rheumatic fever in 1763 and 1766, typhoid in 1765, smallpox in 1767, dental abscesses in 1770 and 1774, bronchitis in 1780, severe rheumatic fever in 1784. Throughout his life there were infections without number. The final illness in 1791 included streptococcal infection, renal failure and bronchopneumonia. Towards the end he was so bloated with internal putrefaction that he could not move.
Beethoven went deaf. Van Gogh became insane and Caravaggio ended up a murderer on the run. These artists revealed the beauty lying below the surface of life, much as miners find gold hidden in the earth. But they had to strain and suffer to bring this beauty to birth.
An artist not only gives us beauty; they also give us an example of how to achieve it. This is almost as great a gift as the beauty itself. We enjoy the fruit of their labour but often we do not ponder the price they paid. We enjoy electric light but do we remember Edison’s 99 failed attempts to manufacture the first light bulb?
Not so long ago I changed countries and people from the old one ask me how it is in the new. I find myself replying, “People are not serious.” All the conditions are in place to struggle mightily to bring development and justice to the people. (A recent study found our country is the fourth most unequal in the world). But the will, the burning desire, is not there. The papers are full of tedious sparring among politicians, as if pulling your opponent down is the best way of lifting yourself up. No one asks what are you trying to lift yourself up for?
We are not serious. We do not want to be pruned. We circle around like caged lions preferring the security of captivity to the challenge of the wild. Caged lions live far longer than those in the forest. But what a life!
We need to hear those words of Jesus: “Every branch that bears fruit my Father prunes.” We might be more familiar with the practice of weeding, rather than pruning. But it is the same; you remove what is in the way and let life flourish. This is difficult. We need confidence to submit to pruning. We are going to lose a lot; security, to begin with. We are going to be challenged to step out of the box, or out of the flock or group. We are going to be laughed at and criticised. There might even be some physical threat to us. There are so many ways in which pruning can be painful.
But there is no alternative. We look at the life of Jesus: how clear he was of his goal and how courageous he was in pursuing it. Would that we could be like him!
29 April 2018 Easter Sunday 5 B
Acts 9:26-31 1 John 3:18-24 John 15:1-8Post published in: Faith