Friday, 19 February 2016

Waiting and longing

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matt 5:24-5)

Christian faith was born within the heart of Judaism, and as faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Saviour and Lord of all humankind developed and spread far afield, it separated and acquired its own identity, and sought to distinguish itself from its Jewish mother by disputing about the nature of salvation, God's grace salvation and whether or not Jesus is the promised Messiah, and Son of God. 

The emphasis on differences has far too often masked the commonalities between them, and this has resulted in mutual prejudice, distrust, anti-semitism and persecution of Jewish minorities by Christians, who have inexplicably failed to grasp the meaning of faith they claim to profess. Christians are indebted to Judaism for much of what they need to understand in the life of prayer. Being reconciled with our spiritual kith and kin is a vital aspect of Christian pilgrimage in search of the truth of God for our time.

Jesus was a Jew and owed his spiritual formation at home to a devout pharisaic tradition of belief and practise nourished by the prophecy of Isaiah. This didn't stop Jesus challenging Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots alike to consider their motives and be honest about their moral failures and spiritual shortcomings. His aim was to expose the truth as a means towards reconciliation with God and others. Drawing upon the strengths and depths of his religious inheritance, Jesus advocated the kind of piety in which compassionate action, and worship in spirit and in truth are inseparable.

'Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn' (Isaiah 51:1)

Psalms were of great importance in everyday devotion as well as in Temple and synagogue worship. Sometimes they are called 'Jesus's prayer book'. Use of the Psalms in prayer is one of the greatest legacies Christians have inherited from Judaism. They can also be a key teacher about prayer itself. In learning to use the Psalms it is worth being mindful of the way our mindset may have been influenced by an attitude to Judaism ruled more by a sense of difference than commonality. What we share brings us much closer to the 'mind of Christ'.

Psalm 130 gives an example of a prayer long in use in Christian worship as an expression of sorrow and penitence in funeral rites. It is often used in regular Jewish synagogue daily prayers, as well as on high holy days, expressing penitence and longing for God.

'From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. 
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?
But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered. 

I trust in the Lord; My soul trusts in his word. 
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the dawn. 
More than watchmen wait for the dawn, let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.'

Matthew's Gospel introduces the idea of the church as being a 'new Israel of God', as being a people called to journey to the freedom of the children of God, 'from every tribe and tongue, and people and nation' (Revelation 7:9) This presupposes that people thus called will learn what the Exodus people of God's first Covenant have to share.

Longing, waiting for God, seeking God are responses for those who begin to sense the reality of who we truly are as mortal human beings. There is a natural hunger for what will do us good, give us life. The more we come fully to our senses, the more we realise that natural hunger is inseparable from hunger for the spiritual.

'Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.' (Is 55:6)

'O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is' (Psalm 63:1)

'Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.' (Amos 5:14-15)

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