September is the season of gathering food, but here at St Matthew's we are in the centre of the city – far removed from the cycle of agricultural life. It still makes sense, though, to think about what we gather in life, and how this affects our own and other people’s lives.
If you are in any way like me you will have gathered over the years many things you liked, thought useful or needed at some point in time. After we have used them, what do we do with them? I usually hide them away and forget all about my ‘treasures’ until space is getting tight or, even worse, the clutter is taking over my life.
We love – and collect – gadgets like computers and mobile phones and are not aware that the raw materials come to us at the high price of wars and poverty in the developing countries where they are extracted. Even if we are aware of the consequences of our squirreling and hoarding habits, what do they say about our need for security and spiritual well-being? How do we go about satisfying it?
These are tough questions to ask oneself, but for me the idea of gathering has other connotations as well. We use the expression “I gather” when we have gained information or knowledge from other people’s communication. When I am in a reflective mood I also think about the people I hold in my memories or recollections. Some are still part of my everyday life, some have gone their way, and yet others I have left behind in my journey through life. How do we respond to these memories? What effect do they have on the way we live?
In the King James Bible the word ‘gathered’ appears two hundred and sixty-seven times, and a number of occasions spring to my mind immediately. One is Matthew 23:37 where Jesus expressed his sadness over the lack of faith in Jerusalem, saying he wanted to be like a mother hen gathering her chicks securely under her wings to protect them, keep them warm and happy. How do we feel under the wing of God’s unconditional love and protection? Do we feel boxed in, and want out? Does it give us a sense of freedom?
Jesus gathered disciples/pupils and other people and surrounded himself with the most unlikely characters; he attracted crowds and the attention of the religious leaders. The crowds loved and followed him, and the leaders and Teachers of the Law were very suspicious, did not trust him and constantly tested his allegiance to the Law, and thus also to the well regarded society. Jesus saw through their attempts to discredit Him in the eyes of the people and frequently ignored them. One such instance is presented by the call of St Matthew.
St Matthew gathered taxes for the hated Roman occupiers, so he was an outsider, if not even an outcast, for the Jewish society. If we put ourselves into Jesus’ shoes we may imagine that Jesus had felt some kind of kinship with this man when He was inspired to call him. Was this a planned action? If not, Jesus may have surprised himself. So apparently was St Matthew, since he was just as quick in responding to this call. What they had in common was their position at the margins of respectable society, if not even outside of it. How would we react to people like Jesus or St Matthew today, more than two millennia after they lived?
Another saying of Jesus in Matthew 12:30 points to a gathering of people for a specific purpose. He says if we do not gather with him we will scatter. This is an excellent reminder that we need to exist within a community of Christians and fellow humans. If we do not, we will be break up. The expression breaking up is a very fitting synonym for the idea of scattering. If we do not stay in contact with other people we can break up. This means not only that the community would fall apart, but a lack of contact with our fellow Christians on a personal level may also lead to ill health spiritually and mentally. So, how much importance do we attach to the well-being of our communities and ourselves? What does community mean for us? Is it just the group of people we meet over coffee after the Sunday service? Could we widen this understanding to include persecuted or struggling churches, as well as believers of other faiths and non-believers? If we do include them, what are the practical implications for our lives and for the lives of those others?
I was tempted to leave this reflection open ended when I came across this from the Celtic Heroic Cycle:
I am the wind which blows over the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean;
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am a tear of the sun, ...
I am a word of science; ...
I am the God who creates in the head of man
the fire of thought.
Who will enlighten each question
If not I?