New Year’s Greetings.


My dear Donald,

This is to wish you a happy New Year, and also to the employee reading this to you. Now it is 2018, another year, and we will all have to do different things. My New Year resolution is to leave some things alone. Perhaps we can do this together, hand in hand. I will leave Europe alone and you can leave North Korea alone. Just think of Kim Jong Un as a leader with a bad hairstyle and small features set in a vast sea of face. He thrives on publicity and having enemies, and a much better policy is just to ignore him. After all, you are world leader and he is just a small person with a big mouth. If we leave him alone, maybe his mouth will stay shut.

We do have to think what to do with his wockets. They are dangerous. You remember one of ours, which you had sold to us, went astray and was heading towards you until it was destroyed. Wockets and buttons are good things, but there is a bit of a problem. We have said we will use our wockets first, because if we only use them when we are all dead, that is not much use, and anyway we want to be first and leaders and things, though you are the world leader. So, you may want to use them first, when Kim Jong Un is a bit rude. But pressing the button first and nuking North Korea might not be a good idea. I keep my nuclear button in a cupboard so that I do not do anything stupid, although we would have to ask your permission first to use our independent nuclear deterrent and then you would turn them on. Why don’t you just be rude to him. If I may paraphrase an old English saying, “Sticks and nuclear bombs will hurt my bones, but words will hurt even more.” I think, if you call him little and fat and point out he cannot play golf, that will upset him more than nuking him. When things get really bad, we say, “Ya Boo”. That really hurts them. Then you will not have to think about your button. That would be a good way forward.

We are doing well in Great Britain, although you are the Greatest United States of America. We put GUSA first and have walked away from Europe to prove it. I have taken to drinking Diet Cokes to keep me thin, like you, and we watch American films all the time including the great victories of the Cowboys over the Indians and your victory in World War Two and Vietnam.

We have hit a bit of a problem with the Royal Wedding. The bride, being a woman of colour, wants to invite the Obamas to the wedding, and the Queen has said Yes because she meets people of colour all the time. She does not know you personally, and so you have not been invited. It is a small, cheap, wedding and they are trying to keep the costs down, and there will be quite a few ordinary people there, so you won’t miss much. We will arrange for you to meet the Queen in the Palace sometime, though the Queen has said she is awfully, awfully busy. She wants to meet you in a few years time when her mind has had time to mature. So, we will discuss your State visit later; it must be the event of the century. I still remember my visit to the United States when you held my hand.

I hope you saw our new Aircraft Carriers. They are nearly as big as yours. We need some of your F35 planes to put on them, because they are the best. I know they cost you over a trillion dollars, but we hope you can give us some as soon as possible at a lower cost. Our critics are pointing out that having aircraft carriers without aircraft for a decade is a bit stupid. Perhaps you have a few rejects we could pick up cheap that we could put on the top, even if they don’t fly.

I must say the world is a safer place with you as President, Mr Trump. May your golf course prosper, you keep out of bunkers and your handicap stay low, and I have not mentioned Russia.

Your closest ally,

Theresa (May, Prime Minister United Kingdom across Atlantic)

Think about this year and peace.


On the 11th November 2018 the whole world will be recalling the end of the Great War, the War to end all wars. They will think of war and peace then, and perhaps only then. But they will be aimless, brainwashed to think that weapons are the only way. They will perhaps recall the resolve to disarm all countries, built into the Treaty of Versailles, and see it failed. They will long for peace, but not see it as a practical possibility unless millions of people have already charted how it could happen. That is the Christian task – to show that we can love enemies, lay down our arms equally across all divides, forgive, make peace and year by year disarm the world. We can show that world multilateral disarmament, cutting 10% of military expenditure a year for a decade, properly policed, will bring about disarmed peace, just as happens within most states now. Peace is actually easier and more practical than war. It saves trillions, eradicates much poverty, cuts global warming and eliminates destruction, death and refugees. It is the best thing the planet can have.

This note calls you to resolve to be a peacemaker, a peace-monger, in the coming months. Without you it will not happen and more wars, carried on the tides of weapons sales, will wash away people’s lives. You can make peace, acting before God, to bring about military and political change, or you can wimp out another year and let the military/industrial/political complex run the armed world show. Disarmed Peace failed in 1918 because the militarists stayed in charge; they are still in charge now unless you take on the business of making peace. The How will follow, the resolve comes first. We make peace, as Jesus taught. It does not just happen.

Ms. Patel, aid to Israel, Boris, Fallon, Fox, the Arms Industry and the Truth?


The media have focussed on the sacking of Priti Patel as Secretary of State for International Aid, and breaking the Ministerial Code, but they have said little about what she was doing in all her contacts with the Israeli Government and why she would say things that seemed to be untrue. She said, for example, that Boris knew about the trip. So we ask the questions why did she meet Benjamin Netanjahu and others top Israeli officials and what did other Departments know?

We have been informed that Ms Patel was discussing the use of UK aid to help the Israeli army in their humanitarian activities. This was not a casual process as we see from the frequency of the meetings, and it was also for a purpose. “ Downing Street officials confirmed on Tuesday that the International Development Secretary discussed the idea of giving the Israel Defence Force British foreign aid to help fund a relief effort for Syrian refugees entering the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.” (Jewish Chronicle) This in itself is odd. Largely, the Jewish Government has prevented Syrian refugees from entering the Golan Heights which it controls. Why would it want potential terrorists in its occupied area? Some have come in for medical treatment, but no more. So, this was discussing the potential influx of refugees and aid which might accompany it, channelled through the Israeli Army. So why would Ms Patel, a rational person, channel aid through the Israeli army to potential Syrian refugees when she has millions of actual Syrian refugees in immediate desperate need requiring aid? It does not add up.

We notice that Downing Street put out the denial that the Foreign Secretary, Boris knew about the (holiday) visit before it occurred, not the Foreign Office, probably because they did not trust the FCO to do it properly. We note that although there was a denial that Boris knew about the visit beforehand, it did not mean that he was unaware of the reason for the visit, whatever that was.

So, the question remains, Why would Ms Patel channel aid for Syrian refugees who may not exist in large numbers through the Israeli army? There may be another explanation. At present this is speculative. The aid may have been linked to arms exports from the UK to Israel. There are a wide range of exports, but the current priority export may be drones, made by BAe Systems and others. The Israeli Army could be seen as wanting drones to monitor what is going on in Gaza and elsewhere. The “aid” could be seen as a bribe to get the Israeli Government to take up the deal.

Another bit of the picture may be Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation. It does not quite add up. There was one event when he put his hand on the knee of a reporter who saw it as having no significance, and other “misdemeanours” which fell below the “standards expected in the armed forces”. There were no charges by aggrieved women and no external evidence that Fallon had behaved like this. If Fallon did not resign for the stated reason, then perhaps he resigned for another undisclosed reason. He has long pushed deals for UK arms companies, including BAe Systems, and it may be that escaping from this military story was involved.

Of course, if all of this is not the case, it is not the case. But it should be investigated. Did Boris, Sir Michael Fallon, Priti Patel and Liam Fox know about such a potential arms deal, and was this the rationale for the Patel visit, and its secrecy. If so, it is appalling that aid to help the poor should be so used, and further resignations should follow. If not, I apologise to all involved for such suspicion.

A Large Bias in the Remembrance Day Memory


On Remembrance Day we remember those in the armed services who were killed and injured in all wars, but especially this year in the First World War. This has been the year of Ypres and Passchendaele. We honour their memory and their dying. Yet our memory contains a huge bias. We tend to sublimate the civilians who died. Here we remember them.

In the First World War most of those who died directly were military personnel. Military deaths approached ten million, while civilian deaths were two and a quarter million, half of whom were killed in the Armenian massacres. Yet a further five and a half to six million died through malnutrition and a further fifty to a hundred million died of the “Spanish” influenza which began among the troops and was carried back across the world to malnourished populations. So, five or six times as many civilians were killed by the First World War as military people were killed. All were tragic losses, but when those who are shooting at others are themselves killed, it is slightly different. It was a tragic war which killed all these people – one not about territory, but about mistrust among heavily armed powers.

The Second World War was slightly less a battlefield War and more bombing campaigns were involved. It involved the deaths of even more people, some sixty million or perhaps eighty million. The military personnel who died were twenty one to twenty five million, a fifth of those in POW camps. Civilians killed were perhaps fifty to fifty five million, two or more times as many. Of course, dying from starvation or cold, is as much death as being blown up. Many were gassed and killed in other war crimes which were industrial processes of death. We remember them.

We remember in the wars we are now fighting, as we supply and drop bombs on Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, the civilians who are killed because they are there, or flee to die elsewhere. We remember the fact that these figures are at least doubled by those who face serious injury and life-long trauma, dear benighted people.

Of course, if war were successful, it would be silly to think about disarmament.

