Mary’s Story Continued


After eight days, Joseph came and circumcised the baby. How he wailed! It felt cruel, though I knew it was the right thing to do, even in this strange place we must obey the Jewish laws. We also formally gave him the name Yeshua, the name we had been told to give him by the angel all those months ago.

I wondered if Joseph minded, people would know it wasn’t a family name. I also had no one called Yeshua in my own family, though I did know a boy from my childhood with the name.

***

After forty days, we had to travel to Jerusalem, to pay for redemption at the temple. As Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, we had to pay five shekels of silver. We couldn’t afford a lamb, so bought two pigeons to sacrifice.

It was nice to leave Bethlehem and to have some exercise at last, to see people and to take my baby into the world. I felt quite excited as I approached the temple, our holy place. I didn’t recognise anyone, but everyone could see we had a new baby and lots of the women came over to see him. I felt so happy!

We walked through the Beautiful Gate and up to the Gate of Nicanor.

It was then that something strange happened. As Joseph and I walked through the temple, a man approached us. He came to look at Yeshua and indicated that he wanted to hold him. That was a little unusual but there was something about him, something that made you sure he was a good man, someone you could trust.

When he looked at the baby, the old man got all emotional and prayed, thanking God and saying that now he could die in peace. He blessed me and Joseph too and then he leant towards me and said something which was very strange.

He said Yeshua would cause “the fall and rising of many in Israel” and would be “a sign that would be opposed so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

What does that mean? I know that he is God’s own son and that he is part of the plan to establish God’s reign on earth. Will he be opposed? Surely everyone will accept God’s anointed one, we have waited so long for him.

But then he said something that made me afraid; this old man with his determined face and bright eyes. His face was very near, I could smell his breath.

He said that a sword would pierce my soul.

Something inside contracted, all the joy of entering the temple evaporated into a lump of fear. Fear and anger. I practically snatched Yeshua away from him. I want my son to grow strong and be happy, will I suffer for this? I will do everything in my power to protect him; he is mine.

I knew I was tired, not getting enough sleep and it was hard to care for a new baby in a strange place without my mother to help me. I felt that I did not want to hear the man’s words, even if they were true. I was coping with enough, and I felt that although I had been brave, I couldn’t be brave any more.

Thankfully the man left us and almost at once an old lady approached. She was ancient, her white hair showed under her mitpahath and she leant heavily on a stick. What I noticed most were her eyes. They almost sparkled! You could tell at once that she was a holy woman and also one who loved to laugh.

As soon as she saw Yeshua, the elderly woman started to pray loudly, thanking God and telling people nearby that if they wanted Jerusalem to be redeemed, they should look to the baby. I was glad that no Romans were allowed in the temple; we would have been in trouble.

We finished making the offerings and then went back to Bethlehem. I didn’t know whether to tell Joseph what the old man had told me. I kept thinking about his words, worrying about what they might mean. I was so tired, I decided I would wait and maybe tell him later.

***

The months passed and we settled into life in Bethlehem. We moved into a little house and Joseph found work on the many building projects that the Romans have introduced.

Yeshua continued to thrive. He grew into a sturdy toddler and would walk around the room holding onto the stools and baskets. I loved to feel his solid weight when I carried him on my hip, the light touch of his chubby fingers when he reached up to touch my face. There was pure joy in the gurgle of his giggles. He started to sleep much better at night and Joseph and I were thinking about having another child. But then everything changed.

It was one evening, still quite early but we had filled the lamp with olive oil and lit the linen wick. Joseph put it on a bushel basket, so the room was well lit and we could talk about the day. Suddenly, there was a banging at the door.

Joseph went at once and there, in the road, was a group of Persian travellers. They had dismounted from their horses and were peering intently into the house. They told Joseph they had seen a star and had come to worship the king. I was so glad I hadn’t gone to bed yet!

We let them into the house and I went to get Yeshua. He was damp from sleep and his tired eyes looked blearily around him. I wondered if he would cry but he seemed fascinated by our strange visitors. They wore their hair in long curls and one had a band of gold on his head. It glinted in the lamp light and I could see Yeshua watching it intently. Their clothes were patterned with birds and flowers.

We offered them wine; it was clear they were tired from their journey. I was embarrassed that we only had two stools to offer them, but they didn’t seem to mind and in fact insisted that I should sit on one with Yeshua and they were happy to sit on the rush mat. They didn’t really sit anyway, they wanted to kneel before Yeshua.

Then they gave him gifts. They were beautiful to look at. They gave him gold, signifying that he is a king. They gave him frankincense. The strong aroma filled the house and I wondered if Yeshua was to be a priest, even though he is not descended from Levi. They also gave him myrrh. Myrrh is costly but is for embalming a body. It was a strange gift for a baby and I wondered what it meant.

They told us their story before they left. In their Persian home, they were magi, watching the stars and foretelling the future. Many months ago, at the time of Yeshua’s birth, they had seen a special star which they knew meant a powerful new king had been born and they determined they would find him and worship him. Unfortunately, following the star caused them to go to Jerusalem first (I always knew that star gazing was a misleading activity). They went to Herod’s palace and asked where the new king was. This was scary; Herod had shown he was not a king to be trusted and his cruelty was well known. I would not have wanted to visit his palace.

