Category Archives: Bible

The Poor In Spirit

A little trouble with the Beatitudes, or one of them.

The Sermon on the Mount (fresco) By Fra Angelico 1387 – 1455

We find the Beatitudes in Matthew 5: 1-12. I have had trouble for a long time with the first beatitude, found in verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (UK NIV).

The meaning of the other beatitudes seems, to me, quite clear, not so the first one. I have never been comfortable with understanding what is meant by “poor in spirit”.

As an aside, nevertheless possibly relevant, there is some opinion that considers the term “blessed” in the Beatitudes is interchangeable and could be replaced with “happy”.

However back to my original trouble, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. What does “poor in spirit” mean? The nearest I can come to finding a meaning that I can associate with the phrase is poverty of spirit. The problem with this is that it could mean lacking in spirit, possibly lacking in belief in God. Another possibility is that “poor in spirit” refers to people whose spirit gives them a sinful nature and could be happy because of it.

Both possibilities I suggest seem to be at odds with receiving a blessing. All the other beatitudes confer a blessing for a virtue, but being poor in spirit seems prima facie to be an imperfection or disbelief, maybe disobedience. What would seem to make more sense might be ‘Blessed are those who seek forgiveness”.

Any thoughts?

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Talented

A different interpretation of the parable of the talents.

I have already given a few thoughts on Jesus’ Parable of The Talents in Untalented. Here I am revisiting that parable, from a different point  view. 

I think it is generally assumed that the servants were honest, but were they?

We are told in the parable that the servants knew that the master harvested “where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed” It might be inferred from that, that the master is not completely honest?

If the master were not honest, might not the servants, to whom he has entrusted sums of money also be dishonest? How can we be sure that the servants, to whom the talents were entrusted, were honest in how they ‘invested’ the master’s money ?

We know that on the master’s return, two of the servants returned to him double what he had entrusted them with. The third returned exactly what he had been given, but can we be sure the servants did not make more than they returned? Suppose they gave back to the master only what they thought they could get away with, keeping any more for themselves.

Even if they gave to the master everything they had earned, while he was away, how do we know it was earned honestly? Perhaps it was used as seed funding for cons or cheating. Maybe profiteering by buying goods and selling at inflated prices. It might have been lent out at exorbitant rates of interest, like modern day payday loans.

I do not suggest any other interpretation is wrong. I offer a possible alternative interpretation, that does not seem to be contradicted by the text.

 

Dressed For The Occasion

The Wedding Banquet.

14th Century Russian icon of the ‘Parable of the Feast.

Jesus tells the parable of a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son, but no one comes. Some of the invited even murder the king’s messengers bearing the invitations. For which the king extracts retribution.

Since the invited rich and noble did not come to the wedding, the king instructs his servants to go out and bring in people from the streets. In no time at all the wedding hall was filled with guests of all kinds of people.

When the king comes to the hall in which the wedding guests are assembled, he spies a man not dressed in smart, wedding clothes. The king asks the man how he got in, dressed as he was. Then the king had the man bound and thrown outside.

The parable is the invitation of Jesus to the feast and the inappropriately dressed man represents someone who rejects the invitation, but the parable might easily be interpreted differently.

All the guests at the wedding banquet had been drawn in off the streets. The suggestion being that they were taken directly to the banquet and might not have had time to change into their fine clothes, appropriate to a wedding. There is also the possibility that the poorly dressed man was poor and might have been wearing what were his best cloths, or maybe even his only clothing.

It is possible to conclude that the poorly dressed man was quite unfairly treated. While this is not the usual interpretation of the parable, the text is not sufficiently detailed or clear to dismiss this possible interpretation out of hand.

As usual, I am not seeking to overturn established wisdom, just give some food for thought.

Ruth: Chapter 4.

A modern re-telling of the Old Testament story of Ruth.

Previous chapter here.

The next weekend Nadzia was sitting in the back of Bozydar’s car behind Ruth, on their way to Nadzia’s inherited house. They went first to Oporow, where Nadzia signed papers at the adwocat’s office and collected keys from him. Then they drove on out to Smolec, to Nadzia’s property.

