A reading and a reflection
St John 12: 44 – 50
Then Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.’
Today I am writing on ‘Bloomsday’, the anniversary of the date in 1903 on which the action of James Joyce’s epic, genius, brilliant but sometimes baffling novel ‘Ulysses’ takes place. In Dublin today folks will be dressed in period costume recreating scenes from the book, which follows its main characters over a single day from early morning to the small hours. Making extensive use of the ‘stream of consciousness’, an attempt to depict the inner workings of the human mind, it’s not the easiest of novels to read. In fact, the website Goodreads places it third in a list of books most often started but left unfinished – two places above the Bible which comes in at number five.
Both, of course, are long and complex texts written in a wide variety of styles with a dazzling range of literary techniques, many memorable characters, and powerful meditations on the nature and ultimate meaning of human existence. Neither are straightforward to interpret in their entirety. But, luckily for those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus, he is always ready to accept those who don’t make it to the end. He tells us here that he does not judge anyone who has heard his word but does not keep it, because the mission he has been given by God who sent him is to save the world, not to judge it. If you haven’t read the whole of John’s Gospel perhaps now is the time to try – or you could even try reading the whole Bible, in all its various and sometimes contradictory brilliance. Why not try reading ‘Ulysses’ too – and keep going, because as it happens the last chapter is the best!
God of grace, God of forgiveness,
we thank you for sending Jesus to us
to love us and save us, not to judge us.
Help us to hear and to read your word,
in the many forms in which it comes to us,
and help us to respond to your message
of love, of peace, of compassion –
and be with us when we attempt difficult but rewarding things,
like reading modernist literature.