However, it sounded as though he had decided to be helpful. Herod asked the scribes to research the early scriptures and they discovered that the promised king was to be born in Bethlehem. The king told the Easterners, asking them to find the king and then return and tell him the exact location, so that he too could worship.

I wondered what would happen next. Would Herod himself come to visit my precious baby or would we be summoned to the palace? This was not a comfortable thought.

I also wondered: why had the palace scribes not come to visit us? Why didn’t they travel with the Easterners to see the baby? Did they not believe the scriptures that they studied so diligently? Surely, if they were truly expecting a redeemer they would also have come? I frowned, feeling uneasy. There was something that I didn’t understand, and it nagged at me.

The men left. They planned to sleep in an inn and return to Jerusalem the next day. We could not offer them lodging in our tiny house and they seemed content to leave now they had seen Yeshua.

I returned Yeshua to bed and soon afterwards Joseph and I also went to sleep.

I had not been asleep for long when Joseph woke me. He shook me awake, then went to light the lamp. I could see his face was tense and instantly turned to check Yeshua was well. He was sleeping soundly.

Joseph told me I needed to get up—at once—we needed to leave. He said that he had had a dream, like the dream when the angel told him that the baby inside me was God’s son. It was so intense, so real, that he could not ignore it. Joseph said he had been told we must leave Bethlehem, leave Israel; Yeshua is in danger, Herod plans to kill him.

For a moment I paused, wondering why I too had not been warned. But then understanding flooded through me, as I realised—God had told Joseph to take care of me and Yeshua—that was a hard task for a man, to care for a son that was not his own. So now, God was telling Joseph alone what we needed to do, underlining his role, establishing him as head of our family. It was a kind act, asserting Joseph’s value, his part in all this.

I began to pack our things, Joseph was hurrying me, telling me to only take what was essential, we needed to leave.

We were to go to Egypt. Egypt! Could this be right? Was Yeshua not to be king of the Jews? I packed hurriedly and we left that very night.

What would the future hold? Would we ever return to our home town? The future was uncertain but I knew that something bigger than us was happening. Whatever happened, God had a plan and no one could alter the course of that, not Herod, not the Romans. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were part of the plan—and that was enough.

******

Thank you for reading.

This account necessarily involves some imagination but I believe it is also as historically correct as possible (and more accurate than some of our Christmas carols!)
If you are aware of any historical errors, please tell me and I will modify it.
I used a variety of sources including:
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke
Geoffrey Bromily (1995)
William Hendriksen
William Barclay
Joseph P Amar (university of Notre Dame)
Michael Marlowe
Tessa Afshar
Kenneth Bailey

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading
anneethompson.com
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Mary’s Story


I travelled to Bethlehem in a small cart. Every bump (and there were many) was agony. As I was jolted along, I was racked with pain. The baby’s time was near, you see and the pain was almost unbearable. Later, they would sing songs about a cute donkey carrying me. Nice thought! I don’t think there’s any way you could have got me on a donkey. As each contraction cramped every muscle in my torso, I huddled up like an animal and prayed for it to be over.

I could see Joseph, watching me as he walked alongside. He really didn’t have the first idea what to do. Oh, how I wanted my mother. I yearned for her to be there, holding my hand, telling me everything was all right and would be over soon.

When we arrived at Joseph’s uncle’s house, the women folk came and helped me inside. The room was crowded. All Joseph’s male relatives from miles around had come to the house for shelter and food. The women were busy cooking supper and the men were drinking wine and comparing stories. They all told Joseph how much he resembled his grandfather, Matthan and laughed at old stories from years ago. The smell of fish and fresh bread was nauseating. I was so tired and so uncomfortable.

Joseph knew I was suffering and asked if there was somewhere quiet that I could go. There was no chance that we would get a place in the inn, they had filled up days ago. Somewhere quiet, in a little house packed with relatives?

There were some fraught discussions and then his aunt suggested that the animal shelter, down on the lower floor of the house, might be best. It wasn’t terribly clean, but it would be quiet and private and at least it wouldn’t smell of fish.

Joseph helped me to go down, and a couple of the women came too. One of them examined me and told me the baby was a long way off yet, first babies always take their time in coming. This was not great news but I felt better having her there. I felt that she knew what was happening, had seen this before; it took some of the fear away.

I was frightened, you see. I was horribly afraid that somehow I would damage my baby. My baby and God’s. I knew he was going to be special, I knew I had a great task ahead of me but it all seemed to be going horribly wrong. I trusted that God was still in control but he felt so far away.

Could the baby not have been born in a palace, surrounded by comfort? Would these poor beginnings really be part of a plan? Could they really make this king accessible to the people? I had no idea.

I was a mere girl; I had no education and my memory of scriptures was often fuzzy. To be honest, at this present moment, I didn’t even care. I just wanted this baby OUT! Special or not, my body was tired of carrying him, tired of being stretched and pushed, of fitting something inside that was now too big to be there. I needed this baby to be born and I was too exhausted to wait much longer.