Fake News and the Right Wing Media


As the discussion of fake news grows I have been inclined, without thought, to see it as something generated by the new fast media. Of course, there are new techniques, but I was awakened this morning by Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time programme on Guernica, that is both the bombing of the town by the Nazis and Spanish Nationalists and also Picasso’s painting. The truth is, the town was bombed to devastation. When an uproar gathered through good reporting, the Nationalists said that the Basques had set fire to their own town themselves and they scattered tell porky petrol cans around. This counter story, though obviously unbelievable, prevented the accountability which Nazi and Spanish Nationalist Blitzkrieg required in 1936. It was, as we say, a smokescreen, and there was enough right-wing support for Fascism in Europe for it to partially work in damping outrage. As Melvyn Bragg pointed out, (thanks to that man) when Guernica, the painting was shown in Mayfair it was ignored. When it was shown at the Whitechapel gallery thousands flocked to it, and many left their boots there for the Republican soldiers.

But it woke me up again to the stream of right wing fake news which I have uncovered over the years. Some of it was predictably bad. Only yesterday I was reading Hitler’s speech when he invaded Russia with Barbarossa, the act that saved us. The USSR had a non-aggression pact with Germany. Stalin thought he might be invaded in say a couple of years but was unprepared for the invasion, and Hitler had to pretend that he was the aggressor, which he did in convoluted nonsense. I invade, but the USSR is the aggressor. Fake news. But then, as was pointed out in In our Time, Colin Powell’s announcement of the invasion of Iraq at the UN had to be carried out with Picasso’s Guernica covered up lest the obvious parallel was drawn. Fake news.

The fake news goes back at least to a newspaper scare in 1893 that we had too few warships, when we had far more than the next two powers, as Gladstone pointed out. But the lie won. Gladstone resigned and the ship orders went through. Then there was a Dreadnought Scare of 1906-9. The Daily Mail even said that Krupp and Co could turn out Dreadnoughts at one a month, when even under wartime pressure they all took more than three years. Fake news. Newspaper threats of German invasions, German spies and a German hate machine contributed to the outbreak of the Great War. Fake news.

The War was run on fake, and hate, news about the Hun. There was a post-War Red Scare in the United States. Fake news. The Fake Zinoviev Letter in 1924 just before the election was of course fake news involving white Russians, the Daily Mail and the Conservative Party. That was a fake election. The Fascist Coup attempt against President Roosevelt uncovered by General Smedley Butler, a massive Right Wing assault on democracy, was obliterated from the American print media because they did not want it discussed. It was fake non-news. The Liberty League run by the Du Ponts and other media stuff was only met by President Roosevelt by his fireside chats otherwise he would have been defeated by the right wing media.

But perhaps the biggest area of reinterpretation we must undertake is Churchillian appeasement. Most people think that Churchill was fighting against pacifism in the era after Hitler came to power. That is an interesting story, but it is not the main one. Mainly, Churchill was fighting against the Fascist and Nazi sympathisers in his own party, in the British establishment, and in similar right-wing establishments in France, Italy, Spain and most of the other countries in Europe and beyond. Fascism was the way of seeing off the workers and socialism, and the rich and the capitalists backed it in their droves. Churchill had Fascists in his own extended family. Oswald Moseley was having an affair with Lord Curzon’s wife. The King, until abdication, had fascist sympathies, as did much of the aristocracy. Hitler got vast amounts of money from American capitalists even after the Battle of Britain. Churchill’s appeasement problem was not pacifists like Clem Attlee, who were defeated by the war machine, but his own kind who actually supported the Nazis and Fascism, as we know from the history of the Daily Mail and Lord Rothermere. The Mail’s version of Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives was that Hitler had saved his country. Which brings us back to Guernica and the Fake spin.

But the pattern continued after the Second World War. The McCarthyite era was in part an attack on Hollywood Socialism. Hitler did not like Chaplin’s Great Dictator. Socialism had to be demonised and the politicians and the right wing press created another Red Scare which put the Cold War in place. The Militarists and the Media lied about the extent of USSR bombers and missiles, so that the arms companies could get more orders. The US Right Wing Media thought they had obliterated US Socialism until Bernie Saunders came along.

For decades in Britain the right-wing media have demonised socialism. The Sun, Mail, Express and other papers with fake and twisted news. My favourite was the Sun’s coverage of one election. They did a double page spread in which they got a clairvoyant to call up people from the past to see how they would vote in this election. A number of worthies including Churchill were going to vote Conservative, of course, and then the demonized figures including Marx and Stalin were going to vote Labour. But there in the middle was John Lennon. What was a Beatle doing in this line-up? Of course, what had happened was that the hack who had been asked to write this page had not heard of Lenin, but had heard on Lennon, and had “called him up” by mistake. That is an example, and there are probably others, of fake, fake news.

And so it continues. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and western authorities knew that from Kamal Hussein and others. It was a convenient fake story. Trump has merely grown up in a fake era, and does fake naturally. Putin backed by oligarch capitalists does fake and may have colluded with Trump. But fake is widespread. It is not a problem of the new media.The Democrats have been talking up the Russian threat because it suited the military. All news needs to be tested, and retested, for the truth.

The Christian understanding of this issue needs to be made central. Those who possess false power, the power to control, who believe in their own power, will use the news, sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly, to their own advantage and to defeat others. The truth will become obscured, whatever the media. The confrontation of Jesus and Pilate is central. Pilate had the power of the Roman Empire and soldiers, the power to beat and crucify. He could ask, “What is truth?” but he was already compromised. Jesus rule was based on witnessing to the truth and being the truth, without hypocrisy, twisting or fake. It involved crucifixion, because telling the truth involves suffering from the faking people. But the suffering message is clear. The earlier the confrontation, and the acceptance of being subject to the truth, the less the suffering for all. The truth can avert wars and conflict. The truth brings down the mighty from their thrones. The truth secures democracy. None of us owns the truth, but we follow the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Jesus’ Parable of the Minas (Luke 19 11-27)



For a while I have been unhappy with the interpretation of this parable which is generally accepted. Normally it is linked with Matthew 25 14-30, the parable of the talents and it is seen as effectively the same message. The normal approach is summarised by Marshall. “We may take it, therefore, that one original parable lies behind the two versions, although it is not absolutely excluded that Jesus himself told two similar parables on different occasions.” (Marshall 1978 701) It is assumed that although the details might vary, the basic message of both parables is the same. God’s rule means that those who have and use gifts will be given more and those who cut themselves off from God will be judged. Here we suggest the two parables are very different in situation, intent, and focus. The Luke 19 parable of the Minas is directly political, a commentary on the political situation. Later Jesus uses the parable ironically to showset in In Matthew later, speaking to the disciples, Jesus uses the earlier parable ironically to teach this great lesson, but the earlier parable of Luke 19 is completely different.

First, there are the obvious differences between the two accounts. The details are very different. A man on a journey with servants contrast with a man of noble birth going to be appointed King. In one story the servants are given talents: but in the other given minas, and so on. Cities appear in Luke, but not in Matthew and all kinds of jagged differences occur which betoken a different story at a different place at a different time. More generally, these Gospel accounts are very specific and immediate. We know Zacchaeus was short, sat in a sycamore tree, and was unliked by the ordinary people of Jericho. The details are recorded and the details matter in this parable and throughout the Gospels.

Second, we have two different times and locations for the two parables. Luke 19 records what happens a week or so earlier after Jesus had come into Jericho, healed the blind beggar, gone amid the hubbub to eat at Zacchaeus’ house and was on his way to Jeruselem. It was spoken to a crowd in or around Zacchaeus’ house. This Parable, because it and the conversion of Zacchaeus were a deep attack on the Roman Empire, would have spread round Jerusalem like wildfire. Matthew 24 occurs after Jesus has entered Jerusalem and been involved in a massive public debate with his interlocuters. He and the disciples have left the Temple, walked to the Mount of Olives, and are talking. Jerusalem is buzzing and in uproar at the things going on, but they are now the group of disciples apart probably in the evening before returning to Bethany to sleep. Jesus sets out a series of warnings, about persecution and the sacking of the Jerusalem temple, about not believing in false Christs, and about false prognostications, and then in Matthew 24 turns to the theme of “Be Ready”. He gives the disciples six or so parables on what historical, personal and economic awareness involves which the Church rarely hears. The parable of the talents is one of these. The difference in location and timing is obvious, and the relation between the two parables thus becomes clear.The latter parable of Matthew 24 uses elements of the earlier parable, but the focus is completely different. It is a deliberate retelling of the story in kingdom terms. In the first the focus is the Roman and Herodian rulers; in the latter, it is God. It is one of a series of kingdom parables, saying God asks us to use the talents we have been given, laconically using the form of the first parable.

