Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: Covid-19

Trinity 24A (22-Nov-20)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 God the true shepherd
11Thus says the Lord God: ‘I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down’, says the Lord God. 16‘I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.’

20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: ‘I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.’

23‘I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd, 24and I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.’

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Just listen to the righteous anger! The religious leaders of the day had been so inept, and drawn the people’s focus away from God’s message, that He wasn’t prepared to send another messenger for them to ignore or kill. God would seek out the lost sheep Himself.

The so-called shepherds of the flock were more like the hirelings to which Jesus referred (John 10:12), because they had let the sheep wander and get lost, and they didn’t seem concerned.

Through Ezekiel God told the people, and especially the religious leaders, that the sheep would be sought in ALL the places to which they had been scattered. They would be looked after and fed appropriately, instead of being fed rubbish or left to starve. God would do the shepherding because those charged with the job had failed so miserably. Those who should have known better are accused of pushing and shoving the flock and driving them away. No wonder God was angry!

When we think of some of the gospel stories we can see the same righteous anger, and for the same reasons. Jesus didn’t just drive the money-changers out of the Temple; He effectively drove out those who had corrupted the people for their own benefit, power and prestige.

Have we learned anything? No way!! Do we need to be reminded about politicians who don’t like election results, or those who are blind to the risks of Covid-19, or don’t think of what can be achieved by supporting less polluting industries? Do we need to be reminded about churches which are more interested in protecting their images than addressing serious issues of misconduct and subtle abuse, or churches that profess to be pastorally caring when the evidence says much to the contrary? Please don’t misunderstand me: there are plenty of people in churches working hard for the good of the community and being thwarted by those higher up the power chain who say it shouldn’t be done.

Bishop Jack Spong raised an interesting point about focus on status in the churches. When someone is ordained he/she is called “Reverend” – the revered one; when that person is made Dean of a cathedral the title becomes “The Very Reverend”; a bishop is “The Right Reverend”; and an Archbishop is “The Most Reverend”; the Pope is “His Holiness” and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church is “His All Holiness”. Do any of these go out to meet the down-and-outs in mufty – civilian clothes that make them look just like everyone else around them – like Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper? I know of one Australian bishop who did, and it changed him for ever. He realised how much the church over which he presided had strayed from its ways like a lost sheep without a shepherd.

So often through the scriptures we are called to repent and to re-focus on what God wants, not what we want. While the mainstream churches complain about a lack of clergy they frequently reject those called by God and who challenge the status quo. Is that because they would show up how scattered the flock is, by bringing them into the stable and teaching them to love and obey God? We are ALL called by God to spread the Good News and to be faithful shepherds, but it seems a number of those to whom leadership roles have been given are lacking the skills or focus, just as the shepherds in this passage from Ezekiel.

I would love us to be focussed on what God wants us to do, rather than keeping the whistleblowers quiet, though our scriptures, canonical and contemporary, show we still have a lot to learn from Ezekiel.

St Luke – Sirach

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Ecclesiasticus 38:1-4, 6-10, 12-14 Concerning Physicians and Health

1Honour physicians for their services, for the Lord created them;
2for their gift of healing comes from the Most High, and they are rewarded by the king.
3The skill of physicians makes them distinguished, and in the presence of the great they are admired.
4The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and the sensible will not despise them.
6He gave skill to human beings that He might be glorified in His marvellous works.
7By them the physician heals and takes away pain;
8the pharmacist makes a mixture from them. God’s works will never be finished; and from Him health spreads over all the earth.
9My child, when you are ill, do not delay, but pray to the Lord, and He will heal you.
10Give up your faults and direct your hands rightly, and cleanse your heart from all sin.
12Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; do not let him leave you, for you need him.
13There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians,
14for they too pray to the Lord that He will grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Just to save confusion, Ecclesiasticus is not the same as Ecclesiastes, and is often called [Wisdom of Jesus son of] Sirach. This passage was included in the international Revised Common Lectionary for its reference to physicians, given that the 18th of October is St Luke’s Day, and Luke was a physician.

