in with pasture-lands for their extensive collection of livestock (21:8,19).

The Israelites founded six cities of refuge to where anyone who had accidentally killed someone could flee before they were killed in a blood vendetta. They could then face a fair trial in regards to the accident. We might be critical about our health and safety culture these days but as least we don’t need six cities to house all those accused of manslaughter. However, we have seen quite a careless attitude towards other people’s health recently. I was a very early adopter of a Covid mask as it made perfect sense to wear one when surgeons always wear a mask whilst operating. It would be manslaughter if we gave someone else fatal Covid just because we selfishly neglected to wear a mask or accept a vaccination. When we pray for our sins to be forgiven we pray both for things we have done and things we haven’t done to care for our fellow citizens.

John 2:1-25

Mary pointed out to Jesus that there was no wine left at the wedding at Cana (v.3). How embarrassing.

Jesus intimated that he was not going to help, ‘My time has not yet come’ (v.4). But Jesus never turns down a valid request for help.

Jesus converted a vast volume of water into the best wine as his first public miracle. The servants had to join in with his miracle by following his instructions exactly. They filled large jars with water to the brim and took some of the new wine out to take to the master of the banquet. They would have looked stupid if it was still water when he tasted it. They took a risk based on Jesus’ word. The master praised the bridegroom for his generosity in providing an abundance of even better wine at the end of the banquet rather than at the start. Rather than being embarrassed in front of his family and friends, the bridegroom’s reputation was enhanced. What a fantastic start to the couple’s married life. We should always invite Jesus to our wedding by holding it in his church. He knows all about marriage. He is the eternal bridegroom to the eternal church.

Christians have an uneasy relationship with alcohol. Many don’t drink at all. This story doesn’t really help as prodigious quantities of the best wine are produced so that people can have a massive celebration. Jesus loved a party. Alcohol is something we just have to keep a very tight rein on. It can easily take over our lives. I don’t tend to have it in the house unless I am holding a dinner party and then I will buy a specific bottle of wine just for that evening. I would never have a wine cellar – I would regard it as a challenge to empty it just as I challenged myself to empty our massive chest freezer full of ancient food during lockdown. There was frozen fish in there that was so old it might actually have been coelacanth. We should always be in control of ourselves and never actually drunk. If I was dining with Pentecostal friends, I would enjoy drinking grape juice with them. We shouldn’t make our guests feel uncomfortable. If I was dining with Catholic friends, I would have a glass of wine if I wasn’t driving. There often comes a time when things get so serious in our lives that we need a completely clear head and a good night’s rest. At these times, it is best not to drink at all. When Jesus was preparing to face the cross, he cleared away frivolous distractions: ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’ (Mark 14:25)

Of course the most marvellous transformation of wine is at the Last Supper when Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and said: ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:27-28). This is repeated at every Holy Mass, when the Holy Spirit changes ordinary wine into the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the faithful to drink. This has been wrecked by the Covid pandemic. The days of an entire congregation drinking from the same cup of Holy Blood seem long gone. Each drop contains Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity and so it can’t be put into hundreds of individual containers as traces would be left behind. Maybe this is why the devil allowed Covid to circulate freely to devastate Christian worship and the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

Through the Holy Spirit working within us we can come up with new prophetic words, new interpretations of God’s word and new miracles. As in this wonderful song, we can pray to Jesus to bring new wine out of us. The best worship songs are serious prayers asking God to change our lives and work through us.

Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples (v.12). Of course, Jesus didn’t actually have any blood-related brothers. Mary, his mother, stayed a virgin all her life. She had been dedicated to the temple as a virgin by her parents, Joachim and Anne, at a very early age. It was her vocation to be a virgin for the whole of her life. Joseph, ‘her husband’, was an elderly man and had been asked by the temple authorities to be her guardian. Joseph had children by a previous wife and was a widower when engaged to Mary. These ‘brothers’ therefore had neither the same father as Jesus, as he was the son of God, nor the same mother. The world would have considered them as ‘half-brothers’ to Jesus. However, Jacob had twelve sons by 4 different women and they are described as brothers. The word ‘brother’ is often used for ‘half-brother’ in the Bible.

