john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    1 Corinthians 1 John 12
    Where is the one who is wise?

    St Mary West Derby, Tuesday in Holy Week Eucharist 18/03/2008


    1 Corinthians 1.18-31, John 12.20-36


    Where is the one who is wise?
    Where is the scribe?
    Where is the debater of this age?

    These questions of St Paul in Corinthians echo the heartfelt appeal of God's people right down the ages. It is an appeal which has its beginnings in the betrayals of Holy Week.

    Where is the one who is wise? - we might hear the disciples crying in their hearts as they looked across the table at each other, each dipping their bread in the bowl with Jesus, and where they previously had seen friends they now saw rivals for God's affections, others suddenly obsessed with being closest to Jesus in his kingdom, whatever that meant.

    Where is the one who is wise? - we might hear the disciples crying out loud as they found themselves carried along in a crowd which in just a few days had stopped worshipping Jesus and was now baying for his blood.

    Where is the scribe? - Jesus's friends may have asked in a courtyard where the manufactured lies of the government's aides were recorded and redistributed and repeated by those entrusted to the task of reporting truth, a task they had jettisoned to remain in the favour of their political masters.

    Where is the scribe? - the faithful ones in the Temple may have wondered as they saw the words of scripture which they held so dear being forgotten, wilfully ignored, or worse - twisted into something else by those out to get rid of a man who seemed to be the one the prophets had written about all those years before.

    Where is the debater of this age? - a question which was in the heart of Nicodemus, the religious leader who had earlier come to Jesus secretly to discuss the nature of eternal life, who had asked his colleagues in vain to hear Jesus's case, and now was about to help prepare the dead man's body for burial.

    Where is the debater of this age? - Jesus' loving mother Mary must have wondered in the turmoil of hearing the high priest pronounce, without hesitation or compassion, or anybody's challenge, that it would be expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.

    Where is the one who is wise?
    Where is the scribe?
    Where is the debater of this age?

    The words of St Paul in Corinthians echo down the ages into our own Holy Week right here tonight.

    Where is the one who is wise? - we might ask as our eyes and ears are assaulted by the endless provocations of advertisers urging us into yet another quick fix purchase.

    Where is the one who is wise? - we might ask as those who we thought were our friends or colleagues or co-worshippers betray us, revile us, compete with us for some imagined higher attention or acceptance.

    Where is the scribe? - we might ask as we put down our daily newspaper and feel sullied by its ceaseless cheapness and false accusations against society's vulnerable ones.

    Where is the scribe? - we might ask as we witness the words of scripture which we hold so dear being forgotten, wilfully ignored, or worse - twisted into something else by those caught up in unholy aggression against others.

    Where is the debater of this age? - we might ask as the great issues of our day are reduced to ten-second soundbites and the genuinely thoughtful people in the public eye are mocked and mimicked by TV comediens and newspaper columnists.

    Where is the debater of this age? - we might wonder as we see our political leaders - and we ourselves - prefer swift expedient solutions to our ills, resisting compassion, denying anybody the chance to challenge.

    We long for wise words to be spoken, wise things to be written - about us, and for us; we long for conversations which will throw light on our lives.
    Jesus said to [his disciples], 'The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.'

    Where is the one who is wise? - who might help us walk in the light?

    Where is the scribe? - whose words might help us to see ourselves with more light?

    Where is the debater of this age? - who through a healthy dialogue might help to throw light on our condition?

    We might be surprised to discover that these ones are closer to us than we imagined, perhaps we ourselves are among them, as St Paul says:

    Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

    Perhaps God calls us this Holy Week to stop competing with those closest to us, stop ignoring them, and instead to listen with new ears to what they say, for therein may lie wisdom.

    Perhaps God calls us this Holy Week to alter our reading habits, to put aside the shrill sensationalism of the daily press to deepen our acquaintance with the Mother Teresas, the Thomas Mertons, the Desmond Tutus, the Mother Julians, the Rowan Williams's whose writings though unfashionable and unspectacular, will almost certainly enrich us, affirm us, quicken our hearts, draw us to Christ.

    And finally, perhaps God calls us this Holy Week to unclench our fists and open our hands towards those whose views are different to ours, to cease shouting at them from behind barricades and instead to draw up a chair around a table to start speaking graciously with those with whom we disagree. For in so doing surely light will come.

    What God calls us to do makes no sense at all of course, in a world where only the aggressive seem to succeed, where only the shrill seem to be heard, where the lowly are despised and trampled on.

    What God calls us to do makes perfect sense though, when we remember that the death and resurrection of his Son turned the total obliteration of the light into the complete eradication of the darkness. Taking this as wisdom to be trusted, as scripture to reawaken our hearts, this Holy Week let us grasp the words of Jesus and let them live in us again:
    While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light. ... Walk in the light, so that the darkness will not overtake you.