What hit me first with this passage is the similarity to medical approaches in the 21st century. In the current Covid-19 era, where we are dependent on medical staff for advice and treatment to minimise the impact of the pandemic on our lives, we should take heed. “Honour physicians for their services” means honour them; don’t tell them they don’t know what they are talking about, don’t tell them we don’t need to wear masks when those physicians are telling us that’s one way to reduce the risk to us and to others, don’t belittle them because we can’t see the serious nature of an illness or injury. The physicians’ gift of healing comes from God, through all the research and development that has gone on through the centuries. We know as much as we do about the human body and how it works because physicians in the past have made discoveries which would astound most of us, and yet there are untrained people who think they know better, and whose concern is more about themselves than the safety of others. Think of how doctors and surgeons work together to restore our health when we have been attacked by bugs or violence, and we must admire their skills.

Of course, there are medical staff who believe they are God’s gift to mankind, taking this passage too literally. Some say that God has nothing to do with the advances in medical science, totally ignoring the evidence that those advances are because God has given us the skill to investigate and lead up to improvements in the way we treat people. Some doctors are also drawn by their positions of power and prestige to go against their Hippocratic Oath, or its later equivalent, to protect the lives of their patients to the best of their abilities, though the vast majority keep to it. With one exception, physicians are human, not divine, but their skills should still be recognised and appreciated. No prizes for getting that the exception was Jesus.

The Lord created medicines out of the earth, so we shouldn’t despise them. Some medicines come directly from plants or animals; others are made by humans who have studied the impact and interaction of certain chemicals, all derived from the earth at some stage, on our bodies and the bugs which attack us. Some people despise them by saying we don’t need them – again showing disrespect for the people who designed them for our benefit, some despise them by using them in ways that were not intended – biological warfare and substance abuse come to mind. I admit that I’m a reluctant drug taker, but when I know the medical condition which needs to be treated, and understand the need for a particular drug, I am less reluctant, but still mindful of the fact that God gave us bodies which are incredibly resilient and able to heal themselves to a large extent, and drugs are frequently only a help in the process of healing. There are, of course, times when our lives depend on the use of some drugs because our bodies have been weakened too much to fight alone.

Even pharmacists get a mention in this passage, because they, too, have a vital role in our healing. Thanks to their work the physicians can heal us and take away our pains.

All this is very practical, if we are listening, which is often the biggest problem. If we are listening to God then the work of healing us all continues through our lives and the lives of those who follow us here on earth, but how many of us really do listen to God? How many of us pray to God for healing, and for the hands and minds of physicians to do God’s work in that healing? Sometimes God works through the hands, the eyes, the minds, and the strengths of people to whom He has given the gift of healing; other times He asks us to make changes in our own lives so that we are healed in different ways. Our problem might be the way we interact – or don’t interact – with others, or the way we think only about ourselves.

Who is the greatest physician? This passage was written nearly 200 years before Christ was born, so He wouldn’t get a specific mention from Sirach, but we could do much worse than trusting in Jesus to heal us when we pray authentically. When we are sick, we should put our health in the hands of the greatest physician of all time, follow His instructions, and give Him a real chance to heal us.

Trinity 7A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Romans 8:12-25

12Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body and you will live. 14All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

© livingthelectionary

18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24In hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? 25If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Through his promotion of, and respect for, women in the churches he formed, Paul was clearly as inclusive of women as he could be in the very patriarchal society of the first century. It is thus appropriate, given that political correctness and the feminist movement now deny us the long-established use, in English, of male pronouns in a generic sense, that the Greek word αδελφοι (adelphoi) is translated in the NSRV as “brothers and sisters”. I have no doubt that Paul would have been including the women as well as the men.