Jesus drove all the merchants out of the temple. It is amazing how many souvenir shops and market stalls congregate around a famous religious shrine. These locations can also attract some interesting characters. When tourists are queuing up outside the Vatican, they have to run the gauntlet of pickpockets who saunter up and down the queue looking for a distracted victim. Kathleen Beckman (p.300-301) warns that we should not linger or stare into the eyes of such people. She was cursed by an evil eye spell outside a cathedral by a woman selling trinkets and became paralysed as she knelt down to pray inside the cathedral. Fortunately, she was with a charismatic priest who prayed a deliverance prayer over her and she instantly recovered. Holy places can attract unholy people.

Jesus prophesied that his body (this temple) would be resurrected three days after he died. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit if we have been born again through baptism.

Jesus was so empowered with the Holy Spirit he knew what was in each person’s heart through supernatural words of knowledge. Most employers don’t bother asking for references any more when interviewing candidates for a job. Many firms are scared of giving a negative reference – for fear they will be sued – and a glowing positive reference could mean that a current employer is trying to offload that particular member of the staff. Jesus was the best ever manager and excelled at recruiting disciples. Of course, Judas turned bad of his own freewill but he must have shown interior promise when Jesus first recruited him. No-one can hide the intentions of their heart from Jesus.

Psalm 54:1-7

King David knew that God was his help and sustained him (v.4). He prayed to God to always hear him, save him and vindicate him.

In many of David’s psalms he asked for serious harm to come to his enemies but David lived in tough times and his life was often in mortal danger. He was often attached by strangers (v.2). We are more likely to be attacked by people we know.

We usually live in less risky circumstances and so it should be easier for us to pray for blessings on our enemies as Jesus commanded.

David had confident faith in God. He pledged to sacrifice to him and praise his good name in the future. God would eventually deliver him from all his foes and all his troubles (v.7).

We need to look back on how God has delivered us in the past to have full confidence in him repeating his saving miracles time after time in our future. God will never leave us or forsake us.

Image: Paolo Veronese, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reference:

Mary visits Elizabeth: March 15th 2021

Number 2: 10-3:51

The Tent of Meeting (where Moses could talk to God) and the camp of the Levites (who were to take care of the tabernacle) were placed right in the centre of the Israelite camp (2:17) and what an awesome camp it must have been. The census counted 603,440 men over 20 years in age and so adding women and children there must have been over 2 million people in the Israelite camp. I don’t think any modern-day logistics experts could supply provisions to a mobile group this large. No wonder, they had to rely on God’s miraculous daily provision of food (manna) and water.

Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests and were given special access privileges. ‘Anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death‘ (3:10). We are amazingly blessed today that we can have the Holy Spirit permanently dwelling within us and address God as ‘Father’, after the death of Jesus allowed us all to be God’s adopted children.

God had earlier stipulated that all Israelite first born males belonged to him but he now swaps them for the Levites. He is God, he can change his mind and do what he wants. Unfortunately, there weren’t quite enough Levites (22,000) when compared to 22,273 firstborn males. So 5 shekels (worth 10 dollars at today’s price of silver) had to be paid to redeem each of the additional 273 firstborn. This money was given to the priests. Even in the middle of the desert, hard cash is obviously necessary to keep a religious enterprise going.

Luke 1:39-56

Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. The jury seems to be out on exactly how they were related. Elizabeth may have been Mary’s aunt (due to the age gap) or cousin. If she was a cousin this would have made Elizabeth’s son (John the Baptist) Jesus’ second cousin.

When I first started attending Church weekly, verse (41), ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb‘ absolutely stunned me. The fact that baby John (the Baptist) in the womb (filled from conception with the Holy Spirit) leaped with joy when the foetal Jesus came into the house is stunning. And here we have a second person in the New Testament (Elizabeth) being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit‘. The Spirit didn’t ‘come upon her’ as happened temporarily to prophets in the Old Testament, it actually filled her – as we can be filled today, if we just ask. She instantly displayed one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, a word of knowledge, identifying that both Mary and Jesus were blessed and that Jesus was ‘Lord’. The Holy Spirit gives this supernatural gift to some believers today and it’s a powerful weapon in converting people. When I first visited a Pentecostal church, I was overwhelmed with emotion when a church elder (with his back to me at the front of the church) pinpointed the agony I was currently going through and reassured me that God would deliver me. Which He did. Alleluia.

Elizabeth also recognises Mary’s outstanding level of faith. Mary fully believes that what God has said to her will come true.