We must discuss the issue of intelligence. There is an idiom which says that Jesus taught orally and repetitively, so that sayings could be handed down to stupid people like us. We could call this the “thick interpretational method”. This seems to be so inadequate and patronizing. Any careful reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus had what we would now describe as an awesome intellect and a command of many modes of discussion and communication. Jesus obviously had problems with the limited ability of his disciples and others to grasp things, and identified how much people would not understand. We are involved in the Gospels with a very rich academy of communication where there is constantly change of focus, debate, audience awareness, explicit cultural pluralism. The quality of this communication is unrivalled. Playing off what he had said at one time with what is said at another would be a mode of communicating. The boring quality assumed by the thick interpretational method is light years away from the fact that the crowds and the disciples, for obvious reasons, hung on every word of this man and knew they needed to “read” what he said carefully. Two different stories in different situations where the second builds on the first need to be read with an attempt to meet the “intelligence” of the author..

Fourth, there is the question of meaning. The tenor of the two series of events is very different. In the one Jesus is intimately addressing the disciples amid the fear of the situation about what the rule of God means throughout time and history. In the other he is surrounded by a triumphalist crowd and addressing a completely different situation.

The better way, therefore, seems to be to recognize that Jesus told two parables, the one in Luke first to the Jericho crowd, and the one in Matthew second to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Our concern will be with the first.

The Scene – Jericho.
The situation in Jericho is quite easy to grasp. Jesus is on his way to Jeruselem and comes to Jericho with a crowd already gathered around him as a man of miracles and a famous popular Rabbi, the outstanding teacher of his age. But he is going to Jerusalem where he has expelled the moneychangers, frequently upset the Temple Party, the Pharisees, the Herodians – Antipas is “that fox” and it is clear that this event will be dramatic. Jesus has problems with crowds and regularly acts to prevent popular acclaim building up, but here there is no stopping the crowd which jigs along with him. Some of the crowd including the men and women disciples will have come on from earlier and some would have come out from Jericho to meet him. There is a beggar (Matthew’s account of what otherwise is the same event records two blind beggars ch 20 29-34) sitting outside the city, a man who is blind, probably not receiving any communal support and poor. It may be that within the city he would receive abuse. The crowd which engulfs Jesus passes and the blind man cannot make sense of the event. He asks, and finds out that Jesus is passing. Obviously Jesus’ reputation had reached him, and he cries out. Those in the crowd near him rebuke him, possibly because this beggar would just be dismissed as a nobody or because he was being a nuisance. He is insistant, crying out with a loud voice above the crowd, and Jesus stops. We do not know what had been going on, but now Jesus asks that the blind man be brought through the crowd. The crowd parts and the blind man is helped to Jesus and stands before him. Jesus asks him a direct, simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” and the man replies, “Lord, I want to see.” Jesus therapon immediately heals him, saying, “Receive your sight, your faith has healed you.” The man is honoured for his faith and the crowd face the fact that God has done this mighty act to the man they probably ignored. The crowd fizzes with the event and Jesus is the centre of attention. The healed man, of course, follows Jesus in his heart and close to the centre of the crowd as they go into Jericho in a riot of praise.

Jericho was no ordinary city. At this time it was dominated by the palace buildings of Herod the Great and had its own unique history. It is probably one of the oldest cities on earth, repeatedly invaded and having its walls knocked down, including by Joshua. Its recent history focussed on Herod the Great, who built a great palace here. Herod was big. He had set out to rule Israel, had fled to Egypt, had a brief affair with Cleopatra, went to Rome and persuaded Augustus to back him, then came back and conquered the country and became King Herod the Great. He had a row with Cleopatra because she wanted the balsam plantations near Jericho as a gift from Anthony for her perfumes, but probably to spite Herod. Later, he was paranoid about his sons killing him to seize the throne and wrongly had two of them killed. He backed the Olympic Games and ordered the killing of the innocents in Bethlehem. This was Herod’s place, and every one knew about Herod. They especially knew how he died, because he died in Jericho from a disgusting stomach cancer roaring in pain. His genitals putrified and he was utterly mad. He even ordered that when he died, fearing that he would not be mourned, several thousand of the leading Jews should be locked in the Hippodrome, about 300 metres long, and all murdered on his death, so that his death would be accommpanied by mourning and not by rejoicing. (Josephus Ant. 17:6:5) Jesus never quite met him. So now Jesus was walking into the city of Herod the Great’s life and death. Everyone knew Herod.

Archelaus, son of Herod.

And everyone knew Archelaus, who succeeded Herod. Jesus knew him. He, of course, did not go back to Bethlehem, but was taken by Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, an obscure hill village, in order not to be too near Archelaus the new ruler. And we know why. Archelaus might kill him. On Herod the Great’s death, he had begun by being nice, hoping to have a different image from his father, but soon has a row with his subjects. At the feast of Passover in 4BC the row came to a head and Archelaus had three thousand massacred to teach them a lesson. He was, not surprisingly, instantly disliked, and when he set off to Rome to be accepted by Caesar as king, a whole load of his enemies set off as well. They included Antipater and Antipas, his brothers vying for the throne. In Rome these enemies appeared before Caesar pointing out what Archelaus had done, and also emphasising that he had done all this before being appointed by Caesar and was therefore presuming that he would be King rather than asking for it in the normal obsequious way. Archelaus’ case was also pleaded by Nicolaus, saying how bad the Jews and Antipater had been, and so Archelaus was made Tetrach, a slight demotion, and sent home to run Judea, while Antipas was given Galilee. All of this was basic public knowledge, just as Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are to us, only more so.

Archelaus reigned against a background of revolt and dissatisfaction for ten years. He was cruel, sensual, a plotter and vindictive. He deposed three High Priests in order to profit from the changes and was understood to be a nasty man throughout his reign, In 6AD a deputation of Jews and Samaritans waited on Augustus in Rome complaining of Archelaus. He was summoned to Rome, deprived of his crown and banished to Gaul. He was, in sum, a national failure.He remained of local significance because he further extended Herod the Great’s Palace in Jericho and surrounded it with palm trees. So he was the local boy, just like the Queen Mother is local in Sandringham, but instead of fondness, remembered rather with loathing.

The Prelude – Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector.

As Jesus comes into Jericho they key figure turns out to be Zacchaeus who, we learn, was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. This is likely to be no understatement. Zacchaeus is a/the chief tax collector. He lives in Jericho, to which a substantial proportion of the funds come for Herod to spend. It would be interesting to know what the full structure of Roman taxes was, and how much went to Pilate, the soldiers and the other Roman institutions, but certainly much of the money came here through Zacchaeus’ hands. Jerusalem was the capital and far bigger, but keeping tax receipts in Jerusalem was very dangerous. A mountain of silver was the obvious target for any insurrection. So the taxes were carried from Jerusalem to Jericho where they were guarded by Roman soldiers in a secure base well away from the crowds. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was the robber road precisely because a whole load of robbers had probably tried to get their hands on consignments of coins travelling from Jerusalem. The Good Samaritan parable was located where it would be understood. All this is very straightforward.

Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector would probably be farming out taxes to people who would be collecting for the Romans. Jesus, of course, had related to this group in Galilee, and everywhere they were despised, because they were taking away people’s livelihood and giving it to the Romans. On low subsistence incomes a tax of, say, 20% on very low incomes was crippling, especially with a Temple Tax of a similar amount. These farmed tax collectors were eking out a living along with a few others. They may take some money for themselves, but could not get away with much, because it was collected avidly with Roman supervision. Zacchaeus was therefore close to the centre of the web, an empire of intimidation, probably violence and imprisonment, which brought the funds from the provinces into Herod’s coffers. Mary’s journey to Bethlehem shows how directive this system was; the census was about tax. The Jews hated this system, and they would therefore hate and ostracize a Jew who administered it. Zacchaeus would be rich, but despised, the kind of person people were automatically rude about.

Jesus walks into Jericho with a crowd, some electricity in the air, and looks up into the sycamore-fig tree. Everything suggests that Jesus knew whom he was addressing. As we shall see later, he had a long established knowledge of Herod Antipas and the Herodian system, and Zacchaeus would be known. How Jesus knew him we do not know, but he names him and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house. The transition is breathtaking. Here is a person who affirms a blind beggar, an outcast, whom it was easy for the Jews to accept, as cured praising God, who now invites himself to the home of a rich enemy, not just of the people, but of Jesus and his friends. This man clearly crosses personal barriers and distance with full impunity. Jesus is firm, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today” , presumably so that the distance and awkwardness can be rapidly crossed. Zacchaeus responds and welcomes him to his home probably with some of the disciples and perhaps the blind man, but the crowd stay outside, for you did not mix with this man who had been socially cut in his rich house. It was unthinkable. Verse 7 “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’” sums up the situation completely. The crowd had gone the other way. The perception was that Jesus was a traitor, for this man was unclean, corrupt. Of course, you did not make too much fuss in the city where the Herodian soldiers ruled, but the crowd mood had changed. “Mutter” sums up the feeling of a crowd whose great hero had ratted on them.

