The only woman to give evidence at the trial of Christ

The only woman to give evidence at the trial of Christ

It is one of the most famous depictions of the trial of Christ. And the detail of each character is impressive. Pontius Pilate is there, brittle with stress and apprehension, his brow furrowed, his arms awkwardly crossed, sitting in judgement of Christ. The chief priests and elders surround Pilate, badgering him for a verdict in their favor. The baying crowd, held in check by a Roman centurion, lean around each other to catch a glimpse of the accused. One man throws his hands in the air and cries, “Crucify him!” Christ himself, ghostly and otherworldly, stands still in the center of the picture, gazing at the Roman prefect as he vacillates before pronouncing his judgement. Christ Before Pilate was painted by the Hungarian artist, Mihály Munkácsy in 1881 and was an immediate success. During its first showing in Paris it attracted thousands of people every day. Munkácsy then arranged for it to go on a four-year tour across the galleries of Europe. He was hailed as the new Michelangelo or Rembrandt. Those who viewed the enormous canvas, 20 feet long and 13 feet high, reported feeling immersed in its drama, surrounded by the fury and the tension of the scene it depicts. But soon, viewers began to ask who was that young mother of Raphaelic beauty standing by the pillar

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Is this the greatest Christmas painting of all time?

Is this the greatest Christmas painting of all time?

It’s called Scène du massacre des Innocents (“Scene of the massacre of the Innocents”), and it was painted by the largely overlooked Parisian painter, Léon Cogniet in 1824. Today it hangs in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes. If it’s not the greatest of Christmas paintings, it must be one of the most haunting and affecting. A terrified mother cowers in a darkened corner, muffling the cries of her small infant, while around her the chaos and horror of Herod’s slaughter of the children of Bethlehem rages. Most painters of this scene turn it into a huge biblical spectacle, making it a revolting tableaux of death and mayhem. But Cogniet focuses our attention on one petrified woman, a mother who knows she is about to lose her child. She envelopes her doomed child, her bare feet revealing how vulnerable they are. There’s no way to run. She is cornered. Wisely, Cogniet doesn’t show us the carnage. It is hinted at in the rushing figures in the background. Another mother is seen carrying her own children down the stairs to the left, running for their lives. But Cogniet shows a level of artistic restraint not seen in many depictions of this story. He forces everything to the background in order to draw our attention to the woman’s terrified face. That face! Staring at…

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The Gifts of Advent 4: RECONCILIATION

The Gifts of Advent 4: RECONCILIATION

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks is an Amatjere woman, born in the outback in 1937 at the height of Australia’s so-called assimilation policy. At that time, it was believed that Aboriginal peoples were so vastly inferior to the culture of white settlers that they would soon die out altogether. The government adopted a policy of forcibly removing indigenous children from their families in order to be assimilated into white society, for “their own good”. (Think Rabbit Proof Fence, if you’ve seen that film) Children were taught to reject their indigenous culture and history and to adopt the ways of white society. Their names were often changed, and they were forbidden to speak their traditional languages. Some children were adopted by white families, and others were placed in institutions, many of which were run by Christian denominations, where abuse and neglect were common. Little Rosalie Kunoth was nine-years-old when her father naively took her to Alice Springs, 260 kilometres from Utopia Cattle Station (Arapunya) where she was born, to “get some white education.” To his horror, his daughter was taken from him permanently and made a ward of the state. “We put our heads in the noose, and it tightened very fast,” is the way Rosalie Kunoth-Monks describes it. Little Rosie was assimilated. Raised and educated in a Christian boarding school, she went on

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The Gifts of Advent 3: WHOLENESS

The Gifts of Advent 3: WHOLENESS

[This is the third in a four-part series on the gifts of Advent. The first post explored BEAUTY and in the second I looked at JUSTICE]   Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. ~ Leonard Cohen The song Anthem first appeared on Leonard Cohen’s 1992 album, The Future, and quickly became one of his most enduring and oft-quoted lyrics. Typical of Cohen’s work, it contains allusions to his Jewish background, as well as references to the Buddhist religion of his adulthood and the Christian faith that continued to intrigue him. These are the words of a man searching for human wholeness. It’s this, the healing and renewal of human beings, and indeed all of creation, that I want to explore in this post. Wholeness is the third gift of Advent.   RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING When Cohen calls on us to ring the bells that still can ring, he’s urging us to keep searching for the holy, to not give up the hope that there is healing in the offing. In his book Diamonds in the Line, he wrote of this lyric, I mean, you have to come up with a philosophical ground. We’re in a dismal situation… and the future