How I longed for sleep. The pain in my back was terrible. Great waves of cramp that seared through my body, making me oblivious to everything else. I was vaguely aware that someone was sweeping the floor and moving the animals to a far corner. They had laid out a mattress and blankets for me to rest on but I couldn’t lie still for long. I felt better standing, rocking in time with the pain, trying to remember to breathe: in out, in out. Someone offered me water but I couldn’t drink. I wasn’t thirsty—I just wanted this baby to be born.

I could see Joseph with his big anxious eyes watching me. He didn’t know what to do. Someone suggested he should go into the house to eat and I nodded in agreement. There was nothing he could do and the poor man must have been tired too. He had endured such an emotional time lately. First there was his fear and anger when he first heard about the baby (now that was a difficult conversation!) Then he had to endure the smirks of his friends when the pregnancy became public knowledge. He never complained, but I know he felt embarrassed, wished that God could have chosen a different girl.

We had been travelling for five days, with hardly any rest and the last couple of days had been chilly. I know he felt the burden of caring for me, watching for bandits on the roads and wondering if we would make it to Bethlehem in time. If the baby had come early, I don’t know what he’d have done—left me with strangers on the road somewhere I guess and come to register on his own. One didn’t mess with a Roman decree. . .

The pain eventually became almost constant. Joseph had eaten and rested but I continued to sway in discomfort in the little room of animals. Every so often one of them would poop, and although the women with me cleaned it up quickly, the smell pervaded the atmosphere. It was hard to ignore.

I could hear the musicians gathering, someone must have told them the birth would be soon. They would stand outside, waiting to hear whether the baby was a boy so they could play. That gave me hope, maybe soon the baby would arrive.

Then at last, in a final searing pain, the baby was born. I looked down at his blue waxy body as he wriggled on the blanket, and I knew that he was mine. My love for him was overwhelming. He was part of me, I would die rather than let anything hurt him.

One of the women wiped him down with oil and salt and I held him in my arms while they looked for the swaddling bands in our luggage.

How beautiful he was. His indigo eyes would soon turn brown and they gazed at me trustingly. I loved him with my whole being.

Outside, there was the sound of music and singing as the musicians heralded the arrival of a boy, and I smiled, knowing they would have quietly slid away into the night if the baby had been a girl. But there had been no chance of that, not this time.

Joseph came and took the baby from me. He held the tiny baby in his giant carpenter’s hands, hands that spoke of hard work and safety. He didn’t say anything, this man who had been chosen to protect me; he simply stared at the baby—looking, wondering.

Then the baby started to mouth for food and Joseph passed him back. The women showed me how to feed him, but he was soon asleep. Then we gently wrapped him in the swaddling bands, securing his tiny limbs so he would feel snug and secure and his bones would grow straight and true. He was so beautiful. It was hard to remember what the angel had told me, that this was God’s son too. I began to wonder if I had imagined it, if it were all a dream. This baby did not look like God, he was a baby. My baby.

“If it’s true God,” I thought, “Let there be another sign. He is so little and I love him so much. Is all this travelling, and squashing into a crowded house with the animals, really part of the plan? Are you still in control? Can you still see me? Remind me again…”

I too needed to sleep. Joseph fetched fresh hay and put it in the animal’s manger, covering it with a soft blanket. I didn’t want him to put the baby there, I wanted to keep him on the bed next to me, but Joseph was worried I might roll on him in my sleep. Then he laid the baby down and told me to sleep. He looked deep into my eyes and brushed my collar bone lightly with his fingers.

“Soon you’ll be truly mine,” he whispered. I knew what he meant and felt myself blush.
I was so tired, I thought I would sleep for a week.

I actually slept for about two hours. I was abruptly woken by loud voices and a draft of cold air as the door was flung open. There, standing uncertainly in the doorway was a group of youths. Their clothes were dirty and exuded the strong smell of sheep. Joseph was with them.

“Mary? Are you awake?” he asked.

It would be hard not to be with all the noise from outside.

“These shepherds want to see the baby. They were told by angels where they could find him and they have come to look at him.”

I checked I was decently covered before nodding, letting Joseph know that it was all right, they could come in. They trouped into the room. They seemed so big and clumsy in such a small space, with their long limbs and rough clothes. I worried they might hurt the baby.

But they didn’t try to touch him, they just stared for a while and then one of them knelt and they all followed suit, kneeling before the manger, staring at the baby.

Then they told me their story, how they had been in the fields and an angel had appeared. They had thought they were going to die, to be struck down right where they were.

The angel had reassured them, told them that a saviour had been born, the Christ who we’ve all been waiting for. They would find him lying in a manger. Then suddenly there were lots of angels, all praising God and saying he was pleased with people on earth.

After the angels had gone, finding they were still alive after all, the shepherds decided to come at once and see for themselves. It was as though they couldn’t quite believe what they had seen and heard, they needed to actually see the baby with their own eyes.

I felt so humbled and so cared for. God had heard my thoughts. He was reassuring me. It was all his plan, not some terrible mistake; circumstances hadn’t caused us to drop out of his control, he could still see me. We were meant to be here. He even knew about the manger!

I listened and smiled and treasured my thoughts.