‘That can’t be mine.’ Nadzia exclaimed as the house came into sight. ‘It is.’ replied Ruth. ‘I can’t live in a place that big, not on my own.’ ‘We might as well take a look inside since we’re here anyway’ added Bozydar, as he drew the car up in front of the door. Ruth helped Nadzia out of the car and together they went up the steps to the door. Bozydar had to help Nadzia unlock it, as the lock hadn’t been used for a while and was stiff.

As they wandered through the house, looking around, Nadzia said to Ruth, ‘If I still had all my family, I’d love this place but I can’t live here on my own.’ Coming to the kitchen Ruth said as they looked around, ‘This would be good for our little business. So much easier to work here than in our tiny kitchen.’

Bozydar took Ruth and Nadzia home, but didn’t linger as he often would when taking Ruth back. After leaving the ladies he drove hurriedly back to his own home, and pausing only to make a drink began making a series of phone calls to various relatives, and to one other number that he had to look up, though he had the name and address.

For the next few days Ruth hardly saw Bozydar. When she did he seemed preoccupied and not his usual self and when he dropped her off he left quickly, seemingly with something on his mind. Ruth began to worry that she had upset him in some way.

Five days after the visit to Nadzia’s inherited house, Ruth didn’t see Bozydar at all. Unbeknown to Nadzia and Ruth that same day Bozydar had assembled a cohort of his family, for a family conference. He had something important he needed to discuss with them. Bozydar’s Mother, his Father had died years before he met Ruth, his two brothers with their wives and his unmarried sister were all assembled in his home.

Bozydar’s family had arrived early in the evening. It was well after midnight by the time they had all left. After they had, Bozydar went to bed but barely slept that night. After scarcely four hours in bed and less sleep, he gave got up and made coffee, not because he wanted it but simply as something to do. He made cup after cup that he didn’t really want until it was a time he could reasonably phone Ruth. He arranged with her to collect her the next Saturday morning. He wouldn’t say why, asking only that she bring Nadzia accompany them.

10:00am promptly Bozydar arrived to pick up the two ladies. He drove off still without telling them where he was taking them or why. It took about half an hour driving before Bozydar turned into a road in Smolec. They had all been there before but Bozydar had arrived by a different route. Ruth was the first to realise where they were and a moment later Nadzia gave a startled exclamation ‘What are we doing here.’ as they pulled up at the house she had inherited.

As Nadzia turned to the house getting out of Bozydar’s car, she was even more surprised when the front door swung back and her adwocat Dominik Dąbrowski, stood at the top of the step smiling and beckoning them in. ‘What are you doing here? We don’t have an appointment.’ ‘No.’ he replied ‘we don’t but I have some good news and wanted to tell you personally. I’ve found you a buyer for the house already. It’s a good price. You won’t be rich but with a little care, you should be able to live comfortably for the rest of your life. You just need to sigh these papers he added’.

‘Who’s the buyer,’ Nadzier asked ‘who wants my house?’ I can’t see the name on these papers.’ ‘The buyers adwocat is acting on his behalf until the sale is complete.’ Dominik Dąbrowski said. ‘I am not allowed to tell you the name until after you sign the papers.’ he added. ‘It’s what you wanted, what have you to lose. Sign them.’ Nadzia looked at Ruth as she spoke, ‘You think it’s allright?’ she asked. Ruth nodded and held out a pen. Nadzia hesitated for a few moments longer before taking the pen and letting it hover over the papers for an instant before adding her signature.

Underlining her signature Nadzia looked up at her adwocat. Dominik Dąbrowski spoke up ‘I can now tell you who the buyer is,’ he paused a moment ‘or maybe I should let him introduce himself.’ he said taking a step back and leaving the room still and silent with just the four of them. ‘Well’ said Nadzia ‘how long do we have to wait for him?’. ‘No time at all.’ uttered Bozydar stepping forward.

Both Nadzia’s and Ruth’s eyes widened as they realised who had bought the house. ‘I’ve been busy with my family this last few days’ Bozydar said. They’ve lent me the money I couldn’t raise myself to buy this house. But it’s not a house I want, it’s a home. You said it was too big for you Nadzia,’ he went on ‘but it’s not too big for a family.’ A family of three perhaps at first, then later, well later who knows.

