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Lazarus and the Sycamore Tree

At St Clement’s we have temporarily put our home groups on hold to gather together each week for a month to share in a Lent course. Each session has a separate theme although they all involve plenty of quiet reflective silence. Even the small group work is different. Rather than a discussion, each person in the group of six or so has the opportunity to share a short reflection on their experience of the evening. The rest of the time the discipline is to listen without interjecting. This is harder than it sounds although I think I’m getting the hang of it; the first week I almost had to pinch my tongue!

Last night’s session was based on ‘Ignatian Spirituality‘, which draws on the ideas of St Ignatius of Loyola and the particular exercise was the slow reading of a Bible passage, exercising the imagination so that it moves from extracting information about what happened a long time ago in a country far away to experiencing an encounter with the living God. It isn’t about trying to summon God but about taking the time to listen through meditating on the Bible which, as Christians through the ages have found, is ground richly inhabited by Father, Son and Spirit.

Lazarus and the sycamore tree? Our assigned passage last night was Luke 19:1-10, a well-known story about a short tax collector called Zaccheus who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus pass by. A very visual story, I know it well and have looked at it countless times. I seem to recall I even played Zaccheus once in a play at junior school, climbing up a step ladder with some painted branches attached! What struck me as a new insight last night was a similarity between Jesus calling Zaccheus down from the tomb and, in a different story (John 11:1-44), calling Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus was physically dead but the suggestion is that Zaccheus had been spiritually dead for years; corrupt and festering, wealthy but despised. Up a tree or down a hole, Jesus speaks words that can call us to new life.

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