The shepherds left as noisily as they came. I could hear them in the streets, shouting their news, telling everyone what had happened. They were so excited, I expect they woke up half the town. They had of course woken the baby who was now crying with a thin wail that jarred my nerves and was impossible to ignore. I fed him some more and then we both slept. A tired, contented sleep borne from exhaustion and wonder.

***

Continued tomorrow.

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Notes on Matthew’s Gospel


Notes on Matthew.

I am reading The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays, and below is a summary of his chapter on Matthew. It’s a very interesting book (and if you decide to buy a copy, it’s cheapest as a Kindle book from Amazon, but if you want a physical copy, then Amazon seem to be the most expensive. I ordered a copy from Abe Books for half the price).

The Gospel of Matthew was written about 50 A.D. so after the Gospel of Mark, and the letters of Paul. The temple had been destroyed, and the Jewish Rabbis were striving to keep the Jewish people separate by concentrating on the laws of the Torah. In contrast, the early church was reaching out to Gentiles (non-Jews). All the early issues about Jewish law (like eating only clean animals) had probably already been sorted out during the time of Paul’s ministry, so Matthew doesn’t address them at all.

Matthew is writing an apologue (a moral story). He writes about an ordered world, where Jesus has all authority. The disciples are now forming a community, with an emphasis on teaching and obedience.

The book has a clear beginning (the genealogy of Jesus) and a clear ending (the commissioning of the disciples). It establishes Jesus’ authority as the Messiah. The birth story is interesting, as it has the same typology as Moses’ birth story (‘typology’ just means ‘classification’). Moses was a deliverer and a law giver, and Matthew parallels this with the story of Jesus. He uses phrases like: ‘When Jesus had said these words…’ which is the same as the phrase often used in Hebrew, in the story about Moses.

The book is written as narrative, describing the activities of Jesus, and this provides a framework for big chunks of teaching. Matthew shows that: Jesus taught with authority, wise people obey his teaching, Jesus fulfils the law and the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus did not supersede the law, but rather he showed what the core meaning was, and called people to obey the essence of the law rather than thoughtlessly follow the letter of the law.

Matthew is basically all about living righteously, and showing mercy. Both aspects matter. He writes that an ‘unrepentant brother’ should be treated like a ‘tax collector’ or a ‘Gentile.’ I always understood this to mean the person should be rejected, cast out of the church. But Hays points out that Matthew has already shown that Jesus sought out tax collectors, and the disciples were told to preach to the Gentiles. Therefore, the unrepentant brother should be treated the same, shown mercy, and be a focus for their teaching. Whilst he would no longer be part of the church, the church should continue to try and reach him.

Matthew’s teaching about Jesus’ returning is still strong, but it’s less immediate. I guess he had already waited for 50 odd years, so unlike Mark and Paul, he was no longer expecting it to happen tomorrow. His emphasis is that God is with us now (a point he makes right at the beginning, when Jesus’ birth is foretold). When the church meets, Jesus is present.

Hays comments that Matthew is rewriting many of the stories in Mark, but adding his own explanations. He uses the stories to show his theology. For example, in the story of Jesus walking on the water, Hays thinks that Matthew is using the narrative to make a point, showing that the church (represented by Peter in the story) is being battered by persecution (represented by waves and wind in the story) and they will survive only if they keep their focus on Jesus and have faith that he is with them. Matthew adds the declaration of the disciples: ‘You are the Son of God’ at the end of the story, because this is something that the church of his time understood. (In Mark’s Gospel, the story ends with a rather gloomy comment about the disciples being amazed and not understanding because they were in a muddle over an earlier miracle.) The story adds to Matthew’s overall message, that God is with us now, however things seem, which is good news for everyone.

Matthew writes about Jesus coming unexpectedly, and that people should be ready. They must prepare by good living (because God will reward or punish people accordingly). He also calls people to have mercy and be compassionate towards the needy, because this is the essence of ‘good living.’

***

Thanks for reading, I will continue this tomorrow.

Have a great day, and take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading.
anneethompson.com
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Being Part of the Story


In a novel, every character has a back story. The main plot might be about a governess falling in love with the master of the house, but before she met him, she was a poor orphan, raised by an uncaring aunt and sent to a harsh boarding school. Sometimes we learn the history right at the beginning, and sometimes the information is dripped to us, silver drops of information given as the story unfolds. Occasionally, the back story is more interesting than the main plot.

In real life, people have a back story too. Sometimes we learn it when we meet them, usually we discover it as we get to know them better. But we never learn the whole  story, we never see the entire cast of people that influenced them, we never completely understand.

Weirdly, our own lives are like that too, but in reverse. We know the back story—who shaped us, what moulded us into the people we are today—but we don’t know the next bit. We don’t know what will happen next, what is coming in our life, and what will happen after we have gone. We also don’t know who we have influenced, how many people we have been the back story for.

After Christmas, as the old year ends and a new one arrives, we start to take stock. To think about these things in our own life. Have we lived a good year? Will the next one be better?

I was thinking about this while I read the bit in the Bible when the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, regains his speech and he makes a long prophecy all about his baby son and the man who would come after him (Jesus). It’s a song about being saved from enemies, serving God without fear, being led into peace. I’m sure when he said it, he believed it was true.