The meeting between the two holy foetuses and their mothers is one of the most joyous occasions in the Bible. This is the last time I will use the word ‘foetus’ because I never use the word normally. I use the term ‘unborn child’ or ‘unborn baby’. The word ‘foetus’ has been hijacked by the Devil to sanitise the horrific practice of abortion. Modern society sorts unborn children into either ‘babies’ when they are wanted and ‘foetuses’ when they are to be disposed of. For I believe that someone else was watching this joyous meeting of the unborn. Someone who was intensely interested in the upsurge in activity in the angelic realm and was tracking both Mary and Elizabeth. Satan himself. He would have loved to have murdered Jesus and John in the womb but they were protected by powerful guardian angels. Saint Michael, the Prince of the Angels, had been assigned to permanently guard Jesus during his life on earth. Satan had been defeated by Saint Michael before (Revelation 12:7).

Satan has been waging war on the unborn ever since in revenge for not managing to kill the greatest prophet and the Son of God in the womb. According to the World Health Organisation, at least 42.6 million unborn children were killed in 2020 (https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384687/426-million-abortions-in-2020-the-leading-cause-of-death-worldwide). 22% of pregnancies in the USA are aborted and abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. The numbers are increasing.

When it comes to supporting abortion, adults tend to be too sophisticated. Very few adults would label themselves as ‘pro-death’ or even ‘pro-abortion’, they try to take a more nuanced approach and come up with the most twisted scenarios to try to convince themselves that sometimes it is a ‘necessary evil’ particularly if babies are conceived in terrible, tragic circumstances. However, God is much more straightforward. In matters of morals, there is no wriggle room. We have to look at the situation through the eyes of a child. I would hope that the vast proportion of children if asked about a baby growing in a mother’s womb would agree that it cannot be killed deliberately under any circumstances. So should we. Killing an unborn child is a grave sin. Of course, God will always forgive and welcome back the perfectly contrite from any circumstances but if people don’t repent and renounce this practice, there are everlasting and terrible consequences for them.

Christians can’t be smug and theoretically disapprove of abortion, while failing to publicly voice this opinion or do anything about it. Lack of action, against a global outrage, is a sin. You don’t have to stand outside an abortion clinic yourself – even though this has saved many lives. At the very least, write to your MP whenever there is a debate about abortion and express your opinion about the universal right to life. Join an organisation like the ‘Society for the Protection of Unborn Children‘ (https://www.spuc.org.uk/). If you don’t do something positive to fight this practice, you are morally complicit in it.

Back to the positive. Mary’s song ‘The Magnificat‘ is beautiful and echoes Hannah’s prayer in (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Trendy theologians – from which you should run a mile – come out with terrible slurs about Mary and ask how could a illiterate, teenager write such a magnificent prayer? Maybe it was written later by someone else? However, I agree with the legend that Mary had been raised in the temple from the age of 3 to at least 12. She had an intimate knowledge of the scriptures and was extremely eloquent and well educated. Who do you think Jesus learnt all his scripture from?

Nicky Gumbel makes the touching observation that half of Jesus’ DNA came from Mary and so he probably looked like her in some ways. Maybe when we look into Jesus’ eyes, we will recognise his mother in them.

I want this song at my funeral (not a morbid thought when you are born again)

Psalm 34:1-10

I was in such a good mood from the Magnificat that I found every single verse of this psalm beautiful.

Those who look to him are radiant‘ (v. 5). I watched a cookery competition the other day, ‘Junior Bake-off‘. The competitors had to bake something to represent their ideal future career. One girl baked a cross as she said her father was a Pastor and she wanted to be one too. We all cheered at home in delighted surprise but looking at her we could have guessed. Her face radiated love, peace and joy. If all the contestants had lined up and we had been asked to choose the really Christian child, we would have selected her. The other contestants were of course beautiful in their own ways but ‘slightly less radiant’.

Moses always had a radiant face after communing with God and had to wear a veil to damp down the brightness. I remember reading at church once from a high pulpit (which is rare in trendy modern churches) and I could feel my face glowing afterwards. You really can tell joyous Christians from their radiant faces. My Pastor says that bitterness and unbelief makes lines on your face. People don’t need to spend money on expensive face-creams (especially if they are made from foetal cells https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/3/aborted-fetus-cells-used-in-anti-aging-products/ ) they just have to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit fully into their lives. They will make us beautiful both internally and externally.