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The Gifts of Advent 2: JUSTICE

The Gifts of Advent 2: JUSTICE

[This is the second in a four-part series looking at the gifts given to us in the coming of Jesus. The first gift I explored was BEAUTY. You can read it here.]   One of the most powerful ways to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good. ~ Tim Keller   In his first advent Jesus promised justice for the oppressed, something that will be ultimately and completely dispensed in his second advent. In this vein, at Christmas we often hear preachers refer to the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, such as those in Isaiah 9: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isa 9:6-7) The first advent of King Jesus heralds the establishment of a just and equitable kingdom of God on earth. NT Wright calls it “…the explosive news of a different empire, a different emperor, a different kind of emperor.” He continues, Jesus isn’t simply another politician on whom everyone can pin their hopes and who will then let them down. His way

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The Gifts of Advent 1: BEAUTY

The Gifts of Advent 1: BEAUTY

Beauty – Katrina Lambert Beauty lives In the hollow of the itch you can’t reach. Its first gift is a jolt of recognition – A reflection of something Deep and hidden within us.  Beauty lies In the stitched line of the horizon. Its second gift is the joy of communion – A joining of our inner world  With the boundless sky of billions of heavenly bodies. Beauty inhabits A time beyond time. Its third gift is the glory of eternity – As we are pulled through a pinhole in the present To the infinite beyond that is our true home coming.   The best poetry doesn’t need analysis, but the author of this poem is also a preacher and her thoughts on beauty are as sharp as they are splendid. Katrina Lambert recounts the three gifts of beauty and I want to use her thoughts to explore beauty as a gift in itself, that is, as a gift of God, given in the first advent of Christ and promised in his second.   1. THE JOLT OF RECOGNITION According to Lambert, beauty presents us with that taste of something delicious we’ve been hungering for, or as she describes it “a reflection of something / Deep and hidden within us”. When we encounter beauty it tugs at our spirit. It triggers a sense

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Which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly?

Which Christ are you trying to keep in Christmas exactly?

Why is it that the people most likely to demand that we “keep Christ in Christmas” seem to know so little about the historical birth of Jesus! If they did, they would have no sentimental attachment to traditional nativity scenes and they definitely wouldn’t want to have them placed in centers of commercialism like shopping malls. This isn’t so much to grouse about the chintz and cheesiness of traditional Christmas celebrations as it is to bemoan the widespread ignorance of the gospel story by the very followers of Jesus.   If you knew and believed the story of Christ, you’d know a trad nativity scene is a cartoonish representation of what really happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. This was highlighted for me again when I read about Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler defending the actions of senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of initiating several sexual encounters with teenage girls, including one who was only fourteen, when he was in his thirties. Ziegler’s justification for Moore’s behavior was breathtaking (and not in a good way): “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Aside from the reprehensible action of using the gospel

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Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

I have previously blogged about how difficult it’s been for those Christians arguing the case against same-sex marriage because of the difficulty of using evidence from the Bible or our religious tradition in a secular debate. You don’t seem to read or hear many ministers quoting Jesus’ words about family while trying to defend traditional marriage. I’ve heard some proponents of the Yes case saying Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Sure, but he spoke about family quite a bit. It’s just that what he said was kinda, well, awkward. When discussing marriage, Jesus quoted the Old Testament book of Genesis (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” – Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5), but this was in the context of him laying down the law about divorce and remarriage. On that topic Jesus definitely votes NO (except in the case of sexual immorality). Pretty much everything else he says about marriage or family isn’t terribly quotable in a debate about marriage, whether same-sex or traditional. Jesus himself didn’t marry or father children, a highly unusual (indeed suspect) choice at that time. In fact, when his disciples moaned about his harsh teaching on divorce, saying maybe it’d be easier never to marry in the first

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When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