But here’s the thing. The people who heard that prophecy would then have watched the baby grow into a weird man who lived in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey, shouting about God and then being beheaded. Not much there about peace, not exactly saved from enemies. And it gets worse, because pretty soon after that, instead of being saved from Roman occupation, everything got harder for the Jews, their temple was destroyed, they were scattered around the world. Generations later, they may have heard about Zechariah’s words, shaken their heads, and agreed he was wrong. So very, very wrong.

It is only after all these things, now we know more about why the baby John came, how he was part of the plan for Jesus, part of the bigger plan of God, that we understand. God’s plan was never to save the Jews from the Romans, he had a bigger plan. Zechariah was part of the plan, but he didn’t understand it, he didn’t even really understand what the plan was, or how it would unfold. But he was part of it. His life mattered beyond what he could see.

I want my life to matter, don’t you? Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter at all, I have never achieved anything great—even my garden is bit of a mess. But if I keep trying to live how God wants me to live, talking to him, trying to respond to his voice, then I can be part of the plan, even if I don’t see it. The great people of history were all influenced by someone, and those people, the hidden characters of the back story, were crucial to the outcome. When you think of someone great, a person in history who achieved something wonderful, try to imagine who was in their back story. Someone taught them to be kind, to be brave, to control their temper, and without those people, the greatness wouldn’t exist.

I might always be in the background, I might never be a great leader of people, a famous author, the person who changes the world. But I am part of the back story, even if I don’t actually see it, and so are you. We matter, we influence the outcome, we just have to keep trying to be the people who we are meant to be. The wonderful thing is that this never ends, however old we are, however ill we might be, we can still be part of the back story. What we say and do, how we live, can matter, even in the tiniest of ways, it matters. We can all be part of the plan.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, and happy new year.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Can You Bring Some Fish?


I am scribbling this in the few minutes before I nip downstairs to start to cooking dinner. I am meant to be revising. My Greek and Hebrew exams are imminent, and every spare moment is spent chanting words or skim-reading textbooks and trying to make sense of my notes. If there weren’t exams looming, it would be quite fun. If nothing else it provides me with the perfect excuse to not do housework (don’t even think about how dirty my kitchen floor is…)

A selection of language textbooks

Anyway, I am currently translating a passage from John’s Gospel, the very last chapter, when the disciples have gone fishing and Jesus appears on the beach. He asks them if they have caught any fish, and when they say no, he tells them to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish they can barely struggle to shore. Jesus is cooking fish over a fire, and he asks them to bring some of the fish they caught, and eat breakfast with him. He then asks Peter whether he loves him.

Modern fishing boats.

Do you remember the story? Here are some of the things that I notice in the Greek version:

Firstly, the story seems to begin when Peter announces that he is going fishing. This is interesting because he used to be a fisherman, before he started to follow Jesus. Since then he has been a disciple for a few years, culminating in a terrible night when he denies knowing Jesus and then Jesus is killed. But after this, Jesus appears again to the disciples (so Peter knows that Jesus is alive) and Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem. So, when Peter decides to go fishing, he seems to be ignoring the command to stay in the city.

Why would he do that? Perhaps he was fed up with waiting. Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps—because he had failed Jesus so spectacularly—he didn’t think the command applied to him. You can decide.

When Jesus greets the fishermen, he calls them children. A greeting of: “Hey kids, have you caught anything?” Why would he call them children? It doesn’t seem to fit with fishermen. Was he teasing them? It’s too hard to guess from the Greek, so you can decide.

‘The disciple who Jesus loved’ (probably John) realises that it’s Jesus and tells Peter, who grabs his clothes, and leaps into the water. He would have been naked, because in those days, nudity was more convenient than lots of laundry and most active work would have been undertaken without clothes. (The gymnasts all performed naked, it wasn’t a big deal.)

When the disciples arrive on the beach, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire, cooking bread and fish. Where did the fire come from? Where did the bread and fish come from? We don’t know. But I think the really interesting bit is that Jesus then tells the disciples to bring some of the fish that they have just caught, and to come and have breakfast. Now, why did he want them to bring their own fish? Did Jesus not manage to bring enough? Seems unlikely. Did Jesus not realise how many disciples were going to be at the breakfast? Seems unlikely. Therefore, Jesus must have planned to not have enough. He planned to need what the disciples were able to offer (which he had helped them to catch in the first place).

What then, are the implications for us today? I think God chooses to need what we can offer. And if we don’t do our bit, then there won’t be enough. Whatever it is that we have to offer, however pathetic it might seem to us, that is what God needs. God then accepts our help. This is huge. I don’t think God pretends, I think he genuinely does need our help in whatever area we happen to have something to offer. Yes, he could do it all himself, just like Jesus could have produced enough fish along with the bread and the fire—but he didn’t.

I also think, that if we are meant to be following Jesus’ example, living like he did, then we too should be accepting help from others. We are meant to be a team, everyone with something to offer. If we want to help others, we need to also think about how they can help us, because then the relationship is equal. That seems to be the example we were given to follow. Mostly, we’re pretty bad at copying it.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find something to offer–and accept–this week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Do Names Matter?


What’s in a Name?