I have been ‘saved out of all my troubles’ (v.6) by the Lord. How many troubles is the poor man saved from? All his troubles! Shout it out loud.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them‘. Amazing. Give thanks to your Guardian angel. He is your best friend and protector, leading you and willing you to eternal life. Show him some gratitude.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing‘. If you’re seeking the Lord, you probably won’t win the lottery or be given a sportscar but, by definition, these things can’t have been good for you. Because, if they were good for you, you wouldn’t lack them. In contrast: ‘those who fear the Lord lack nothing‘. By the time you have stopped seeking the Lord, found him and now fear him (have awe and respect for him) you have realised that an expensive car will just get scratched, depreciate and rust and winning the lottery would present quite a few difficulties. Your definition of needs and wants will have evolved and worthless consumerist desires will have dropped away. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord and not in his possessions.

The Angel Gabriel visits Mary: 14th March 2021

Numbers 1:1-2:9

At first glance, today’s Old Testament reading looks like a dull list of numbers we can scan through quickly before getting on with breakfast. However, there are a few interesting points.

A census is taking place of who can fight in the Israelite army and the total number of men comes to 603,550. This is a pretty impressive fighting force. We need to take a count sometimes of who can fight alongside us. At 06:00 this morning, my fighting force appeared to comprise of just me and my dog but later my wife joined me for breakfast to discuss today’s New Testament reading – which is outstanding. However, it is important that we Christians are always part of a vibrant church community. There can be no lone-rangers in Christianity. We all need back-up. Just as we should never be impertinent to a single police officer because they represent the entire law enforcement community and can call on backup from the army if necessary, I know that all my Pentecostal friends are there for me during any personal or spiritual crisis and, as I am also a member of the Catholic Church, I can call on thousands of my brethren all the way up to the Pope if needed. All practicing Christians, who are active members of a parish community, have an impressive army backing us up twenty-four hours a day.

It’s fascinating that the census of fighting men in Numbers 1 is God’s idea even though He would already precisely know how many fighting men there were. The data is for Moses’ information. However, later in 1 Chronicles 1: ‘Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel‘ and David gets in major trouble with God as a result, culminating in 70,000 men falling dead with a plague. It’s a puzzle as to why carrying out the census in Numbers is ok but the later one is not. The first point is that we shouldn’t do anything that Satan incites us to do but it can be difficult to discern whether something was our idea or whether it came from an outside influence. The general consensus about why the census in Chronicles was a bad idea is that David was starting to rely on his own resources and power rather than God’s. He wanted to count his people so that he knew he could launch an attack on enemy forces and win – without needing to ask God for help. He wanted reassurance that he had enough assets to be independent from God. I often get the temptation to check how much money is in my pension fund – to see if there is enough for my whole retirement. However, I should just relax and know that God will make sure I have sufficient provision – as he has done for my entire life – when the time comes.

This passage is a handy list of the tribes of Israel. It’s a good mental challenge to try to memorise the names of the 12 tribes – just like trying to remember the names of the twelve apostles. I find the names of the 12 tribes somewhat elusive because there are still 12 names in this list of potential soldiers, even though the Levites are excluded (as they are going to look after the tabernacle rather than fight) which makes 13 tribes. How can this be when Jacob ‘only’ had 12 sons by 4 different women (sounds exhausting)? The answer, if you look closely, is that Joseph had two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh – and the descendants of these two are counted separately.

(v.51) states that anyone, other than a Levite, who goes near the tabernacle shall be put to death. This is a long way from being able to come into God’s presence today and address him as ‘Abba (Daddy), Father’ thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus.

Luke 1:26-28

This is the first time we hear about Mary in the Nativity story and what an amazing introduction it is.

Mary and I go back a long way. I was brought up as a typically slack Church of England Christian. My parents might have attended church twice a year at the most. My primary school was actually called St. Mary’s and I remember, at the age of seven, reading out Luke’s nativity story in the neighbouring St. Mary’s church as part of a carol concert. Even at this young age, I was impressed by the role of Mary and didn’t quite understand how throughout my entire Anglican school education little thought or reflection was dedicated to the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

When I became a Catholic, there was a lot more attention given to Mary. I even found myself carrying a statue of her through the rainy streets of Holywell on a pilgrimage while a bystander with a megaphone shouted at us that we were all ‘idol worshippers’. I am not a big fan of huge statues and parading in public but the fact is that it is harmless. I think a proper parade in a devoutly Catholic country like Spain would be awesome. The simple fact is that Catholics, exactly like Protestants, worship God alone. They do not worship idols and they do not worship Mary. A statue or a painting of Mary is used in exactly the same way that we might refer to a photograph of a member of our family. It’s just a reminder of what they look like. None of us will worship the painting that advertises today’s blog.