But meanwhile, something very different was happening. Zacchaeus had welcomed Jesus and they had had a discussion. The talk is not recorded, but it is likely, given Zacchaeus’ response, that it involved Zacchaeus accepting that he had wrongly taken money from a number of people and had become rich on that basis. Somewhere in the conversation the Mosaic principles of restitution for wrongdoing must have come up, for Zacchaeus states them in the public announcement that he makes either inside his house with the guests, or outside more publicly. If it was in his house, it would very soon be outside and public knowledge. He says to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Zacchaeus’ response is wholehearted, immediate, involves concrete action on recompense to others and hpnours the law and the proper processes of justice. Theft required a double repayment (Exodus 22 1-9) and Zacchaeus was therefore going beyond the law in offering four times. Jesus, too, is wholehearted in his response to him. He says, “Today, salvation is come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” He is saved, because he is no longer a slave to Mammon, but a child of God reunited with his own people. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.” Suddenly, the source of the people’s muttering is gone, and the crowd must have become quite euphoric. The ostracism which Zacchaeus had experienced from his fellow and sister Jews was over. Jesus had authority to say that and Zacchaeus is welcomed back to the community of Israel. He is lost, but is found. Zacchaeus would not have an easy time fulfilling his commitments, but he would be among friends, but he would be lost in the crowd reaction. Here was a prophet on his way to Jerusalem at Passover and overthrowing the Roman Tax System. The whole of Jericho was a-buzz.

Immediately, the relationship of the crowd to Jesus would have changed. Jesus was no longer the hero who had gone to eat with a traitor to the Jews, but he had subverted the whole system. He had won a Jew back and had removed a lynchpin from the hated Herodian system. The knees-up which had been going on after the healing of the blind beggar would now become much more focussed and political. The Jews were always looking for the overthrow of the oppressor and here he was. He had come into Herod’s own patch and had taken out one of the key men. They were looking for the salvation of Israel, the defeatof Rome and its henchmen, so that the Jews could again be free. Since the time of the Maccabees this had become an increasingly apocalyptic and violent dream. Zacchaeus’ conversion was a direct attack on Rome and the Herodians. This was the context of the parable. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, the holy capital, and “the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Lk 19 11) Then comes the Parable.

The Parable of the Minas.

We recall the earlier hubbub associated with the miracle healing of the blind man and Zacchaeus’ salvation, and now, presumably in contact with the full crowd Jesus goes on to tell them a parable. We are told clearly Jesus’ reason for doing this. The Gospel could not be more plain. “While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (19:11) This needs some slight nuancing. Being near Jerusalem was like going up to London on a massive demonstration. Indeed, at Passover something like a million visitors came to Jerusalem and were going to be caught up in the events surrounding the Temple. All the events of the last week were big crowd events. There were a million of us on the Stop the War March in London in 2003 and that was big. So the kingdom of God event that the crowd were thinking might be imminent was not the fulfilment of Christ’s teaching, but an uprising against the Roman/Herodian powers which dominated Judea and beyond. It was the dream of the Maccabees, the Zealots and other insurrectionists. His journey to Jeruselem would have been interpreted by many as the great apocalyptic event when the Son of David would return and throw out the Romans and Hasmodeans. It was “at once”, the decisive time of national liberation which since Ezra and Nehemiah had become the dream of nationalist Jews. The foreign yoke would be thrown off and God would rescue his people. It is into this euphoria that Jesus speaks.

“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” Immediately there would be hissing as the thin code identifying Archelaus was recognized. This was about Archelaus, the hated successor to Herod the Great. “So he called ten of his servants and gave then ten minas. ‘Put this money to work until I come back.’ But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’ He was made king, however, and returned home.” Suddenly, the story was chilling. The obvious references to Archelaus were saying nothing about some great uprising, but were focussed on an oppressive ruler who was in charge and remained in charge. This is the way the system operates. This is not a parable about God, but directly about Herodian rule, “because people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once” and they needed cold water poured over them. Let’s be clear about this. Jesus is carefully orchestrating events, so that no-one is killed or no futile insurrection breaks out. He is saying, “this is what they are like.” The parable will end with the words, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be a king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” So this is scarcely veiled warning. If you are getting excited, especially in relation to me, then stop and face death squarely. The contrast is with thousands of leaders who have happily led their supporters or soldiers to death out of their own ego. And the result was as Jesus intended. Nobody died in Easter week, except Judas who committed suicide, and Jesus himself. As Jesus prayed in John 17:12 “I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction. The saving of life is an actual wise effective principal, carried out through foresight and wisdom throughout Easter week, and for the whole Christian community. We will see it in operation again later.

But the parable moves on, or rather it moves back. “He called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. Put this money to work (for me) until I come back.” This was in the space when the king, Archelaus was going to Rome. He went to Rome and came back, not as they hoped when they sent the delegation to Rome, without power, but when confirmed as Tetrach by Caesar. So the servants were given a minas each. A minas was about three months wages at a drachma a day, the basic wage labour of ancient Israel. So these servants were not being given great favours, but were being tested by the king for their loyalty to him. And they know what putting the money to work means, because for the Herodians there was only one business in town and that was tax collecting and tax farming. These guys would be collecting taxes. Zacchaeus was standing there, probably at Jesus side, and the crowd knew what was going on. This story was for them. Jesus carries them along.

The crowd were fixed on every detail of the parable, they were being led. Jesus sets out the response of three servants and in so doing he sets out the whole system. “The first servant came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” This is the one who works within the Herodian system, the goody-goody or baddy baddy as we would call him. This is the unconverted Zacchaeus, now shifting slightly uneasily as his role in the system is laid out. ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’. No-one would think other than seeing being in charge of cities as being in charge of collecting the Roman, or Herodian, taxes. This is the system rewarding its own. Zacchaeus is struggling a bit at this point. Jesus has just converted him from tax collection to fairness and justice and now in the parable the tax collector is praised, but he is praised by the unjust king, by the Archelaus lookalike. The second servant comes, still working within the system, and he, too, gets his reward. These were the people in charge of the tax system, and the military to back them up. They are the ones who fit in with the system which Zacchaeus has just deserted. And they do well.

Telling the Truth.

But then, says Jesus, another servant comes and says, “Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.” This would make their hair rise. This was the truth. The Herodian/Roman system was hard, run by hard men. They were taking out what they had not put in and reaping where they had not sown. This was it. It was exploitation, robbing the poor, and, (there has to be a bit of theatre here), the servant returns the mina kept laid away in a piece of cloth, and Jesus holds his hand out returning exactly the mina that the king had given to him, and dramatising further what taking out what you did not put in meant. So the truth is there on the table for the disciples, the people of Jericho and the gathering crowd moving towards Jerusalem, and the Zacchaeus who can see his overlords as they were.

But the parable does not end there. Jesus stays with the King, who faced with the truth flies into a rage, and more or less accepts what he has been faced with. “You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in and reaping what I did not sow?” Well, I’ll be a hard man as you put it. Always there are echoes of Archelaus in the crowd’s heads. Then comes the why didn’t you, money-lending response. “Why didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?” “Take his mina away and give it to the one who has ten.” It is the set up line, as the courtiers respond, “’Sir,’ they said, “he already has ten!’” The wicked King’s reply is twofold, in both cases telling the truth. “First, he says, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who hads nothing, even what he has will be taken away.” It is breathtaking. The evil man tells the truth. The powerful accumulate and the poor are further impoverished. This is the evil system that Jesus confronted and this is the evil system that we still face today. Oxfam’s calculation that the world’s richest 62 people own as much as the poorer half of the worlds population suggests the problem today. The whole parable is about exploitation, and the evil man, the king, the Archelaus figure, tells the truth.

This was the structure of the Roman system, and Jesus points out what it is like, its iniquity, a warning to Zacchaeus, and a warning to everybody who would continue to live with this system. The truth is laid bare. But Jesus freezes any frenzied reaction to this unjust system and also lays bare its viciousness and danger. He voices the words of the Herodian tyrant, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” It is chilling, and accurate in its assessment of Archelaus and of the Roman system. None of these people would be walking into a sentimental insurrection in which they would be slaughtered. Later Jesus could truthfully say to the Father, “I protected them and kept them safe.” (John 17 12) Zacchaeus would melt away before the authorities got hold of him, and Jesus alone would go on to the cross. Second, the wickedness of empire was exposed. Empires harvest where they have not sown. The truth confronts the power, as later Jesus would before Pilate.

The incisiveness of Jesus response in this parable is beyond human understanding. When popularity beckons, most of us walk towards it, but Jesus has a care for the fools who are around him. He warns and saves them. The full horror of this insight only becomes evident a generation later when over a million are slaughtered in Jeruselem by the Romans seeking a similar apocalyptic hope. There is a political implication here, too, in the repudiation of the insurrectionist, revolutionary answer. Jesus did not lead people down the route where they would need to commit evil to achieve their (good?)aims. He was, to our inconvenience, but benefit, consistently holy.

Later in Jeruselem Jesus would take the same structure for the story but instead of telling it against the supposedly imminent kingdom would tell it for the kingdom of God. He turned it round. There were good and faithful servants and a wicked lazy servant. Within this kingdom everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance, but whover does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is the One they really have to fear, not those who can kill the body.