When faith is stealing a miracle based on a false assumption

It’s tempting sometimes to fall into the habit of thinking that God only hears the prayers of those who have achieved some level of holiness above the average. Have you ever found yourself asking your pastor or priest to pray for something as if their prayers are likely to ring louder in the ears of God than yours? We’re taught, Jesus won’t hear your prayers if your motives are selfish. And, Jesus won’t answer you if you don’t believe the right things about him. Really? Because in the Bible we find Jesus not just answering, but honoring, the request of a woman made out of selfish motives and based on an entirely false assumption about him. The nameless woman’s story appears in all three synoptic gospels (Mark 5:25–34, Matthew 9:20–22, Luke 8:43–48) and it’s one of Jesus’ strangest and yet most touching miracles. In all three accounts, the healing of the bleeding woman is presented as an interruption to a larger story – Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jairus, a synagogue leader has approached Jesus, asking him to heal his dying child, and the two of them, together with the disciples, are making their way through a dense crowd of onlookers and supplicants toward Jairus’ house. En route, the nameless woman approaches Jesus in secret, blending in with

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Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

Jesus said, “I am the Wild shepherd”

When you think about Jesus as a shepherd this is what comes to mind, right? Gentle Jesus with a docile lamb nestled in his arms or around his shoulders? The nurturing shepherd, protecting his sheep, loving them one and all? These pictures are everywhere, painted on canvas, etched in stained glass, assembled in mosaics. They are the most popular and enduring images of Jesus and justifiably so. But when Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd is this only what he had in mind? Images of Jesus with a single pathetic lamb owe more to a parable he told in Matthew 18 and Luke 15 about a shepherd leaving his ninety-nine safe sheep to rescue a single lost one. He told the story to explain to the Pharisees why he hung out with “sinners” (a thing the Pharisees clearly frowned on). But the passage in which he described himself as the good shepherd is John 10. In that passage he’s also tangling with the Pharisees. They have just subjected a poor beggar blind from birth, who had been miraculously healed by Jesus, to nothing short of spiritual abuse. They brutally haul him and his family through various theological panels demanding he explain who Jesus is and where his power comes from. The man is illiterate, uneducated, unsophisticated. In his ignorance

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“Call me Mara” – Chrissie Foster and the bitter taste of faith

“Call me Mara” – Chrissie Foster and the bitter taste of faith

Chrissie Foster was a happily married Catholic mother of three girls when her whole world began to collapse, falling in on itself like a gaping wound had opened up beneath her and was swallowing everything she knew and loved. Chrissie’s own personal hell began when two of her daughters, Emma and Katie, disclosed that they had been repeatedly raped by a priest while attending a Catholic primary school. When Chrissie and her husband Anthony raised this matter with the church they were rebuffed. The then Cardinal of Melbourne George Pell met with them and showed a “sociopathic lack of empathy.” While stonewalling the Fosters, the cardinal challenged them, “If you don’t like what we are doing, take us to court”. They did. But after a decade-long court battle, their daughter Emma could bear the pain no longer. She committed suicide at the age of 26. Shortly after, her sister Katie spiraled into alcohol abuse and was involved in an accident that left her severely disabled, requiring 24-hour care. Devastated, Chrissie and Anthony gave their lives to advocating on behalf of the victims of child sexual abuse within the church. They have been relentless in their pursuit of a church hierarchy that seemed resolved to avoiding responsibility for what many of their priests were doing to children for decades. Then last

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The ferocious motherly love of God

The ferocious motherly love of God

I spent my first Mother’s Day as a motherless child this year. My dear old mother passed away in November last year and I wasn’t sure if Mother’s Day celebrations would affect me or not. I braced myself for the onslaught of cheesy quotes about the wonders of mothering in my social media newsfeeds. I blanched when one ministry friend (who should have known better) posted on Facebook, “Don’t forget to text your mum for Mother’s Day,” to which came the sad reply from another friend, “Not able to. Texts don’t go to heaven”. Bless. Sure enough, my feed was full of pictures of flowers and syrupy quotes. But then I got a note from the minister of our church. In the mail. Delivered to the letterbox outside my house. Remember those? He wrote to acknowledge that this would be my first Mother’s Day without my Ma and to say he was thinking of me and that he hoped I would be comforted by “the ferocious motherly love of God” at this time. Wait, what? The ferocious motherly love of God? I’m in no doubt that the Bible uses mothering metaphors to describe God as well as fathering ones. God is described as a nursing mother (Isa 49:15; Num 11:12), a midwife (Ps 22:8-10), and as one who gives birth

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