‘You’re asking us to come and live with you?’ Ruth asked Bozydar. When he looked directly at her before continuing his eyes softened meeting hers, ‘That’s partly what I’m asking, but it’s not all. I’m asking Nadzia if she would come and live with us, Ruth.’ Bozydar paused, his voice softening as his eyes had earlier. ‘I’m asking you to marry me?’

Ruth could barely speak as she turned to Nadzia with tears in her eyes. The older woman just smiled and nodded.

Previous chapters:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Ruth: Chapter 3.

A modern re-telling of the Old Testament story of Ruth.

Chapter 2 here if you missed it.

It didn’t take Nadzia too long to notice how often Bozydar was bringing Ruth home, or the time she lingered at the door of their small home watching him drive away each time.

After this had gone on for a while, one evening over their meal Nadzia broached the subject that one day Ruth would want a home of her own, and maybe starting her own family. Although Ruth wasn’t happy about the thought of leaving Nadzia, she could see the sense of it. The home they shared was only just big enough for them.

“What about our business.” Ruth asked. “There’s no reason we can’t continue that. And besides, I’m getting a few extra orders from friends of people you’ve sold food to who have heard of us. We’re going viral.” added Nadzia.

A few days after their discussion, Nadzia heard Bozydar drop off Ruth and before driving away ask her out for an evening. ‘Where’s he taking you’ Nadzia couldn’t resist asking as Ruth came in. ‘Oh my what big ears you have.’ Laughed Ruth. ‘He’s asked me to a social evening that he gives every year for his staff. I haven’t said yes yet.’ ‘You will, won’t you’ Nadzia said, ‘and since you’re not an employee, you’ll be his date for the night. You like him, I know you do.’

On the night of the social, although Nadzia was already in bed, she couldn’t resist getting up and peeping out of the window for a moment when she heard Bozydar’s car draw up outside their home. Usually Nadzia heard the car door shut and a few seconds later drive away. Tonight it went quiet as the engine was turned off. Nadzia returned to her bed and smiled to herself as she went back to sleep.

A few weeks later, Ruth was in no hurry to leave Nadzia, even though she was growing closer and closer to Bozydar, property details started landing on the doormat with the daily post. It saddened them both a little but they could see the practicalities.

Then one day in amongst the property details an official looking letter addressed to Nadzia dropped onto the doormat too. She opened it with some trepidation and began to read through it, her face slowly brightening as she did so. ‘It seems,’ Nadzia told Ruth later ‘that through a number of distant family deaths I have inherited some property that would have become Elek’s.’ Then she asked Ruth, who confirmed what Nadzia thought, to read it too to make sure she had understood it correctly.

‘Do you think Bozydar might drive us over there to look it over’ Nadzia asked Ruth. ‘I’ll ask him. He’s picking me up later. Perhaps he could take us at the weekend.’

Previous chapters:

Chapter 1.
Chapter 2.

Ruth: Chapter 1.

A modern re-telling of the Old Testament story of Ruth.

Ruth Declares her Loyalty to Naomi. Pieter Lastman c 1583 – 1633

Elek Mazur had brought his family to the United Kingdom soon after Poland had been admitted to the European Union. In 2005 he took his family from a small flat, in a rundown block in Wroclaw to live in Milton Keynes. Elek and Nadzia had been married 17 years when they arrived and had two sons, 15 year old Keilijan and Mahary, 13.

Soon after arriving in the UK, Elek started a small handyman business and in time, when the boys were old enough, they joined him transforming it into a thriving family concern. The boys had each learned different skills. Electrics for Kielijan, plumbing for Mahary while Elek continued the trade learned from his father, carpentry.

Together they they grew what Elek had started as a tiny, backyard business into a successful enterprise, which a few years after the boys joined their father in work outgrew their home and had to move into its own premises.

There was not a big Polish contingent around Milton Keynes, so as Keilijan and Mahary grew up, as well as joining Elek in the family business, they began to date local girls. In time both the boys married. First was the younger Mahary who married Ruth and a year later, Keilijan married Orlah, who had come to Milton Keynes from Ireland.