Jesus finishes the parable of the Minas outside Zacchaeus’ house where the road turns up into the hills towards Jerusalem. The crowd wrestles with its content, as they will discuss its points time and time again. Zacchaeus reels intellectually under the transformation and says goodbye to Jesus. The Gospel reports (Luke 19:28). “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” The crowd it seems were not surging in front.

Reinstating Holiness in life today.


The Strange Word.

Holiness does not seem to feature much in our general culture, and many of us will not have thought about the word for ages. A year could pass in the Daily Mail or Channel Four without the word occurring, and “holy” is number 2396 in the corpus of words used in contemporary American English, hardly a front runner. It seemingly hovers at the edge of cultural consciousness in the modern world, part of the secular incomprehension of Christian words in our culture. Yet, as this article sets out, it may be the most widespread attitude to life on the planet, the most important cultural construct, and our ability to ignore it merely reflects our inability to think about who we are as a world-wide community.

The most normal English reference to the word would be in the phrase, “holier than thou attitude”, which means to be insufferably morally superior, hardly a selling point for the idea. Yet a word can be dismissed, but the reality it represents stays put. There may be alternative cultural expressions which ebb and flow on the tides of public dissatisfaction, but they swill around the truths this great word contains, for it is a word to live by, as billions do with varying degrees of success.

The understanding of the term in contemporary culture is narrowed and slightly dismissive. The closest many can probably get is that it means to be goody, goody, to be separate from sex, gin and overeating. Many secular people would associate it with nuns and holy gurus who separate themselves from the normal business of life. They try to get rid of the profane by running away from the world, but usually do not succeed. They fall in love or get drunk when they are caught unawares, and the world catches up with them and spoils their holiness. In any case their life is not practical. It normally depends on the charity of others, whether it is a nunnery or Buddhist monks. The polarity holy/profane probably sums up the most aware perception of the term, and most people like to keep in touch with the profane. One sociological indicator of this is the use of swearing; the terms, “My God”, “Jesus Christ”, “Holy Cow” drop off the lips of a large number of people.

This holiness as withdrawal from life model does not quite work. The term “Holy Matrimony” is in our collective memory, and that definitely includes sex. In the Old Testament holy days seem to be the ones where God proscribes feasting and a good time, hence our holidays. In reality, a bigger question lurks behind the word. Most people seek to live a good/holy life, not a successful, exciting, rich, popular, applauded life, but a good one. Just being good or holy, because the two do hang together, is ambition enough for most of us. So, what is holiness?

THE Biblical Word – God and Holiness.

The Bible conveys holy as a central God word, even the central God word in the Holy Bible. We are told God is a holy God. We are to worship God in the splendour of his holiness. The Lord our God is holy. But what does holy mean? Is it just a foot-loose adjective or does it have some substance? A bit of wider biblical exposure shows that it is one of the biggest words in human culture. It is the word of monotheism. There is to be worshipped one God, because there is one God. “Do not profane my holy name” is to acknowledge God as God of everything. We can see this clearly in the great creation narrative at the beginning of the Bible and its climax. “ … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening and morning – the sixth day. Thus, the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing by his word of power; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen. 1:31-2:3) Thus, the whole business of creating – the big bang, quarks, time, atoms, galaxies, nebulae, stars, heavy elements, planets, continents, life, animals and humans is brought under the complete understanding that this, some kind of fulfilment, is God’s work. The Sabbath is the artist standing back from the painting, and it is very good. It is blessed. The sand, as made by God, is holy. The moon, as made by God, is holy. The wholeness of the creation made by God is holy, and we mere mortals are invited on this seventh day to see the full picture and the God who has made it. This is the holiness of God, the Creator of the whole creation. So far from holiness being some kind of separation, some kind of retreat into smallness, it is our relation to God and the whole creation. It is being in a dark valley and seeing the glory of God’s local galaxy in a moonless night, or a newborn child, or facing one’s beloved, all in the super-text of knowing that God is God. Every Sabbath we are invited to see the whole Holy Creation and honour the God who made it, to face this ultimate truth about everything.

There, it is out of the bag. Holy and whole. Are they related? Yes, they are, but it might be in a way. The Christian meaning of holiness is often seen in terms of being separate from the world, of withdrawal. But we note that this focus ignores the full and most basic meaning of seeing how the whole creation is held together in God’s power. Shortly, we examine the derivative meaning of separation. Rather, we see that the whole meaning is more central. Indeed, we can understand the word through its prostitution. “Hal” (Old English) “heel” (Dutch) “heil” (German) means whole. But, wait a minute you say, what about “Heil Hitler” or “Seig” (victory) “Heil”? What is going on there? Heil, is a greeting, health, wholeness, “Hail Caesar” towards the leader. So, in 1934 Rudolph Hess came out with, “”The Party is Hitler. But Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler. Hitler! Sieg Heil!”, which, of course, is a load of rot, but it shows the wholeness of conception. God is God of the Heil creation. Far from being a word of separation, it is the word that includes everything, including us. So the biblical meaning focusses first on the way the whole creation is God’s, and the Israelites are called to acknowledge this among cultures to whom the whole idea was alien. The separation bit is merely recognising that Hitler is not God, but merely “examine my armpit”.

The Old Testament cultures were usually polytheistic. The Egyptians looked to all kinds of particular deities, pushed by their local priests and surrounded by myth, magic and ritual. A careful look at the books of Moses shows the absence of these kinds of religious manipulation and their deconstruction under the aegis of the Lord of the whole earth. The worship of the Golden Calf, the construction of shrines to particular deities, sorceries and magic are forbidden in the culture, so that they might know God. The disentanglement from polytheism is complex and protracted. The children of Israel are first taught the presence of God especially in the Tabernacle, and are then taught in the prayers of David and Solomon that the God of all creation does not need one specific Temple for worship. “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built.” (I Kings 8:27) This understanding of the Creator, free from the mumbo-jumbo of countless religions, is the holiness in which we are invited to dwell. To know God is holy is to see the whole creation as God’s work and be free of the fragmented view of the cosmos which comes from polytheism, and we might add modernism.

Humanity and Holiness.

The biblical theme of holiness thus rests on humankind; we dwell with God. “You be holy as I am holy” is a refrain of the Mosaic Law, but it is even stronger than this, because ….”so that you may know that I am the Lord who makes you holy”. How does God make us holy? We are in the image of God. Even on this speck of extraordinary planet we reflect something of the God of all creation. We can know the coherence of life and existence in relation to God; we can think, relate, love, have consciousness, understand time, space, laws, principles, see beauty, harmony, and what underlies the surface, unlike helium, rock and mackerel. To know God is to be whole in this human sense, and holy. First, to acknowledge God, then to recognise the glory of the whole creation, then to honour and steward the bit of creation we have been given, then to be whole, or holy, as persons before God, and then to dismiss all the idols and polytheistic rubbish cultures can sling at us. And then to acknowledge the richness of life before God – relationships, education, art, music, economic life, care of the creation, politics, law, mathematics, travel, history and more. It is T.S.Eliot’s quest in Little Gidding, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Holiness is not a retreat from the creation, but truly inhabits the creation God has made. In holiness, everything is in the right place in relation to God, the rest of creation and ourselves. All things are relative, but relative to God. These, then are some of the themes that arise in human holiness.

The person and holiness.

The first is “Unite my heart to fear thy Name.” This is the great Spring Cleaning of the Soul. All our life can be drawn together to worship God. This is worshipping God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, the centre of life and existence. Christ insists on it being the Great Commandment. We note it is a commandment because this is the way we are. Of course, it was easy for Bach. He could let go in a Toccata and Fugue to the glory of God and then write another one next week. But, it is also easy for us. The sunset, or the new sky, or the acorn, or the dandelion, can prompt our response to the God of the acorn or the new sky. To put God truly and rightly at the centre is also to bring all of our life into synchrony with God, wherever it has been. “Our Father, who art in heaven, holy be thy Name.” is the centre of life. The modern call to “be centred” has its real meaning here. To fear thy name is to unite my heart, reversing Psalm 86:11. However our living might have been strung out, fragmented and compartmentalized, before God we are truly whole, because God has made us. Christ teaches us to pray so that this rightness may be ours, day in and day out. God is God also to us, Creator of the whole universe, to you alone be praise and glory, not because you need it, but because we need you, because we are through you.

And then each little thing in the creation is brought into perspective. This is the heart of modern science mainly formed by Protestants in Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere in the 17th century. They conceived science as thinking God’s thoughts after him. Swammerdam could see and draw a louse for the first time under a microscope and proclaim, “The glory of God in the body of a louse!” Borrow, Newton, Boyle, Gay, Grew, Huygens, Leeuwenhoek and a bevy of other Christian scientists looked to the intricacies of creation in the greatest leap of scientific development in history, although Faraday, Clark Maxwell, Kelvin and J. J. Thomson produced a similar Christian inspired movement at the end of the 19th century around the birth of the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge, which had inscribed over its door, “Great are the works of the Lord” from Psalm 11:2, under Clerk Maxwell’s direction. Holiness is, in part, seeing the works of the Lord in their fulness and inter-relatedness, not just in science but in the daily experience of the creation, for the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth declares his handiwork. Durer’s painting of a clump of weeds is seen with a holy eye. Whatever we see is not a thing in itself, ein ding an sich, but points to the Creator and innumerable creative stages.