Anglicans seem to warming up a little towards how incredible a disciple Mary was: ‘In the greatest and most decisive act of faith in history she offered herself to God as a clean page on which he could write what he wanted’ (Nicky Gumbel (153)).

There are several doctrines about Mary that need to be carefully considered. Having spent 40 years as an Anglican, 14 years as a Catholic and the last 2 years mixing with Pentecostals, here is my view:

God sent the angel Gabriel ‘to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:27). Don’t be confused that this was going to be a normal kind of marriage, that they were going to settle down and have children, this was something completely different. When the gospel says the angel was sent ‘to a virgin’, Mary’s virginity wasn’t a temporary biological state. Being a virgin was her job! Her vocation was to be a virgin. In verse 34, after she is told she is to have a son Mary says ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’ (v.34). This is her stating that her job is to be a professional virgin for ever. She is never going to have sexual relations with anyone ever. She was dedicated to God as a young child and is His bride already. Instead of punishing her, as the same angel punished Zechariah in yesterday’s reading for being impertinent, the angel could have said at this stage: ‘Good point!”.

Books like the non-canonical ‘The Protevangelium of James‘ give some tantalising glimpses into Mary’s infancy leading up to these events, with Mary being dedicated to God at the age of 3 by her parents and brought up in the temple, but as this book was condemned by Pope Innocent I in 405, we can’t take anything from it as the ‘gospel truth’ even though details like the names of Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, have been accepted by the church.

When discussing Mary’s perpetual virginity, many people point out that the Bible mentions that Jesus had ‘brothers’. However, these didn’t have to have come from Mary. The Eastern Church tradition is that Joseph was an old man when he agreed to be Mary’s guardian / ‘husband’ as she needed to be removed from her home in the the temple before she reached puberty. Joseph had already had children by a previous wife and was now a widower and so Jesus had older ‘step-half-brothers’, who had neither Mary as their mother nor the Holy Spirit as their father. The Roman church states that ‘James and Joseph’ are the sons of ‘the other Mary’ referred to in Matthew 28:1. Half-brothers and brothers are often rolled together in the Bible. For example, Joseph had 11 ‘brothers’ but only one of these, Benjamin, had the same mother as his. It doesn’t really matter. Even if Mary had become a normal wife and mother after having Jesus, any children she produced wouldn’t have had the Holy Spirit as their father and so they would have been half-brothers at best. We can all agree to disagree, but I know that if was a very old man and had witnessed my very young wife give birth to the son of God, with angels and visits from the Magi – I would want to just be her friend and protector.

It is difficult not to be slightly irritated by modern translations of Luke 1:28. I long to see the traditional ‘Douay-Rheims’ version from Saint Jerome’s fourth century Latin translation: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace‘. Virtually every modern Bible switches to a variety of ‘highly favoured’. Even my Catholic Bible has ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour‘ which is horrible in comparison. There is a hymn called ‘The Angel Gabriel from heaven came‘ which has the final lines: ‘Most highly favoured lady! Gloria!‘. A priest gleefully pointed out that many people sing: ‘Most highly flavoured gravy‘, which I can never un-hear. I am sorry if I have just ruined your life as well. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace‘ exactly implies that Mary is exactly the right person, predestined by God before she was conceived, to be the mother of Jesus. All creation paused in silence, waiting for her to give her perfect free-will consent.

Mary’s pregnancy must have been awesome – to have her own blood separated by just a thin placental wall from the perfect blood of Jesus for 40 weeks. She provided life support to God. There is also a good chance at the time of delivery that some of a baby’s blood cells will enter the mother’s bloodstream. How awesome is that?

Psalm 33:12-22

God is always keeping a loving, close eye on us to rescue us and keep us alive if we have a holy reverence and love for him.

‘But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love (v.18).

Bibliography:

The Protevangelium of James

https://amzn.to/3uxjxeI

Picture by: Luca Giordano, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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