Thursday 3rd September
We are beginning our reflections again today and plan to offer them daily in September. Today’s reflection, contributed by Katy, is based on Luke 5 and Acts 9. The music is Outrageous grace and the poetry is provided by Stuart; we conclude with the prayer of the week.
5 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
32 Now as Peter went here and there among all the believers, he came down also to the saints living in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And immediately he got up. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
Two for the price of one in our readings today! In preparation for this reflection I read both the lectionary readings, meaning to choose one, but what struck me was the parallels across both stories, and the cumulative impact of the actions taken, all of which involved Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter.
Luke is the author of both passages. His eponymous Gospel takes us from the births of John the Baptist and Jesus through to the resurrection and ascension; the book of Acts picks up where the first book left off, as all good sequels do, and takes us through the birth of the Church from Pentecost through to the ministry of Paul. Peter is one of the threads that runs through both books.
The passage from Luke describes one of Peter’s earliest encounters with Jesus, when he is called as one of the first disciples. The passage from Acts comes later in Peter’s life, by which point he is playing a key role as a leader in the early church, spreading the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection and ministering to Christianity’s first recruits.
Within the two passages, we read three stories: firstly, the miraculous catch of a ludicrous amount of fish by a bunch of exhausted fishermen who, moments before, had been unable to find a single tiddler; secondly, the healing of a paralysed man, Aeneas; and thirdly, the raising of Tabitha from the dead. In many ways these stories are very different, but they also share some important similarities.
The first thing that struck me was how the Bible tries to confuse us by giving the same person more than one name. Simon and Peter (and indeed Simon Peter) are the same person, as are Tabitha and Dorcas. (This confusion took me back to an early revelation in my Christian journey – once I realised that Saul and Paul were in fact the same person, the New Testament started to make a lot more sense!).
Confusion aside, a (probably more important) feature that the stories share is that they are all tales about individuals who receive great blessing from God. A second chance. However, in none of the three cases did the individuals involved actually ask for assistance. It came without them seeking help from God, and as a direct result of another person interceding on their behalf, someone who saw that things weren’t great and thought to take the trouble to ask God to do something about it.
In addition, God does not ask anything of the recipients either before or after he grants the blessings. He doesn’t even demand that they have a professed faith in Himself.
(Peter, however, does demand that poor Aeneas immediately makes his bed. I doubt that is the first thing I would do on standing up after eight years of paralysis!).
God may not ask for anything in return, but the blessings He grants do have an impact on what the recipients do next, and thereby on the ultimate growth of the faith and quantity of the disciples of Jesus. For Peter, the blessing he receives leads him to dedicate his life to Christ, which in turn leads him to intercede on behalf of others and to bring God’s blessings upon them. Through their witness of the miracles of Aeneas and Tabitha, we are told that many “turned to the Lord” and “believed in the Lord”, which presumably had a long-term influence on how these unnamed witnesses went on to live their lives.
Here is the lesson for me, a particularly helpful one as I stagger exhausted into the unknown venture that will be autumn 2020. It is 24 weeks since the schools closed and four months since I started a six-month contract which I am on course to complete without meeting many of my colleagues in person. It’s been a rough ride for me and for many of us.
When I am frazzled and run-down, I often fail to even think to ask God for help. Sometimes I even forget that I have faith in God. In these moments, a well-timed intervention by a friend can have a disproportionately positive impact.
Flipping that around, even when I cannot practically or physically offer help to others, I can always pray for them and ask God to intervene on their behalf. And, who knows? He might just do something, something that wasn’t expected, something that has far-reaching and long-term consequences.
More nothing by Stuart Morris
my brain unfocuses against white light.
between snatches of bad films seen more than once,
time passes; dust settled.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
through priorities, important tasks, difficult things;
fading out from conversation, and
My life is here.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 6:27)
A lamb in a field – wiser than I – cries;
disrupts my circling.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
With more nothing
Time and space
I look up with my eyes, and see;
I listen with my ears, and hear;
I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness. (John 10:10)