Not long after the second wedding, Elek died when the floor collapsed in an old house he had been working in, ironically to replace rotten wooden joists to make it safe.

The boys, who now had wives to support, carried on the business bringing in outside carpenters when needed on short term contracts. While the Mazur company supported the boys and their mother it no longer thrived and grew after the death of Elek.

All was not well in the remaining family. The boys had inherited a genetic disorder from their father, Elek. It was never discovered because of his premature, accidental death. So a few years later, it claimed the younger Mahary first and in one more year, Keilijan. Leaving a family of widows to fend for themselves.

At first Orlah and Ruth tried to manage the business, hiring in necessary skills. Slowly orders dried up as it seemed with the death death of the founders the good name was gone, The hired hands, with no stake in the business, were never as conscientious as Elek, Keilijan and Mahary.

To make matters worse, there had been a referendum in the United Kingdom and Nadzia’s adopted home had voted to leave the European Union. She had been in the UK many years and had even applied for and acquired a British citizenship, but after the vote to leave, Brexit as it was being called, Nadzia began to detect an undercurrent of if not hostility, certainly some unfriendliness, where there had been none before.

Nadzia resolved to return to Poland, though it grieved her to leave her daughters-in-law, the only remaining connection to her dead family. With Ruth and Orlah she set about winding up the business and distributing its assets between herself and the two girls. There wasn’t much to share out after settling some outstanding business loans. Terminating the mortgages on their homes, brought in a little extra, from the accumulated equity.

There wasn’t much money but Nadzia thought she had enough to return to Wroclaw, where she hoped she could find work before the money she had set aside to rent a small home ran out. The only thing left to do now before she packed up and left for Poland, was to tell Ruth and Orlah.

When Nadzia explained to Orlah and Ruth her intentions, Orlah decided almost immediately that she would go back to live with her family in Ireland. Ruth seemed unsure what to do for the best and withdrew into herself, while she considered her situation.

Very early the next day, Ruth quietly let herself into Nadzia’s home, she and Orlah both had a key each, and started to prepare breakfast for herself and her mother-in-law. It was almost ready when Nadzia came through the kitchen door. They sat down together for their meal, making desultory conversation, until Nadzia could no longer put off the question unanswered since the day before.

‘What will you do when I return to Poland’ Nadzia asked her daughter-in-law. Ruth slowly raised her eyes from her breakfast plate to meet those of her mother-in-law, holding them in silence for a few seconds before replying ‘I’m coming with you.’

Nadzia looked relieved but still asked why Ruth wouldn’t return to he own family, or stay in England, where she was from. ‘I loved your son and you are the closest I can be to him now he’s gone. Don’t make me stay.’ What about your parents, your mother.’ Nadzia asked. ‘I love them of course I do, but I’ve never been so close to mother as I have become with you. Please, don’t go without me.’

Chapter 2.

Eli’s Diary

An alternative telling of God’s call to Samuel.

An extract from the priest Eli’s diary.

Hannah presents her son Samuel to the priest Eli. Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, c.1665

It was a strange night. The boy Samuel kept coming and waking me, saying I’d called him; I hadn’t not once I just wanted to sleep. Three times he woke me. I was getting irritable by the third time. I’d already ticked him off for waking me twice.

The third time the lad Samuel woke me, I’d eventually realised what was going on. The boy had indeed heard a voice but because he couldn’t see anyone, he’d assumed it was my voice. It wasn’t of course. It was the Lord God’s.

When I realised it was God speaking, I was more gentle about sending Samuel away to lie down again. I told him that if he heard the voice again he should say ‘I am listening’ and then to listen carefully to what might be said. After that, to my relief, I was finally able to get a few hours sleep.

In the morning when I called Samuel to me, he came but his manner was not as usual, he was hesitant. He told me that the Lord had spoken to him, but seemed reluctant to say more. I asked him what the Lord had said. I may have been a bit abrupt with the lad. He told me everything after that and no wonder he was reluctant.

The message given to Samuel was about me and my boys. No wonder Samuel was uneasy this morning. My sons would have been the next priests to follow me but they desecrated the temple. There will be retribution on my sons.