Paul declares that we are debtors; but despite telling us what we are not debtors to, never tells us what he considers we are debtors to. Just like a good educator, leading people towards an answer but never giving it to them, he leaves it to those in the audience to ponder over, and to work out for themselves, where that debt lies.

We are made of body and spirit. The body, the flesh and blood of our mortal appearances, can lead us astray. We are tempted to seek and acquire things which are transient and please us, without consideration for others, and too often we succumb to those temptations, in the process separating ourselves from God. Paul’s reference to dying has nothing to do with the cessation of the processes which keep our bodies functioning, but to the death which comes from being separated from God. On the other hand, if we allow God’s Spirit, working within us, to direct us, then we will nurture that relationship with God who continues to feed and nourish us. Those who had become Christians in the early churches, and even some of us in 21st century churches, might feel as if we have bonded ourselves in slavery because of the rules and regulations which being part of a particular church might impose on us – you must dress like this; you must speak like this; you must address the priest like this; you must like music like this; children should be seen and not heard. The list goes on, but that is not what Paul wants his audience to think. Far from being forced into a restrictive relationship with “the owner”, becoming a Christian is like being adopted into an unconditionally loving family, with God as the head. Many of us have never experienced unconditional love; some even deny it is possible for humans because their own experiences are far from the love which God quite willingly gives us, but God is love, and loves all of us unconditionally.

Being adopted into God’s family allows us to call Him “Father”, and to share with Christ in the abundances which are offered, but it doesn’t give us the right to avoid temptation, or hurt, because of the evil which abounds where God’s love isn’t allowed to enter. Yes, we will suffer for the sake of the Good News, but not in the same way as Christ Himself suffered. Commenting on the restrictions which Covid-19 has required of us, a young male from Broadmeadows (in the north of Melbourne) revealed an appalling lack of appreciation and care for older people, as if they were dispensable because they were passed their “use by” date. People continue to suffer and to die because of the lack of concern for others displayed in such a comment. I’m sure that God is crying because this suffering and these deaths would, to a large extent, be avoided if people around the world stopped thinking of themselves more than others. Let’s turn that around and tell Satan to leave everyone alone.

Throughout our lives we strive to do ‘better’ and we tolerate suffering and pain when we can see the ‘better’ future. That is precisely what Paul is picking up on when he says that the sufferings of the present time pale into insignificance when compared with the glory in the life hereafter. Just as growing up from being a newborn baby through the toddler stage and on into spiritual adulthood our eyes are opened to the wonders of this world, what the Spirit foresees is our discovery of what it is like to be ‘children of God.’ Several respected commentators note Paul’s reference to labour pains. Why is that surprising? Not only are there many references in scripture to feminine images of God, but also Paul’s churches had a significant number of female leaders.

Have you ever yearned so much for something you expect to occur that you groan, outwardly or inwardly, in anticipation? That is what it was like for the early Christians, looking forward to the second coming of Christ, which they expected in the their own lifetimes. Just as last week’s reflection on the Parable of the Sower made a distinction between hearing and listening, so, here, Paul makes a distinction between hoping for something and anticipating it. Let us be patient in our hoping that we might return to a society where we are all concerned for each other.

If you want to read the reflection on Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43 see

Trinity 6A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 13:1-23: The Parable of the Sower

1Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3He told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil, 6but when the sun rose, they were scorched and withered away because they had no root. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Yet other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’
18‘Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. This is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Jesus goes out of the house, presumably where He was staying, and walks to the side of an unnamed lake, but crowds of people gather round Him to hear His words, so He gets into a boat, leaving everyone on the beach, and starts to talk to them. I know how to project my voice quite some distance, without shouting, and I would be reluctant to try to talk to a large group of people in the open air, with natural sounds abounding, but to dwell on the impracticality of this situation would be to detract from the meaning of the story about to unfold.