You might remember that I told you that ancient Hebrew did not have vowels (this seems to have been a thing with ancient languages—not sure why). The vowel signs were written later, a few in the 6th century BC, and then more in about the 9th century AD, when Hebrew was not spoken outside of the religious text and people were worried that everyone would forget how words should properly be pronounced. A group of scholars (the Masoretes) added little symbols below the letters, to show where the vowel sounds should be made.

The personal name of God was considered very special. I have no idea why Christians don’t also consider God’s name to be special, but we don’t tend to limit how/when we use it. If the Queen came to visit, we would refer to her as “Ma’am” or “Your Majesty” and only a person with no respect for the monarchy would talk about “Elizabeth coming to visit,” far less, “I’m going to see Liz.” The Jews give this same respect to God’s name, and they avoid saying it.

Now, here’s the interesting bit. When they added the vowels to the personal name of God, they used the vowels that actually corresponded to one of the titles for God, not his actual name. This reminded people not to read the name, but instead say ‘Adonai’ which is a title. The term for this would translate in English to ‘written-read’ because although something is written you read something different.

If we were to do this with the Queen, we would take the vowels from Majesty: a e and add them to the consonants of her personal name: LaZBeTH. LaZBeTH is not an actual name, people reading it would see the oddly-placed vowels, and remember to read: “Majesty.”

As I said, Christians don’t seem to have this same form of respect for God’s name. (Though to be fair, when God’s name appears in the Bible, it has been translated as LORD all in capitals.) Christians today mostly are not aware of this. In fact, they even have songs that combine both the personal name, and the ‘made-up’ name (Jehovah) and they sing them—sometimes I suspect thoughtlessly—without even being aware that the term ‘Jehovah’ is a sort of non-word created by the Jews to avoid saying God’s personal name. The J at the beginning of Jehovah is because that is how a ‘y’ sound was translated in the original German, and the word first appeared during the time of the Protestant Reformation and simply shows that they didn’t understand much Hebrew. ‘Jehovah’ is not a word.

I wonder what a Jew, listening to Christians being so casual with the name of God, would think about that. I wonder what God thinks about that.

What do you think about that? I’m sure that some people would say that God is more concerned with how we show our respect for him through what we say and do, than how we address him, and perhaps that is correct. But I’m not so sure. As I am learning Hebrew, and listening to my lecturer and various scholars online, I am noticing that most of them avoid using the personal name of God, and when they reached the word יְהוָה they tend to read ‘Adonai.’ I don’t know whether this is a sign of respect to the Jews whose language is being spoken, or to God. Perhaps the two reasons are the same.

Thank you for reading.

Anne E. Thompson
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Words in Despair


What did Jesus say on the cross?

I learnt something interesting recently. I think I am slightly behind the curve, and maybe you knew this already—when Jesus was dying on the cross, he was probably reciting Psalm 22.

I knew that the psalm links to the crucifixion, as it seems to describe exactly how Jesus would be feeling, and some of the actions listed (like gambling to see who would win his clothes) actually happened at the time. I have always thought it was a poem, written about 600 years earlier, to describe how Jesus felt (because God can write things before they happen). But it had never occurred to me that Jesus, in his darkest time, would have recited it.

I learnt about it in a Greek lesson, because the words of Jesus on the cross were recorded by the gospel writers. But here’s the thing: the gospels were written in Greek, and each writer added their own slant. So in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) they want to show how Jesus suffered on the cross and so they recite (but in Greek):

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (See Matthew 27 vs 46)

However, when John wrote his book, he wanted to show how everything about Jesus’ life was planned by God, and the crucifixion was part of that plan, and so he quotes the end of Jesus’ words:

“It is finished.” (See John 19 vs 30)

As I said, John was writing in Greek, and in Greek they are able to write in tense that shows something has happened in the past—but the consequences have not finished, it is on-going. In English we can do this with certain words, so if we say: “I became a vegetarian a year ago” it can be assumed we are still a vegetarian now (but not necessarily, because English doesn’t have the same clever tenses that Greek does).

John used this tense when he wrote the final words of Jesus. It was finished, in the past, but the consequences will continue.

Of course, Jesus wouldn’t have recited the Psalm in Greek, he spoke Hebrew/Aramaic. I don’t know enough Hebrew yet to tell you whether they have the same clever tenses that Koine Greek does, so I only know that he probably recited Psalm 22 when he was on the cross.

Does this knowledge make a difference?

Well, the stuff about the gospel writers using Greek to give an angle on what was said is interesting, but probably doesn’t affect me overly. But the idea that Jesus quoted scripture at his most difficult time makes me think that perhaps this is something I should aspire to do. If Jesus came to give us an example of how to live, maybe when life is hard for me, I should also recite scripture—perhaps it would comfort me and help me to focus on better things than the horrible situation I am coping with. I will probably never suffer anything on the same scale as being crucified, but everyone has dark times, don’t they? We all feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Of course, I can only recite scripture if I have previously learnt it. Which is not something that’s very fashionable these days. Perhaps it should be. I think I will try.