Then, holiness is also not idolising any part of the human persona. In the past the mind, the soul, body, psyche, subconscious, the will, the ego, existence, experience, image, identity, actions or emotions have all been seen as the centre of human life to which the other faculties must do homage. Not so says the Bible. All human faculties are called to worship God and no human faculty is independent of the God who made it. The footballer who scores a great goal and praises God, not his or her body, is right. The mind is not an organ of self-rule, but of integrated thought before God. So, in this sense we are whole before God. We are not minds telling bodies what to do, or emotions leading thought, or social persons driving psyche, or will dominating body and mind. The biblical motif for this truth is the heart – neither the beating biological thing or the emotions, but the whole person before God, needing understanding, healing from sin and shaping by faith. Christ’s beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” is this human wholeness before and in God. So, holiness is the central human motif, around which our lives take, or lose, shape.

This integration of needs expressing, too, in terms of the different aspects of human life. Our lives have social, economic, law and justice, biological, psychological, educational, political, geographic and other aspects to them, but none of these areas is autonomous, a law unto itself. We know that it is not usually holy to break the law, or to feel hate, but in all aspects of our lives there are holiness issues. And in contemporary culture in this post-modern era, we face the disintegration of thought. Let us consider education in the UK, whether at Cambridge or at school. A strong motif, made stronger by discrepancies of pay by one to a hundred, is the idea of education as personal economic success. What! Learning reduced to self-promotion! School made into a horse race with hurdles. Wisdom reduced to the quest for salary. Research dominated by the companies which will pay for it. Gone the humble business of learning how the whole great creation fits together. The poor student, the professor of the faith to learn, despised in favour of “my career”. The study and learning subverted as eye-catching performance. Lost is the great diamond of education, the pearl of great price, the foundation of all education. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Right there, underneath everything, acknowledge and see God, and the integration of knowledge, understanding and education is possible. Here is the universe of knowledge, the university, gathered under God’s great creative power – science and arts, each discipline, note discipline, area of humble studentship. As here in Cambridge St John’s, Peterhouse, St Catherine’s, Magdalene, Emmanuel, Corpus Christi, Trinity, Trinity Hall, Christ’s and Jesus College gathered round the sluggish Cam in pursuit of knowledge, so the humility of learning can again take place. As the painting of Trinity College at the top conveys, roughly from Newton’s staircase, our local lights of knowledge are gathered under God’s great sky. Recognising economics as stewardship before God rather than acquisition or plundering the earth, seeing natural science as uncovering the intellect of the universe, seeing politics within the rule of God’s law not as assertive power, seeing maths as part of God’s tool kit, this is where education holds together, this is the wholeness which post-modern, but really post-Christian culture, has lost in a smorgasbord of fragmented knowledge.

The Human Idols.

Perhaps the biggest task for human holiness is to defeat the idols of life, something that dogs every day of life. As the Bible insists, idols are made by human hands; they are our manufacturing. We make them and then bow down to them. How silly! How counterfeit! Always, people can sell their souls to power, sex, money, status, pleasure, experience, the state or nation, to family, romantic love and many other idols. One of them, the whisperer tells us, will provide the ultimate meaning of life. And all of these idols have a vast priesthood who will promote their idol. Banks tell us we can borrow and make money, but we make money for them. The idol enslaves the weak to the priesthood. Weapons will give you power, say the arm manufacturers, omitting to say that they are also selling to the other side. Here is sex, say the pornographers, divorcing it from the love which makes it meaningful. Get drunk and have fun say the ads and tomorrow the idiot is groaning with a hangover in a police cell. The idols are gross and destructive, but they are also subtle, used by those who do not believe in them but can manipulate them to make money or get their way. Those selling sex for money do not believe in sex, they believe in money. Those selling missiles do not believe in war, but will be safely in the rear when the bombing starts. The love of money is the root of all evil, says Paul, in a plausible summary of the mess. The idols will be used, every one, in ingenious new but old forms. Become powerful, power dressing, how to win promotion, use soft power, fast, powerful cars will get you a woman, power cleaning products do it, not just cleaning, and so it goes on. Most people have played with power of one kind or another. It will be your magic.

So, the idols pop up in every area of life. In our media age it is partly popularity. You have two thousand followers on the web? How impressive, at least until you meet Jesus. He didn’t give a damn about the number of his followers, but about each one – the self-harming outcast among the tombs, the hated chief tax collector, the leper and the thief hanging beside him on the cross. In the parable of the lost sheep, the Shepherd leaves the 99 that are safe to search for the one that is lost. Far from seeking followers, the Shepherd trails off after the lost sheep. He had something under twelve followers when he died and now he has well over 2,000,000,000. Now that is impressive. Partly, we follow because we know he has freed us from the idols and through him we can see through popularity and status. In relation to the Son of God all these idols keel over. You cannot serve God and Mammon. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. Do not laud it over others. Do not do good to be seen. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Do not even think about aggression. Here with Christ the idols are dead, and there is another way.

Nevertheless, these blown up promoted idols bury into our culture, enslaving millions directly and indirectly and costing all of us – especially those who do not believe in them. There are millions, perhaps billions, who are working for profit, other people’s profit, who do not believe in the aim of their work, but they have no alternative, no other employer. The great god, profit, the personification of greed, feeds and gorges on the wealth of the earth, but millions are servicing its sewers. It distorts life, families, and it is given great respect. We view stately homes, full of inflated junk, and are impressed, but we have missed holiness. The great self-worshipping empires enslave and destroy, blighting the lives of millions. Pleasure is cashed in obesity, wealth in loneliness and power in being hated. The rewards which the gods (speaking through their human mouthpieces) promise, turn out to empty and without value. They are not good. They depart from God’s holiness.

This is also a deep world-wide structural economic issue. The quest for making money leads to dishonesty, bribery and destroys markets. We are told that profit seeking capitalism “creates wealth”, when actually wealth comes from God-given resources, technological knowledge built over generations, education and service, and the production of goods (note the word, “good” again). Actually, the “wealth creators” were often raping free resources, buying up public goods cheaply, using cheap and near slave labour in poorer countries, exploiting monopolies, selling addictive and dangerous products, avoiding taxes by using havens and building financial empires which collapsed in 2008. Mixed with that were lots of companies seeking to provide goods and services in a fair way, respecting their workers and paying them properly, looking after the environment and loving their neighbour as themselves rather than exploiting them. So, either economies can grow in a holy and good way, where the place of resources, workers, people is balanced and good, or there can be an unholy exploitative mess. The economic choice is there. More immediately people can do good work, be fair in dealings, thrifty in their choices, live within their means, work well with their colleagues, learn how to improve their work, co-operate with others, or they can use other people, not take their fair share of effort, be unsafe, unpleasant and working only for themselves. The business of holiness is intertwined with work in hospitals, transport, building, manufacture, mining and logistics. A good or holy lorry driver sleeps properly and does not drink and drive, and all good work requires holy living which sees the place of that work in a God-respecting economy. The opposite is the capitalism which worships money rather than God. As Jesus said succinctly, “You cannot worship God and Mammon.”
So, to be holy, a follower of Christ, is to be free from idols and to see their danger in our culture.

Christ’s Transformation of Holiness.

God with us is deceptive. The understanding of God is so much beyond our own that we can easily not see how we are being taken apart. So, when Jesus walks into his own culture it is one where the rule and establishment people make the rules in another sense. They claim to cudos of God to their rules and regulations. God’s law is elided with their regulations and self-interest, whether it be the Temple Tax of the Temple Party or the Sabbath Observance rules of the Pharisees. Nor is this a little local problem, for in all societies the establishment self-serves, sets up the system to suit itself. Within weeks of being in power Lenin is self-serving. But of course, monarchs, dukes, aristocracies, colonial powers, overlords, plutocracies, oligarchies and establishments in every culture have produced self-serving moral cultures which the poor, slaves, bureaucrats, serve. And, of course, Churches, despite their leader, have settled into the same pattern. They are established churches. They are rich. They insinuate themselves with rulers saying what the rulers want them to hear.

More than this, the establishment wants to capture holiness. If it can be in charge of holiness, rather than God – aha, you see the enormity of the move – then all will be well. Whether at the Palace of Versailles, within the Wall of China, at the whiter than White House or at the Temple in Jerusalem, wherever the establishment dwells it seeks to put holiness, moral rightness within itself, so that it can be the Sun within which behaviour orbits. The rulers make the rules and the ordinary folk conform. Of course, the rulers are not holy. They have mistresses. They are full of their own vanity. They kill or imprison if they have opposition. They enslave people for their pyramids, ziggurats, palaces, courts, landed estates, finery, banquets and freedom from work. There is a great industry in quasi-holiness, what is right. The holiness of God is borrowed to settle on the Sun King, William the Conqueror, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Queen Victoria or President Trump, whatever they are like. So, holiness is subverted. Except, Jesus has taken it apart, ripped it to shreds, showed its hypocrisy and restored the holiness of God.

