The Bible in a Year – 13 November

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

13 November. Luke chapter 1

The first chapter of Luke’s gospel begins with an assurance that he has researched it before writing it, and although clearly influenced by what Mark had previously written, he adds material of his own, which seems to have come from talking to Jesus’ extended family.  Thus, before getting to the matter of the start of Jesus’ ministry, or even his birth, he finds that the birth of both Jesus and John was prophesied by angels.    Such an annunciation was not unique – Abram and Sarah, and Hannah, had such angelic visits before the birth of Isaac and Samuel respectively.  But for it to happen twice in one year, and to members of the same family, that was something quite astounding.

John the Baptist is sometimes rather overlooked, although for Luke he seems to have been just as important in Jesus’ story as his mother Mary.  Jesus himself described John as “the greatest of those born of women”, and John’s ministry seems to have started well before that of Jesus although they were the same age.   He is often described as the forerunner or herald, the one whose role was to prepare people (by his baptism of repentance for sin) for Jesus whose task was the full reconciliation of people to God.

John’s feast day is traditionally 24 June (my birthday, as it happens). I presume that this is working backwards six months from the supposed date of Jesus’ birth (24 or 25 December) given that Luke puts the annunciation to Mary “in the sixth month” of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  It is probably appropriate to put them at opposite points in the circle of the Christian year, since their approach was diametrically opposed.  John, dedicated as a Nazirite who had to abstain from alcohol, also felt compelled to live the life of an ascetic hermit in the desert, fasting or eating  sparingly, clothed uncomfortably and preaching a hard message of judgement and repentance.

Jesus’ interpretation of the holy life was quite different – enjoying life’s pleasures in so far as they did no harm to anyone else, living in the midst of the people to whom he ministered, with a message that emphasised forgiveness and healing (but not suggesting that our actions do not matter).  But both of them were filled by the same Spirit and inspired by the same scriptures.

Whether you or I are more like a John or a Jesus in our interpretation of the religious life will depend on character, upbringing, the surrounding culture, and circumstances.  If you find meaning for your life in silence, fasting and penitence, that’s great, but don’t criticise those who find it in a more active lifestyle and the enjoyment of good food.  I am more of  a Jesus in that respect, despite sharing a birthday with John.  “Everything with thanksgiving” was St Paul’s motto, and it can be yours.


The Bible in a Year – 13 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

13 February. Numbers chapters 5-6

These two chapters are quite contrasting.  The first – the test of whether a woman has been unfaithful by seeing whether a drink of water with floor sweepings causes her to become infertile – sounds like the sort of barbaric “heads I win, tails you lose” procedures used by witch-hunters in medieval England.  This kind of divination is little better than witchcraft itself.  It is hard to see how even those who profess to take the Bible literally as a guide to modern living could apply this, when we have DNA testing if needed for such situations.


The second is more positive, and concerns the Nazirites – men who set themselves apart for God, either for a set period or for life, like Christian monks.  Their vows included avoiding not only alcohol but grapes in any form, and not shaving.  Samson was the most famous Nazirite, but John the Baptist may also have followed this tradition.  There is much to be admired in those who deny worldly pleasures and try to live a ‘holy life’ whether singly or in community, as long as the self-denial does not become an end in itself, or a way to salvation. But living either as a hermit or in a religious community is not easy. Let us pray for those who have made the commitment to do so, that they may live up to their promises and find a closer relationship with God.