Psalm 22 is very long, so I won’t start with that one. I think it might be a good one to learn next year—perhaps as a discipline for Lent. Do you want to join me? We could learn a few lines every day, and by Easter we will know the whole Psalm. I will divide the Psalm into segments and post them on my blog (I can predate things now, so next year they will arrive in emails to my followers). It will be good for our brains if nothing else!

For now, I will try to learn Psalm 1 (because it’s short). It would be good for me to learn it in Hebrew, as that’s my current challenge—I will let you know how I get on.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find some interesting challenges this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Anne E. Thompson

Hebrew in a Nutshell



I have now completed the first half-term of Hebrew. I find that learning a new language tends to go through certain stages.
Stage 1: Everything is new and exciting, I know nothing, so there’s no pressure and I enjoy the ‘differentness’ of the language. This is quickly followed about a week later by a feeling of panic as I start to think I will never understand it, and even making the correct sounds is impossible, never mind understanding anything.


Stage 2: A few things begin to be familiar (with Mandarin and Hebrew, this is simply the letters, with other languages I begin to recognise words). I start learning vocabulary, I have a feel for how the language sounds, I feel I am making progress. All is wonderful.


Stage 3: I begin to realise how little I understand, I seem to forget more than I remember, the number of grammar rules is overwhelming, I feel like the stupidest person on the planet (after all, even tiny children can speak what I am struggling to learn). Continuing at this point is sheer determination.


Stage 4: I start to grasp some of the grammar, I notice I am making tiny steps forward, and I know lots more than when I started. I cling on to the belief that I will improve and delight in being able to recognise the occasional word or phrase, and I feel as if I actually understand something of the language whilst also recognising that there is a mountain of grammar rules waiting to be learnt.


Stage 5: I have full understanding of the grammar rules, can read and speak fluently, I have arrived. (I have never actually reached stage 5 in any language so am guessing! There might be more stages between 4 and 5, ask a linguist.)


I am currently between stages 2 and 3 with Hebrew. Here is an overview of what I have learnt so far (potentially with mistakes because I am new at this).

Hebrew is read from right to left:

.siht ekil kool dluow hsilgnE  ni ecnetnes a oS

All the letters are consonants. So “Hello!” would look like: “LLH.” The verbs are written underneath the letter they follow:

LLH
o  e

Hebrew has its own alphabet, so the letters actually look like this:

אבגדהוזחטי

All the words seem to be three letters long, with extra letters added to the front and back to confuse foreigners/add meaning. For example, in English we would write: He wanted to… but in Hebrew they would add letters to mean ‘he’ and ‘to’ onto the root of the other words. To make it more interesting/confusing, I think they sometimes remove letters from the root word as well. The letters that are added seem to change depending on the mood of the author, but I suspect there are further rules that we will learn at some point.

At the moment, my brain approaches Hebrew like a code to be deciphered rather than a language. This causes problems, as although I have learnt certain individual words, I don’t always recognise them in a text, because they are not yet ‘words’ for me, they are symbols which when I see them in isolation, I can give the correct translation to. To try and alter this, I decided to try and learn some modern Hebrew along-side the ancient Hebrew—because they are pretty similar at this level. It is sort of working, as for example I know that the words that sound like: “Tov me-odd” mean ‘very good’ and when I decipher the symbols that sound like ‘me-odd’ I can smile and say ‘very.’

To learn modern Hebrew, I bought a few CDs and a DVD for Husband. He enjoyed the Homeland series on Netflix, and it’s based on an Israeli series, so I bought him a copy of the original. It’s always good to share your interests with your spouse. He was less delighted than you might think, but we are dutifully watching it each evening and when I need to translate passages about spies, terrorism and torture in the Bible, I will have a real advantage.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a good week.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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A Story of Trees


It’s nearly 2021—will you be making a new year’s resolution? Is there something that you would like to change about yourself, and how will you plan for a new improved self? I guess we all have dreams and aspirations, and some of them we pursue until we reach them, and others dwindle away into nothing. To be honest, I’m quite glad that some of my dreams evaporated into nothing—especially the ones I had as a teenager—otherwise I’d be in a right mess now!

The trouble with looking ahead and wishing for things that we don’t have, is that sometimes we stop appreciating what we have right now. Maybe, instead of planning to improve things we should sometimes stop and look around at what we already have, and be grateful.

I recently found a story, which sort of links with this idea. I have never noticed it before—add a comment if you recognise where it came from. Or simply sit back with some of your Christmas chocolate, and enjoy a story. . .

Once upon a time the trees got together to choose a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king.”

The olive tree answered, “In order to govern you, I would have to stop producing my oil, which is used to honour gods and human beings.”

Then the trees said to the fig tree, “You come and be our king.”

But the fig tree answered, “In order to govern you, I would have to stop producing my good sweet fruit.”

So the trees then said to the grapevine, “You come and be our king.”

But the vine answered, “In order to govern you, I would have to stop producing my wine, and that makes gods and humans happy.”

So then all the trees said to the thorn bush, “You come and be our king.”

The thorn bush answered, “If you really want to make me your king, then come and take shelter in my shade. If you don’t, fire will blaze out of my thorny branches and burn up the cedars of Lebanon.”


Bit of a bizarre story, but I rather like bizarre. Not sure why I have never noticed it before—do you know where it came from?