The Temple at Jerusalem is the Holy of Holies, the place where the people are invited since Solomon to meet with God. Solomon is quite clear that because God is everywhere, the idea that God can be contained in one place is ludicrous. So, the Temple is for our benefit, not God’s. After all, if the whole universe is yours, a poky bump in Jerusalem hardly counts, but we can gather to meet with and worship God, and with a sense of the holiness of God. The Temple is for us not God. All ground is holy, but this Temple is the recollection of holiness. So, what does Jesus do with the Temple, its rules and regulations, its establishment, its exclusions?

At Passover time – the Passover was when God confronted the Egyptian Pharoahic establishment for the freedom of the children of Israel – Jesus moves into the Temple in his first confrontation. It was a money-making machine where offerings and the Temple Tax made the High Priests and their establishment very rich. Their income almost equalled the Romans. When the Temple was sacked in 70AD it contained so much gold that the price of it halved throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Jesus overturns the money-changers tables, scattering their coins and drives the sacrifice animals, shortly to die, into a frenzied stampede out of the Temple Area. He named the attack on the money system. ”How dare you turn my Father’s House into a market!” The meaning of the attack was clear. The holiness of God, the worship of God, was subverted into the money hypocrisy of the Temple Authorities.

And then comes the joke. The Jewish leaders wanted a sign of authority, and Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” It is a hoot. The last thing the Jewish leaders want is to destroy the Temple. It makes them money. It gives them authority. As they point out they have laboured forty six years, especially manipulating Herod the Great, to get Their Temple. By accusing them of destroying the Temple, Jesus left them completely nonplussed, and they could not possibly understand what he meant. Yet, the great momentous transition of meaning had taken place. The Holy of Holies was Christ, not this money-making hypocritical system. Later they would set out to murder him and he would be raised in three days and the disciples would have an inkling of what was going on. The Christ, who insisted on being outside every self-righteous establishment, was and is the holy of holies, redefining holiness into radical integrity before God – not just murder but hate, not just adultery but lust, not just divorce, but dishonour, not just aggression but retaliation, not just friendship of allies, but love of enemies, not just public good, but good in the heart before God, not just the cudos of good public acts, but unrewarded goodness, not just money rewards, but God service, not things, but God’s righteousness. While the Temple authorities defend the hypocritical holiness of their Temple, Jesus helps each of us to be a Temple of God. Of course, the Jerusalem Temple authorities cannot understand, and after the second confrontation, set out to kill him, which they seek and achieve. But aside the “Wailing Wall”, a fitting epitaph, the Temple is destroyed – not one stone was left upon another, and the followers of Christ see something of holiness before God.

Pietism, Integrity and Holiness.

Some years back the holiness movement was a powerful force in British life. It was also labelled pietism. The main idea was that people would live a holy or pious life, marked by prayer, pure living and the attitudes which Christ encouraged. It has a long history but surfaced more recently in Methodism, the Anabaptist groups like Mennonites and Amish, the Brethren, the Keswick movement, and in many mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches. More recently it has been mocked and a travesty of it has been conveyed. One of the false understandings was of moralist censure. Pietism was against sex, drugs, drink, dancing, films, television and rock and roll, as indeed many pietists were. The kind of sex they were against was prostitution, sex that got girls pregnant, predatory sex and a whole load of other stuff that the world is now again recognising destroys people, especially women and girls. They were against addictive drugs, but so really are all of us. They were against drink, and ran temperance movements rescuing men from alcoholism, an obviously repressive move. They were against dancing, or rather they were not, but Anabaptists had their own dances. They were against films and television, but since most of us spend five to fifteen years of our waking life slumped in front of a television that may be no bad think, and to the contrary they were keen on talking to one another. In other words, pietism had a whole range of, arguably, good attitudes and everyone is free not to like rock and roll. It was charged with being repressive, but actually war, hate, greed, drunkenness, self-importance, addiction and slavery need repressing. Nor is pietism, self-righteousness. Sinners are miserable sinners, not self-righteous ones.

The pietist position was not moralism, but an emphasis on holiness or piety before God, the basic Christian point. We try to live as God intends us, and that often means not accumulating things or doing things that might be harmful to others and ourselves. There was an underlying obedience to God which included basic things like not stealing, coveting, lusting and hating others. And this requires an underlying integrity of action. The word, “integrity”, needs some unpacking. None of us has it, because we sin, compromise, self-excuse, hide failures, pretend outwardly and are double minded. But areas of life require integrity, as Christ pointed out repeatedly. Truthfulness is not secured by an oath. Marital fidelity cannot co-exist with lust. Real good intentions do not sit with receiving public approbation. We cannot serve two masters. A lovely statement of this principle in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Yes, how we see shapes how we think, feel, act. Let’s watch how we see. Postmodern culture has tried to get rid of sin, repentance, remorse, forgiveness and this integrity. Sexual harassment and rape are wrong, but lust is OK. You can hate your enemies as long as you love your friends. But integrity of actions, in Jesus’ words, “practising what you preach” will not go away. Temptation is a real phenomenon, as advertisers recognise and broad is the road that leads to destruction. So, the need for piety and holiness, needed in all cultures, is especially needed in ours now.

The worldwide Christian truth of holiness.

We live in a fragmented western culture, disintegrating under the influence of vast media messages, a consumer culture where we can buy anything, people taught to shout their messages, politicians raised on falsified messages and religions worshipping the self, the experience, the reward, the state and the future. It has no real grasp of the holiness of the creation and God’s good planet and has undertaken a rape of the earth and seas. It is prepared to treat the death and ill-treatment of millions with indifference. It has adulated the self-vindication of millions of human actions with no sense that they might be held to account. I did it My Way rules in lives and funerals. Personalities dominate and persons are forgotten. The dark clouds of famine, refugees, desolation of the earth, war and economic failure are gathering. It is time the deep truth of God’s holiness, also given to us by Christ, is rediscovered and owned in our lives, so that we can find again whole, and holy, people, families, nations and steer by the holiness, not of the establishments, but of Jesus and the content of this great word can align our lives before God in humility and some truth.
More than this Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and other worldviews each seek in their own way the Holy Life, representing the majority of the world’s population by far. This Christian understanding speaks both of God and the human condition in its fullness, and a proper discussion on holiness, and the holiness of Christ, may be the way to unlock relations among these faith communities as well as in the wider population in the west.

Party Leaders, Winning, Emptiness and Popularity.


The Conservative Party needs a leader. Since Thatcher, long-lived and falsely successful leadership (North Sea Oil and selling off the State’s family silver) we have had John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, David Cameron and Teresa May in 27 years. May now faces a challenge, though she won the last election, because she might not win the next one. Note the central credo. A Conservative leader must win elections. Says who? Why MPs with seats to defend, who also largely select leaders in the Conservative Party.

Of course, Labour has proved no different. Corbyn had to go, and was rubbished by most of his party’s MPs until, at the 2017 election is became clear that Corbyn nearly won, was on the right side of history, supported by the young, and suddenly from deepest venom they all marched up the hill again and became Corbynistas. Fortunately, the leader had been schooled in several decades of insignificant unpopularity and may survive adulation, but the MPs clearly have few political principles and want to keep their seats warm. They change with the wind of Public Opinion Polls, or POP for short.

So, what is a democratic party? It is, in truth, (not used lightly) a shared body of convictions and principles which people believe should by conscience, preferably before God, shape the policies of government through elections. It is conscience (that great word), not power. It is the sifting of truth and error in public life, so that we might do what is right and good, and here’s the rub. Democratic parties are often wrong. Selling council houses in the 80s and 90s and not putting the money into new housebuilding was wrong. Deregulating banks was wrong. Invading Iraq was wrong. Allowing off-shore tax evasion was wrong. Cutting public services is wrong. Privatising rail was wrong. In fact, a high proportion of what parties advocate is wrong, aside the logic that given three or four parties disagree, being wrong must be a big part of politics.

But it is worse than this. The electorate is also (usually) wrong. A Republican Party which can choose Reagan, George W. Bush and now Trump is in a stage of terminal mindlessness, a world danger given its military dominance. We vote for Thatcher because she wins a war against Argentina or perhaps against a figure who coughs at a party conference. We vote for climate change deniers, or ignorers, in Gadarene droves. This is not said triumphally. Finding we are wrong, and learning from it, is one of the best routes to understanding on the planet. If ordinary Jews can be persuaded to vote for Barabbas and against Jesus, the human race has problems, as of course it has – now – in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Las Vegas, Kensington or wherever the wounded doctor puts his figure on the pulse. Learning what is wrong is a prophetically deep task, and the real precursors of democratic parties are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Socrates and John the Baptist, but especially Jesus in Matthew 23.