This passage is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower, and most will think the title refers to the person mentioned in the story sowing seed, but if we focus on that aspect of the story we might as well call it a parable of the soils. Jesus knew full well that any competent person charged with sowing seed to grow a crop would make sure all the seed landed in good soil with a good chance of not only surviving but also generating a worthwhile crop. Despite that, He starts with the sower being careless enough to throw some seed on the path, where it would be trodden on and eaten by birds. Some of this sower’s seeds fell on rocky ground – not too unreasonable when you’re trying to push the boundaries to get more crop, but still a little irresponsible. Next we have seeds which fall among thorns. Were they visible when the seeds were being thrown, or did they grow up at the same time, and take over control. Only then do we hear about seeds which land in good soil, with an abundance of produce, rather than the mediocre results common in the era.

Many of those who would have heard this story would have cringed at the idea that the sower was being irresponsible, or wasteful, or didn’t care for the value of the resources he was using. However, and this is consistent with the explanation Jesus gave to His disciples, if the sower is God, and the seed He sows is love, then the extraordinary generosity associated with expressing His love for the down-and-outs, for those whose faith has little foundation, and for those who are caught up by the evil around them, can be seen with the scattering of seeds. We might be reluctant to make an effort to reach out to those whose circumstances are less fortunate than ours, but God isn’t, and we are called to follow His example.

As with all the parables, there is a surface story which people will hear, understand, and even note. Here there is the responsibility to ensure that the best crop is generated from the seed available. Farmers in the Western Australian wheat-belt wouldn’t be counting each grain as they plant thousands of hectares of wheat, but they still follow the practice of trying to ensure each one has good enough soil around it to produce a good crop. The wise sower of fields in the first century would want to avoid the pitfalls in that level of the parable. However, Jesus wasn’t on about good farming practices. Spreading the Good News to people who have no comprehension of the message is like throwing seed on a path. First you have to prepare the way. We all know people who live on rocky ground, where Good News can be cast off because something more interesting is available, and you don’t have to be an avid reader of news stories to hear about people who have been led astray by those who have no regard for others. What we may miss is that the abundance of the crop for seed planted in good soil is at least a magnitude greater than what would have been expected at the time this story was written. God’s love abounds. The NRSV ends this part of the parable with “Let anyone with ears listen.” The Greek verb ακουετω (akoo-eto) can mean let (the one) hear, but can also mean “let (the one) listen to understand.” We can hear without listening, but we can’t listen without hearing. Listening requires that we pay attention and take on board what we have heard. If we don’t understand we might ask questions, but that won’t happen if we only hear.

Let us then listen to the parable of the sower, for we are all sowers. If the Good News we have falls on the pathways and the receiver doesn’t understand any of it then it’s too easy for the message to be corrupted and lead the person astray. If our sowing is on rocky ground then without tilling the soil to ensure good food for the seed it will wither as soon as it gets challenged in life. If we choose our scripture passages to serve our own purposes, biases and prejudices then the receiver will be led astray, but if we plant our Good News seeds in fertile ground, and tend to it, then we could have churches bursting at the seams with new converts and people enthusiastically sharing their experiences of God’s extravagant love. Which church do we attend? Notwithstanding the problems of Covid-19 restrictions, poor sermons, poor music, poor liturgy, a welcome mat but no genuine welcome, and no social life in a parish will turn away any enquirer looking for the Good News, but good sermons, good music, good liturgy, genuine welcoming and a vibrant social life will attract others. Which church do you want to attend?

If you want to read the reflection on Genesis 25:19-34 see

Trinity 2 A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Psalm 116: Thanksgiving for Recovery from Illness

1I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications.
2Because He inclined His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.
12What shall I return to the Lord for all His bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,
14I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
15Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.
16O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving-maid. You have loosed my bonds.
17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
18I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
19in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

I am back but it might take a little while for me to pick up speed.

This psalm has a personal pull for me, right now, as well as one associated with a return to church services in Western Australia. Rules related to the size of gatherings and spacing of people have prevented services being held normally, and even though people in my own parish are still limited in some ways we can now gather in numbers we are used to seeing. For that we give thanks to God. The day before this psalm was to be read in church I was rushed to hospital with chest pains. My pulse dropped markedly and my blood pressure was varying rapidly.