If you make a resolution for the new year, choose carefully.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Knowing God?



How can we know God? I believe he has given us several pointers: we see him in nature, we hear him in our conscience, and we find him in the Bible. God is bigger than we can imagine, he is truly good, completely dependable and he loves us enough to let us approach him, to ask for forgiveness and to show us the way to walk. We can trust God when all else lets us down.

When I was a child, I was taught that the Bible is God’s word. Fifty-odd years later, I would concur that this is true. But there is more to it than that.

The books of the Bible were first written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). When books are translated, someone has to make decisions about which words to choose. So how can we know whether what we read is what was intended to be said? We don’t have any original copies of the original New Testament, we only have fragments of documents (many found in ancient rubbish dumps in Egypt!) These fragmented copies of manuscripts are not identical, so how to choose which ones are closest to the originals? Do you take the ones we have most of, or the oldest ones?

Originally, Greek was written all in capital letters, with no spaces between words. ITMAYHAVELOOKEDSOMETHINGLIKETHISTOEARLYREADERSWITHANABUNDANCEOFPOSSIBILITIES. Scholars have taken the lines of writing and added spaces—but how do they know where to put them? (A BUN DANCE ON THE TABLE or ABUNDANCE ON THE TABLE?) Sometimes the context is obvious, but not always. Then the words are translated into English. Many have more than one meaning, so which one is the correct one to use? For example, “In the beginning was the . . .” The word used in the gap can mean ‘word’ or ‘reason’ or ‘message’ or ‘matter.’ Different Bible translations have made different choices. I personally favour ‘reason’ because “In the beginning was the reason” sounds very logical to me.

Our understanding has developed over time, as more of those fragmented manuscripts are found. For example, people used to think that the different Greek words for love meant different kinds of love, and when Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves him, he uses different words to mean slightly different types of love. I have heard several sermons preached about just this, the vicar wanting to show that Peter was offering one kind of love to Jesus, and Jesus challenging him to love him more deeply.

They made good sermons—but scholars now know that this is incorrect, and the two words were simply different ways of saying the same thing, with no change of emphasis. The books were written in ‘everyday’ Greek, and as more and more examples of writing from that period are discovered, so our understanding of how words were used has developed.

Then there is the personality of the authors. Mark used the Greek equivalent of slang when he wrote his book. For example, when he writes about putting new wine into old wine skins, he uses the word ‘throws’ so it could read: “No-one chucks new wine into old wineskins!” but our Bibles have made this more formal: no-one puts new wine…

Does all this mean we should not trust the Bible? No! When we read the Bible, we discover the living God, we see the magnificence of his power, we learn that he is truly good, and ever loving. But the Bible is not equal to God—nothing is. The Bible can help to guide us as we try to walk the paths God has set for us, but we should be cautious never to use the Bible as a weapon. We cannot read the Bible and think we understand everything there is to know about God, that somehow God can be contained in the pages of a book. A humble walk with God does not allow us to take phrases and words and apply them as rules for other people.

I find this a sober lesson to learn. I had thought that by learning Greek and Hebrew, I would know for sure what the original authors had written. But I can’t, I can still only learn an uncertain version of what they wrote. We do not know exactly what every word, or every sentence originally meant. I can tell you that after looking at the ancient Greek version I think I might know the meaning of a phrase, but I need to be cautious.

Does this mean that God somehow failed to protect his special message to Christians? I remember as an assertive teenager, defending the accuracy of the Bible, saying that although it had been written centuries before, surely God, who can do all things, would protect the integrity of his special book. And yet, it is clear to my adult self that this is not the case. Even as I read the books in Greek, I cannot be sure I am reading exactly what was written. Christians do not believe that God dictated, word for word, our version of the Bible to the human writers (unlike some other religions, as I think Muslims and Jews do believe their holy books were dictated).

I wonder if perhaps, this was always the intention. God knows how people love to make rules, to be certain of how people should live (usually so they can apply it to other people). Did God, in his great wisdom, allow us only an uncertain view of his revelations, so that whilst the Bible would help us, it was only by looking to him that we truly learn? Is one of the biggest mistakes of the evangelical church today the tendency to hold the Bible as equal with God? Only God is God, and unless we constantly look to him, we will make all sorts of mistakes when understanding what the Bible says.

Perhaps we should not be pointing at words and phrases in the Bible and using them as ‘proof’ of doctrine. (How many times have I heard Jehovah Witnesses and Christians arguing about whether ‘The Word was God’ or ‘The Word was a god’? Are either party sure they should be so certain of their translation?) Is the gift of tongues a personal gift intended for all individuals today, or was it intended only for public use in the past? Does God only accept people after they have asked for forgiveness for their sins, or is anyone who comes to God, whatever their motivation, accepted because Jesus died for all? Were the church leaders who proved that the Bible sanctioned slavery wrong? Are the church leaders who prove that the Bible condemns homosexual relationships right?

We can all examine these issues, weigh them against our beliefs and form an opinion. But beware those who are certain that they always know the answer.

We can only humbly bow before God, and accept that he is God.

Anne E. Thompson
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I hope you have a great week. Take care. Love, Anne x