The 19th century Austrian novelist Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach once said: “Conquer, but don’t triumph.” By this she meant that any victory which was accompanied by the shame and humiliation of others was no victory; rather, it contained the seeds of its own destruction. For a victory to be complete, others had to be raised up out of despair and into rejoicing. Continue reading “Mark 11: 1-11”
Timeo danaos et dona ferentes – beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
Many of you may remember the scene from an episode of the wonderful TV series Yes, Prime Minister, in which Jim Hacker describes this phrase as a “Greek tag”, only for his secretary, Bernard Woolley, to respond with a long and tedious dissertation on the fact that it is actually a “Latin tag”, a quote from Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid. Bernard then goes on to irrelevantly explain that the word Danaos means “Greek” in Greek as well as “Greek” in Latin – so that timeo danaos et dona ferentes can, afterall, be considered a kind of “Greek tag”, despite being Latin and not Greek! During the course of Bernard’s monologue, Hacker looks at him with an expression suggesting that he has been heavily sedated; but Bernard plows on, oblivious to his master’s growing boredom and frustration. Continue reading “John 12: 20-33”
When I was a teenager, one of my favourite books was a collection of essays by Isaac Asimov entitled The Roving Mind. In this collection, Asimov ranges from subjects as diverse as the possibility of extraterrestial life to an examination of Sherlock Holmes’ record as a “scientific” detective. Written in Asimov’s engaging, accessible style, it has remained a book I re-read even today, despite the fact that much of the information it contains is now considerably out of date. Continue reading “Numbers 21: 4-9”
The American journalist H L Mencken once said that a Puritan was someone haunted by the thought that somewhere, someone was enjoying themselves. It’s a quote I’m rather fond of, not merely because it is witty and aptly satirises a particularly unpleasant state of mind, but because it also encapsulates a dilemma that has not only haunted human life generally, but the life of faith in particular. Because when we talk about “the life of faith” and what it involves, we often find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma: is faith about behaviour, about “being good” and “obeying the rules” set down by God; or is faith what individuals on their own say that it is, and which justifies their behaviour in light of their particular understanding of God? Continue reading “Exodus 20: 1-17; John 2: 13-22”
There’s a story that comes from the Hassidic tradition of Judaism about three rabbis who were one day complaining to God about all the hardship and suffering their people had to endure. Now, according to the story, these three were not merely having a whinge; they were literally giving God both barrels, demanding to know what did God think God was doing, requiring the people to undergo so much pain and grief for the sake of their faith, and in life generally. Suddenly, one of the three noticed that the hour for prayer was approaching; he informed the other two, and immediately they all ceased their complaints, donned their prayer shawls, and bowed down before the inscrutable mystery of God. Continue reading “Mark 8: 31-38”