Just as with the Covid-19 problem the recovery is slow and changes to lifestyle have been necessary, though not devastating. Just as with Covid-19 prayers have been offered by many people across many nations. Just as with the Covid-19 situation, prayers have been answered. Because the Lord has heard our supplications and our voices, and has included His ear to them, it is time to commit further to Him for as long as we live.

God has given us a new opportunity to worship Him, but are we going to return to our old ways of paying lip-service to Him, or are we going to see the cup of salvation as something we need to share with others? Our commitment should be to pay our vows to the Lord in the presence of ALL His people, not just those around us, not just those of the same first language, or the same skin colour. All seven-plus billion people in the world are His. I don’t see that in the world in which I have to work, and I wonder whether we will have to endure another pandemic before we start to think of others more than ourselves.

I have two funerals to “attend” over the next few days: people who have spread the word and looked after others but who have now been called home to God because they are precious in His sight. I say “attend” because my own health is not up to such events yet.

When we give ourselves to the Lord the love which goes with that giving also calls on us to do our bit, and to praise the Lord. The Hebrew word at the end of this psalm is Hallel, which is a call to praise, so let us really Praise The Lord. Hallelujah!

Lent 4 A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Ephesians 5:8-14

8Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’O come, let us sing to the Lord,

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

First let me mention that most scholars believe the letter to the Ephesians was written by a follower of Paul some years after his death. Though it was common, at the time, to write something in the style of an acknowledged leader, and attribute the writing to that person, the language, in the Greek of this letter to the Ephesians, uses phrases which we would not expect to find in genuine writings of Paul.

The earlier chapters of Ephesians celebrate the fact that the community had adopted Christ as its ultimate leader and source of inspiration, and so the people, who had engaged in activities and a way of life inconsistent with Christ’s own teaching, were now reformed. They had been living as “children of the dark” but were now “children of the Light” under the influence of Christ as “the Light of the world.”

One of the themes attributed to Paul is that we are reconciled to God by our righteousness, not by our works, and this has often been used to redirect our attention to being focussed on how we go about life, not what we do. In the letter of James, however, we hear that doing “works” is important. There is no contradiction here, because James tells us that there is a consequence of guiding our lives along the right path, and that is that we will want to do things that please God, so faith in God will result in actions for God. Hence “the fruit of the light is found in all that is good.”

Verse 10 is an exhortation to all of us, in every generation and place. Try to find out what is pleasing to God in every situation. In the current health crisis around the world that means doing the right thing according to the needs of others, rather than ourselves. If we have been infected by the Covid-19 virus Ephesians tells us that we should avoid all but absolutely necessary contact with anyone who hasn’t been infected, even if self-isolation is inconvenient. We are told to take no part in unfruitful works of darkness – read failure to think about the health or safety of others – but to expose those issues and see that they are addressed for God’s benefit, and thus ours. The ways of the world in which we live are “darkness” according to this passage, but the way of Christ is “light”. It is up to all of us, not just the ordained among us, to be witnesses to Christ in this world, and to bring His light. Think of Isaiah 60:1, or Handel’s Messiah with the chorus “Arise, Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Stepping aside from the health crisis, we can see many ways in which the world around us is affecting us, or trying to do so, and trying to pull us out of Christ’s light into the darkness in which Satan enjoys seeing us. If we have a chance to have Easter services then we will be renewing our baptismal vows, including responses such as “I turn to Christ” and “I reject all that is evil.” If we are true to those responses then we will awaken, the “dead” within us will return to life, and Christ will shine on, or through, us. That concept reminds me of a story about a young child visiting a cathedral and being asked “what is a saint?” to which the child replied, seeing the stained-glass windows displaying several saints, “someone the light shines through.” How many of us are saints by that definition?