For we are all hypocrites:- taxation, but not for me, British self-interest, but not that of other nations, my pay high and others low, my house price rise and pseudo-concern for others, peace with nukes, Great Britain but not great France, cheap goods and slave labour, our boys courageous, but theirs do outrageous killing, my car pollution but cut greenhouse gases. We are in a deep hypocritical crisis.

What is this guy on about? May will have to go/stay. Trump will come and go. Putin will stay or go. It is all about power, democratic power, now media-centric power, the tweet of the President. So, the poor and jobless of middle America choose the born rich, mindless master of media exposure. It is all about power, even power prostituted by fake news, and leaders have to win. It is all about power. But it is not all about power. Jesus of Nazareth chose to rule from another place. His power was humble truth, hungering and thirsting for the right and just, loving enemies, knowing economic contentment and having no-where to lay his head. It was Pilate (Roman power) or Jesus (witnessing to the truth), and Jesus won, not with a knock-out blow, but by the long humble search for truth before the Spirit of God.

So today we face a crisis in party politics. The empty process of winning, of rubbishing the opposition, as though the truth does not matter, of seeking popularity as though the voter is always right, of choosing the vote winning leader irrespective of content, or forging the strap line for the election and using the people yet again.

Corbyn broke the mould, but is now rubbishing according to the culture. We need political repentance of an unprecedented kind to really rescue democratic party politics. We need to look to Christ, and see the crown of thorns truly.

The Fragmentation of Western Christianity and Addressing it.


This paper, appearing in stages, suggests western Christianity of differing types has fragmented and in part lost its way. As a result of this failure Secularisms of various kinds, some dangerous and destructive, have dominated the West and caused and are causing massive problems. It is time western Christianity recovered, and this primarily involves once again seeing and living the big picture of Christian truth and moving away from the subcultures and holes we have often dug ourselves into. Many of the two billion plus Christians around the world are already doing this in a variety of ways, and this paper merely throws in its contribution.

A Short History.

After the partial defeat of Fascism in 1945, an idolatry which sought to replace Christianity, like atheistic Communism and other modern movements, it seemed Christianity would be able to grow without persecution, except in the USSR and China. There were missionary movements planted in many countries which were honest and trusted and Christianity grew. Except it did not in the West as other cultural forces took over. These included Individualism, where life centred on me, Consumerism, where the advertising industry promised the new world to sell its goods, and Choice or Freedom, where the individual choosing his or her life was the most ultimate reality. New generations choose these ways, as the ideologies for them swamped churchgoing and Sunday School.
Gradually, years of teaching, prayer, churchgoing, family life conveying a Christian faith or ethos receded in varying degrees. God was not worshipped, except occasionally, or on Sunday and was marginalised in the media, especially television. There were compartments for Christianity – RE in schools, religious slots on radio and television, civic and national events, and for a lot of people the weekly church event, but Christianity was being marginalised.

There were also educational and intellectual challenges. Perhaps the main one was a scientific neutralism in the natural and human sciences which was philosophically and really without foundation, but claimed to know. Facts, causes, logic, data, evidence, theory described what is really the case and all other views were consigned to belief or ideology. In the popular mind evolution not a seven day creation proved God did not exist, and even more formative was the cultural division between the natural, what is explained by something else, and the supernatural, whatever might then be unexplained. Some Christians addressed these. Some secularists saw their own problems, but most did not. Even worse, many Christians slowly retreated from intellectual engagement.

Throughout this period there were good things. Millions of Christians lived mainly good lives, serving others, being reliable, having good standards of conduct and helping good economies emerge, stable and relatively peaceful states, health services, education systems and good marriages, families and relationships, although there were also Christian failings of course. These contributions are the great unwritten history of the late 20th century to be noticed only in the 21st century as they disappeared in selfishness, aggression and self-promotion.

But Christians did not reflect on their reactions. One was to churchify and internalize. They deliberate for decades on proposed church unities, sifting organisational quagmires. They spend decades on whether there should be women as vicars and bishops when men have been cross dressing for centuries. Ecclesiastical issues became so convoluted that no one could understand them. People did things in churches which were cultic and weird, and more sadly churches were bought off – Anglicans by the British establishment and American Christians by the Republican Party in what is one of the most serious issues on the planet. So, western Christians collaborated with Secularism, mainly because they wanted to be nice and fit in.

Within this internalisation, various Christian isms emerged. One of them was moralism, the ism which Christ opposed in the Pharisees. Another was liberalism, an accommodation with whatever new thought form might emerge in the culture. Another earlier one was fundamentalism, a flight from Darwinist thought and possible a white racist reaction to black Christianity. Another was Evangelicalism, growing out of the world-wide spread of Chriistianity, and taking various new turns. Another was the charismatic movement. Catholicism had its own set of emphases. These isms often reflected important aspects of Christianity, but they had an inability to reflect on their own limitations or see Christianity aright. They were subcultural. Just as earlier, denominations had seen Baptism, the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper ( or whatever you choose to call it) , Congregationalism, the Priesthood or something else as the defining issue, so these groups were subcultural. They made a bit the whole.

This was even worse in theology. Theologians, enamoured of their own work, often picked up a post trendy philosophy, grafted it into their theology, when it was already outdated, and spilled words on it. Even worse were those who undertook to defend God in theology, or “doctrine”, as it was often called, failing to notice that Christ’s teaching was infinitely more subtle and comprehensive than theirs. Often, they were essentialists, seeing one “doctrine” as the touchstone of all truth. It may be substitutionary atonement, or even more strangely “abortion” which carries the weight of all veracity. There is, of course, good theology, but the discipline strained at gnats and swallowed camels. They talked theology, but ignored the whole corpus of knowledge world-wide into which Christianity has spoken for two millenia and now should have been speaking to billions who were, or might become, Christians.

Culture moves fast, especially with the internet and television. Now the crap of militarism, western and Islamic, is let loose on the world. Western capitalism has conquered with its own self-serving faith. The process of individualism is driving billions to success at the expense of others. The planet is in danger from fast, or slower, destruction though the human predicament of sins and idolatry, yet Christianity, especially in the West, and despite the bigger wisdom of Pope Francis and others, is fragmented and not up to the task it should face. It is time to wake up, friends, and this essay will try to provide breakfast in a number of later additions.

Good Morning, troopers,


It is exciting that you have turned out in such large numbers and have managed to finish breakfast by this unearthly hour. My first hope for Brexit is that the Full English breakfast will be returned to its proper place, preferably served on silverware. It is only a F.E.B start to the day that allows the work and government of the day to be finished before 4 o’clock and we should put it in our manifesto.

This is an important speech on an important subject, and I must not be sidetracked by other issues. Let me say what an outstanding, indeed even good, leader, Teresa May is in these challenging times for our country. And when she is gone, we will be eternally grateful for what she has done. As your Foreign Secretary I face challenges from Russia, Syria, Burma, China and the British Virgin Islands. In fact, there is nothing I enjoy more than the challenge from the British Virgin Isles. Ho. Ho. Ho. Fortunately, the horrible hurricanes did not actually hit our investments. I was a teeny bit worried and asked one of our Treasury wallahs about it. He said that the money was not actually there. But I have every confidence that old Hammo will be able to find it somewhere in the Empire.

Which brings me to my next topic. I am determined to find the money we have got. We are a rich country, but we have put the dosh under the mattress somewhere, and haven’t been able to find it. I lose things all the time. But they are not really lost. The servants can always find them. The key issue in Brexit is that we have lost a lot of money in Europe. We give it away every year, and Italian tourists don’t spend all their £s and then take them back home. So, my policy on Brexit is to find the money under the mattress, so that we can spend it on the NHS and nurses and things. We must get the best deal on Brexit and not a second longer. If we let Europe get too uppity, we are on the road to Mandalay, as Virgil said in the Iliad. My deepest thought on this is to remember Euro. Euro is EU owe, get it? Wot Ho. They owe. We get it.

But I must get back to my subject. Some of you wallahs may have read my book on Churchill, an amazing man, the greatest leader we ever had. He fought against great odds. He only went to Harrow and was too small to play in the scrum, but he came through. When the time was right he fought against Europe, or bits of it, when our backs were to the wall. He fought them in the beeches. That is what we must do now, with the right leader. Some of my Foreign Office guys point out that Europe is not fighting us. That is probably true, but it must not stop the Dunkirk spirit, and we must end this class stuff and all get down in the scrum and push together.

The trouble is we are pushing, but the opposition will not put the ball in. So I say to Europe, Put The Ball In, or placer le sphere en, or whatever, and I am prepared to lead the push on a level playing field. At this time, we need some weight in the scrum and we will push to victory when we leave Europe and they go back to the pavilion. We will push and I will keep my head down until the job is done.

So, thank you for coming this morning. This conference is about confidence, about confidence in your leader, and I salute you. Teresa May, or May not, (get the pun), be our leader at the next election, but I will serve as I am asked, especially now David and George have left the field. So, thank you troopers for listening to this momentous talk on this momentous topic.

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